The Sleepy Town at the Base of Mount Meru: Arusha, Tanzania
Flying into Arusha was one of the most exhilarating experiences, or at least the highlight of my trek from Phnom Penh through Bangkok and Nairobi. Peering out the window of our small plane I could see the red clay earth that I had left almost exactly three years earlier. Powerful feelings of nostalgia welled up inside me, and then it happened: Mount Kilimanjaro. I could have stepped out of my window and landed softly in the powdery snow. Gazing from just above the peaks down the rocky slopes was breathtaking. A gorgeous entrance into a country swelling with traditions, rituals, biodiversity, abundance, mirrored by drought, poverty, corruption: Tanzania.
I immersed myself in work starting with field visits to our projects in the Central Zone, focused in the Singida and Iramba districts. While I was involved in fascinating work on malaria prevention and developing other health care initiatives in Cambodia, Tanzania has been more of a learning experience as I have not worked in the agricultural sector before. Our program here, in brief, works with small hold farmers to promote the cultivation of Jatropha Curacas, a woody shrub that is grow around homesteads for protection and privacy. Aside from conducting trainings and assisting in the formation of farmer groups, we link these farmers with a private company that provides contracts to purchase all of the Jatropha seeds produced per season. These seeds are pressed to extract the oil to make soap (Jatropha is a traditional medicinal plant in Tanzania that is believed to have curative effects for fungal infections). The remaining seed cake is combined with other agricultural residues such as rice husks, coffee bean shells, etc. and processed to create pellets. These pellets are then used as the fuel source for a clean burning cookstove that we have partnered with another local private company to develop and sell. My part in all of this is to help support program development and activities, liaise with potential donors and partners, and develop concepts for expansion into the health sector.
Below are some photos taken during our week of monitoring activities in the Central Zone.
The most exciting part of going into the field (aside from getting away from dusty cities and interacting with the people you are working for) is that you never know what to expect. I was taking photos of a family (above) when the father said to me please, take a photo in that window, pointing to a home 20 meters from where we were standing. Approaching the window I realized that there were six or seven women standing inside. Then I saw this:
Giving thanks to the woman who just delivered this child on a bed of animal hides in the middle of rural Tanzania, no professional medical assistance, no drugs…
Moments like this put life into perspective.
As seems to be tradition, with mixed feelings I accepted to receive a second namesake in my short 25 years. Never do you feel more undeserving.
The sudden darkness envelopes you in a womb of warmth and connection with the earth.
Back at the office we have been busy making soap for research trials that will test the efficacy of Jatropha oil soap in treating fungal infections.