Saturday, March 30, 2013

Photos of Moshi and Ketumbeine

Hopefully this will work!

To view the first of several web albums with photos from our trip, click here

Hopefully that will work nicely and I will get the rest of the photos up soon.

Happy Easter to everyone!  I'm still suffering sunshine withdrawals, but at least today we are seeing a little bit more of the sun than yesterday.  There is still a lot of snow here, but I can picture the wonderful plants and animals of Uganda and Tanzania . . .

Thursday, March 28, 2013

And Now It Is Time To Leave the "Pearl of Africa"

I started this post while we were still in Uganda, and now will be finishing it since our return to the States.

After a couple of wonderful days and a great hike, it is time to bid farewell to Ineke's and Uganda. I need to come up with something to do here, so that I can come for three months at a time!  I will miss the incredible green of the countryside, the bird calls early in the morning, the flowers and butterflies, Ineke's cooking and the beauty of this place. 

We had an uneventful drove for Ft. portal back to Entebbe.  Stopped for dinner at a restaurant right on Lake Victoria, and I actually went wading in the Lake!  It is one of the ten largest fresh water lakes in the world, by volume.  For some reason, it was kind of a cool thing to do.

Uganda:  miles and miles of tea plantations, mountains treed all the way to the top, rich red earth, hundreds of bods-bodas which are motorcycles used as taxis ( sometimes with three or four people on one motorcycle), busy and chaotic village markets, and amazing women weavers.  Next visit, I hope to be able to do some hiking and rafting over by Lake Victoria, the headwaters of the Nile and Murcheson Falls. 

The flights home were loooooooooooooooong and uneventful!  5 hour drive across Uganda from Ft. Portal to Entebbe, 3 hours in the airport waiting for the flight, 8 hour flight to Amsterdam, 4 hour wait in AMS, 8 1/2 hour flight to Minneapolis, 3 hours in the MSP airport, 5 1/2 hour flight to Anchorage, and an hour drive home.  Whew!  But it was so worth it.  And without air travel, it would take months of travel to reach Ft. Portal.  So sometimes when I whine about the length of the travel time, I try and put it in perspective . . .

Today my goal is to put together some web albums to correspond to past posts.  I will post the links and send them on.

It occurred to me this morning, as I was having breakfast, looking out at the fresh snow and leafless trees, that for the past 26 days, every  meal I have eaten has been either outside under the trees, on the veranda, or in a dining room completely open to the out-of-doors.  Guess I will have to wait a few  months for that to happen up here  :-)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Off To Uganda

One more day of meeting with Janet and Julie to catch up on some final details:  the financing of the latrine at the school in Minjingu (for a history of that fiasco, see the post from our last trip entitled Greed, Generosity and Corruption); sharing some of the products we purchased at the market in Arusha to give new ideas to the Miichi women for batiks; tips on packing the carvings to minimize breakage; request for new microloan to Mama Deborah; and final accounting for how much Asante owes Janet and Ima for the transportation while we have been here.

I have been worried this entire time about our trip to Uganda.  For the first time in my adult life, I am traveling without my yellow International Certificate of Vaccination.  It is a card on which is recorded all my vaccinations over the past 30 years, including my yellow fever shot.  I was told while we were in Ketumbeine, that Uganda requires proof of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the country.  I have been stressing out about this, and praying continually and unceasingly that the way would be opened for me to enter without the card.  I wrote a friend who went to my house and searched for that damn card, to no avail.  At last, I resigned myself to the idea that if I couldn't get into Uganda, I would just come home early since I couldn't go back into Tanzania without another tourist visa.  So it was with some apprehension that I got on the plane for Uganda. Had a great flight with wonderful visibility and in no time (well, in an hour and a half ) we were landing at Entebbe Airort.  Came into the airport, filled out the immigration card, picked up my suitcase, took a deep breath and headed to the official -- who scanned my passport, took my $50 for my tourist visa, and wished me a pleasant stay in Uganda.  WHEW!  What an answer to prayer.  Once I was in our car heading for Ft. Portal, I finally relaxed.  And I haven't stopped thanking God for His intervention.  Now my biggest challenge when I get home is finding that card, and never leaving home without it!

Long and lovely drive to Ft. Portal, which is all the way across the country of Uganda from Entebbe and Kampala.  Took us about 5 hours, since the road is in good shape with good tarmac all the way.  And the Rwenzori Mtn. View lodge is as lovely as I remember it.  Ineke, who is our contact person for the Rwenzori Mtn. women, who weave some of our lovliest baskets, is gracious, welcoming and runs a fine hostel.  This is another place I could stay for an extended length of time.  Too bad I don't have anything productive to do here, otherwise I probably would stay for a while!  There is always an eclectic group of people from all over the world staying here at Ineke's and they are always interesting to talk with.

Thursday we walked all over Ft. Portal, starting with a stop at the bank for an ATM.  Somehow, it seems as if there is a more established infrastructure here in Uganda than in Tanzania, even though it doesn't really show.  Maybe it is that there has been a large influx of international aide to Uganda, which hasn't been available to Tanzania; maybe it is just that the city and county of Ft. Portal has invested in new buildings, paved roads and sidewalks.  Anyway, it is just quite pleasant here.  We also walked up into the Botanical Gardens and took a guided walk through the garden and forest, learning about herbal remedies for all manner of ailments as well as listening to our guide describe some of the reforestation programs in the country.  Dinner was exceptional--a fine ending to a lovely day.

Yesterday we visited our basket ladies, which was, as usual, inspiring.  These women are so gifted and they work so hard.  None of them depends solely on baskets for her income.  Some of them have small shops, all of them keep gardens and some animals, and they have families as well.  They have created some lovely new products, designs and colors.  We were able to describe for them what folks in the US like and what they don't seem to like, and what sells and what doesn't.  I think I will be able to order some wonderful new baskets for my holiday sales in Alaska.

And when it rains here, it absolutely pours.  Last night we had the most intense lightening, thunder and rain I can remember.  Even growing up in south Forida, we didn't have rains like we had last night.  It was very loud on the metal roof, and I just loved it.  Slept quite well . . .

Today we had planned to take a one day excursion over to Queen Elizabeth National Park, but unfortunately, Kathy was ill last night, so we are hanging out here all day.  Which is no hardship at all!

Elephants, Elephants, and More Elephants!!

Sunday morning, we left Moshi for a short safari to Tarangire National Park.  It is on the same road out of town as Ngorongoro Crater National Park and Olduvai Gorge; the road to the Crater and Gorge turns off after several miles of road construction.  We reached the turnoff for Tarangire late morning.  Sometimes I think the entrances to National parks are the same the world over--lots of tacky little shops selling all kinds of curios which may or may not relate to the park itself.

Anyway, the park is incredible,  When the kids and I visited in July 2000, we were surrounded by zebras and gazelles almost immediately.  Then came the elephants.  But we didn't really see many of the predators.  In this season, the beginning of the rains, we saw more elephants than I could have imagined.  Everywhere we looked there were elephants.  Not just one or two, here or there, but big groups of elephants, as in 50 or 60 per group.  But no zebras or gazelles in the park at all.  Seems that when the rains start,  the grass grows quite high, and some of the smaller grazers leave the park for the surrounding areas, where the grasses are shorter.  After all, if you aren't taller than the grass, you can't see a lion or leopard hiding in that same grass!  We were very fortunate to see a couple of small prides of lions.

We drove a couple of the loops within the park, and everywhere we turned there were elephants.  I know that I am being repetitive, but we kept exclaiming to each other "Look, there are some more elephants!"  There were all ages of elephants in each group, and they were in the road, in front of the car, next to the car and behind the car!  Seemed as if they were almost close enough to touch.

Had a lovely picnic lunch at a spot overlooking the Tarangire River Valley.  The geography and geology of the area is amazing--makes me wish I had taken a class in geography of east Africa.  Just as we were finishing up our lunch, a cappuccin monkey, fast as lightening, jumped out of the tree behind our table, snatched my dessert and disappeared back into the tree.  I didn't even see it but it scared the heck out of me, especially since my dessert was still in my lunch box!

After a last loop through another section of the park, we left and drove up to Karatu, towards Ngorongoro Park, to reach our hostel.  And just outside Tarangire, we saw a herd of zebra, and then several giraffes!  The hostel we stayed in was fabulous.  Lovely rooms, delicious food, a big clean swimming pool, beautiful landscaping; we were wishing we could just spend a week there.  On the way back to Moshi the next day, we stopped at the Snake and Reptile Farm which was, surprisingly enough, very interesting.  All the snakes and reptiles in it are local and the guide/naturalist was quite informative.  Attached to it is a small Maasai museum which also ws very good.

One more day in Moshi and we will be off to Uganda.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mwika and the Preschool

We traveled to Mwika on Thursday, March 14.  The road to Mwika is much improved -- paved and straightened a bit, with the result that the trip only takes about 45 minutes these days. We missed the big market day by one day; I just love the Wednesday markets in Mwika.  You can get just about anything you want at that market!

First stop was the preschool that James Mbando founded a few years ago.  Kathy and Stan's church supports his preschool.  It is kind of like a Headstart school, only much more effective.  The kids begin learning English, which will help them immesurably when they enter primary school.  As well, the kids get the same high protein porridge, which enables them to grow and develop more fully.  The preschool has alla kinds of various Montessori type manipulatives.  We spent most of the morning at the preschool, reading the books with the kids, that Kathy and Stan brought in one of their suitcases.  The other items they brought were about 19 soccer balls and pumps, so they could distribute the  balls to the schools where we sponsor school lunches.  The preschool kids absolutely LOVED the soccer balls and the books.  Wish I had thought of packing a whole suitcase with little kids' books . . .

After school let out for the day, and we had lunch, we joined James on a 'walkabout' to the home of a woman who has a daughter who can't walk.  Kathy and I were kind of dreading the visit -- I have been on too many visits to impoverished homes with disabled children.  But this one was different.  The mom is quite hardworking and the daughter is adorable.  Deborah is about 7 nd is quite bright.  Setting happened when she was born, and she is unable to walk.  James has managed to get her a wheeled chair, but the family home is so tiny that her mom must take off the wheels to fit the chair through the door.  Kathy and Stan have helped the mom send Deborah to a special boarding school for kids who are disabled; we are going to explore the possibility of including her mom in the microloan open gram.  We believe she would be a good candidate for a loan, and she wants to participate.

W also walked on narrow paths, up and down, through the jungle and the shambas to James' house.  He cares for his dad, who has diabetes, as well as his younger sister and cousins, snd his oen wife and child.  He is an amazing entrepreneur and has amazing energy, as well as dedication to the children of his village and his country.

Friday we accompanied about 60+ preschoolers  plus various adults, to Arusha National Park.  We left early (by Tanzanian standards) and drove for a couple of hours to the park, in a large, chartered bus.  No seatbelts, several kids per seat, lunch and water supplies in the aisles, and assorted adults standing the whole way!  It was great fun!  Interesting scenery and good roads.  Once inside the park, we immediately spotted several giraffes which was exciting for the kids.  We also saw a few zebras, waterbuck, Cape buffalo, baboons, ibis, black/white colobus monkeys.  The kids were so very well behaved and interested.  I kept imagining accompanying 60 American kids on a similar field trip and it just didn't compute.  W were all pretty. Well bushed by the time we got back, but we walked down to the market place to see if we could find Mama Irene, me of our original microloan recipients.  Too late, though.  The market was pretty much finished for the day, so we settled for a cold beer at one of the local pubs.

We will be sorry to leave the Mwika guest house, as the chef is quite talented and has created some delicious meals for us.  His pancakes in the morning are just delicious!

Saturday morning, just before we left, mama Irene came to visit.  She is dong so well, and has changed so much since we first gave her the first loan.  She is self confident, healthy, happy and her kids are all in school.  Quite different from the downtrodden, abused woman I first met 6 years ago.

And so on Saturday, we left Mwika to return to Moshi.  Tomorrow we will attempt to get things wrapped up, since we leave for Uganda in a few days,

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lambo School and the Kiburoloni-Rau Region microloans

Lambo primary school is a school we hve been assisting for several years with school lunch.  The proper name is Lambo Estate Primary school -- in spite of the name, it is desperately poor.  The name refers to an abandoned sisal plantation; when the plantation ceased production, all the local industry dried up and parents were forced to leave their kids in the village with grandparents or cousins, to seek work in other areas.  The village is almost deserted, and the school is very run down.  The school has, within the past year, started a preschool, and we agreed to help them with lunch as well.

Preschool kids receive a high protein porridge for lunch -- a combination of soy meal, millet and corn.  It is cooked in a large pot on an open flame fire, and the kids sort of drink it from cups.  It is sweetened with a tad of honey or sugar, and actually, isn't too bad.  The primary school receives the same lunches as Miliesita -- ugali (corn meal porridge) 4 days a week with beans, and rice with beans one day/week.  For many of the kids, it is the only meal they receive in the day.  Sigh . . . many similarities to the bush schools in Alaska.

We also visited 5 of our micro-loan recipients.  They are all doing so well.  First is a woman who is gartening, by hand, a garden several acres large.  She is growing primarily maize, greens, beans, okra, tomatoes and peppers.  In addition to the work of gardening alone, she sometimes has to take her breakfast to the garden, and stay through dinner.  Otherwise the baboons from the bordering forest will destroy the garden and eat everything.  And we think moose and slugs are bad!

Second loan is to a woman for chickens, ducks and a garden.  Both women will sell their produce in the market.  This loan also will help cover construction of an expanded chicken pen for her increased number of chickens and ducks.  Duck eggs are in demand in the market, and she is going to be able to sell the eggs once the ducks mature.

Glady received a loan to expand her hair salon and purchase a wide variety of hair products to sell.  She seems to be doing well, and has a steady clientele.  Aparisia has a stationery store, which she stocked with her micro loan.  She also has purchased a small copy machine, laminating machine and binding machine.  These services are in high demand, as most people don't have electricity, much less access to various office machines.  Editha used her loan for expanding her pig pens, to accommodate her growing pig population.  Once all the pigs are pregnant and have piglets, she will raise the piglets for 3 or 4 months, and then sell them.

The last loan-lady we visited was Benedicta.  She is renting her house, and caring for her sick mother.  Her loan is going for goats and chickens and pens for the animals.  She is very hard working, and will be successful with her loan repayment.  All of these women are such an inspiration.  They work hard, are faithful. desire to educate their kids and move forward with their lives.  Not so different from our own aspirations.

Tomorrow, to Mwika to visit James and his preschool.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lyamungo and Miliesita

Today we visited the Lyamungo area, which is in the foothills of the mountains.  The area as a whole receives more water than the Moshi region, and is much more lush with vegetation, ravines and hills, banana groves perched on steep slopes, coffee estates and research areas, and more tiny little shambas (farms) than one can imagine.  The region is beautiful, with stunning vistas of the higher mountains.  It is also pretty impoverished.

First stop was Miliesita Primary School where we sponsor a lunch program.  The school has 393 students.  Asante is able to afford to feed these kids ground corn and beans 4 days a week, with rice and beans one day a week.  The rice day is the most popular, and if the kids know in advance which day is going to be rice -- there are bno absences!!  So the headmistress serves the rice randomly, which keeps the kids coming every day, in hopes they will be lucky.

The ground corn is like dried corn that is crac ked or crushed rather than ground into meal.  Thje cook at this school, who has been here for 20 years or so, can't properly prepare the ground corn meal (ugali) which cooks up into a thick porridge.  She cooks it all in one big pot and uses a rough-cut paddle to stir it.  She just isn't strong enough to stir the ugali.  So they use the crac ked corn.  The mixture of corn and beans is a nutritious one -- grains plus legumes -- a complete protein.  All the corn is cooked in one large kettle, on a wood or charcoal open flame fire.  The fire is built directly on the ground and is encircled by 3 bricks placed in a triangle.  The pot is balanced on the bricks and wood is added or removed from the fire to control the temperature.  Beans are also cooked on a second fire in a large kettle.  Sometimes they are able to add greens from the school gardens, but right now is planting season, so there aren't too many greens available yet.  They have the additional issue of neighboring livestock getting into the garden, so we are exploring how to raise some money to provide fencing to protect their crops.

After we left the school, we climbed up and down the hills to reach the micro loan ladies.  First one is a knitter; she was awarded the contract to provide sweaters for the school uniforms at the local school, but she didn't have the capital to purchase the yarn necessary to fulfill the contract.  She used her loan to purchase yarn which she can now knit into the sweaters and sell to the school to fulfill her contract..  Second woman used the money to purchase chickens to raise -- both for eggs to sell and to increase the number of chickens in her flock.  Raising chickens is an important source of income for many of the people in this region.  Even the folks who  have jobs in town will keep chickens and raise bananas.

We also had the opportunity to stop in and say hi to Janet and Julie's dad, who is 92 and still a practicing physician in the village clinic.  He is quite remarkable!  His lab consists of a small rickety table with a microscope.  He has a small examing room and an assistant who helps with injections and dressing wounds.

Whjen we returned to our hostel, we hiked up the hill a couple of miles to the El Rancho restaurant for . . .. . Indian curry!  and COLD beer.  It was quite deliciouis.  Tomorrow, more micro-loan ladies and another school lunch.