Arusha Round 1

I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania two days ago to do some research into constructing aquaponics systems at a YWAM base and orphanage. After doing the research, I’ll return next week to actually build the systems. Aquaponics combines fish and vegetable farming into a complete system that grows twice as many vegetables with less than 10% of the water consumption. The fish waste provides vital nutrients to the vegetables, and the vegetables filter the water so the fish can continue to live. These systems can be used to create sustainable food production around the world!

During my trip to Tanzania I got conned for the first time ever ūüė¶ My only excuse is that I had just woken up and stumbled off the bus to cross the border. After getting my exit stamp at Kenya’s immigration office, I walked through “no man’s land” to get into Tanzania. At the end of this area, a group of official-looking guys (looking back, maybe not THAT official-looking) stood next to a gate, which I had to go through. Claiming to be Tanzania’s immigration authority, they asked for the $100 visa fee to let me pass. While I got my stamp, they said they would get my visa processed and meet me on the other side. Needless to say, I didn’t see them again. I thought about complaining to the police, but realized they were probably in on the scam too. After a short burst of anger, I felt like Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, when he has to credit “the Jackal” for her excellent performance. You win this time con men, but when I come back next week I have some choice words personally prepared for each of you.

After running around town on Wednesday looking for pricing information on construction materials and meeting with people, I decided to go with a YWAM staff to the daily football (soccer) game. I thought this would just be an informal pickup game with other YWAM staff but it turned out to be an official practice for a local football team. With just a pair of sneakers and khaki shorts I felt under dressed, but the guys were friendly and we had a great time. I even earned an invitation back by scoring a goal!

Playing there was iconic Africa. Wooden frames served as goals, the ball disappearing into clouds of dust every time someone kicked it. With beautiful¬†thunderclouds rolling into Mount Meru, I thought about my last weeks in Africa and how I would like to enjoy them. No more complaining about poor service or slow¬†internet. Just making the most of my time and seeing the people who have made this almost two years possible. Who knows if I will come back, but I’ve learned a lot from this place and believe that the experience will be vital in whatever undertaking comes next.

I couldn’t take pictures because I was playing football, but here are some photos to give you context. Oh yes, and yesterday was my Birthday so thank you for all the Happy Birthday wishes ūüôā


Imagine playing football here!


The goal looked something like this


Return to Dar

As I’ve mentioned previously, I really dislike the city of Dar es Salaam.¬† It’s hot, humid, mosquito-infested and crowded.¬† However, I must say the food in downtown is better than anywhere I’ve been.¬† The Middle Eastern and Indian influences are obvious.¬† I feel like I’m back in Cairo again, not only because the food actually has flavor but because I see more Arabs than black people.

This experience of traveling alone in Africa is stretching me in incredible ways.¬† It’s not without its challenges but I know that it’s ultimately making me grow.¬† Today I was doing a focus group outside Dar and literally thought I would melt.¬† I was doing a survey inside this woman’s house in the middle of the day.¬† The house was humid, dark, and smoky with tons of people inside.¬† I’m not claustrophobic but I felt like I had to escape and catch some air before I passed out.¬† Climbing into the air-conditioned car afterwards felt like heaven.¬† I fell asleep for the entire ride home because it felt so incredibly good.

To escape the heat on Sunday, I went with a couple Tanzanian guys to a waterpark outside the city.¬† I met these guys a couple of weeks ago when I was watching a football match at a restaurant in town.¬† They told me we were going to the beach and somehow we ended up at this waterpark.¬† I didn’t have a bathing suit and neither did they so we just ended up swimming in our boxers. It was a little strange swimming in boxers with women in full hijabs sitting outside the pool.¬† Dar es Salaam is a fascinating mix of cultures and religions that somehow manage to get along.

Speaking of cultures, yesterday I did a walking dinner tour of downtown Dar.  No tour company offers these, I just decided to walk around and try everything that looked interesting.  I bought bananas, sugarcane, an organge, chicken, naan, chips, salad and a coke.  The price?  Less than 6 US dollars.  I got ridiculously lost and walked forever but the electricity was out so what else was I going to do?  It was super interesting how each street had a different feel.  Some streets had more street vendors, while others were quiet.  One street held at least 4 or 5 Hindu temples with people chanting inside. Mosque street obviously houses a lot of Muslims.  Despite its unwelcoming qualities, Dar es Salaam really is an interesting blend of cultures that makes for an interesting experience.

Tanzanian Water Park

The Mighty Boabab

The Drive from Arusha to Dar

Thoughts from Tanzania

Some things don’t seem like a big deal until you live without them.¬† Electricity is one.¬† There are so many little things that make life without power difficult.¬† Without electricity you can’t plan a regular schedule.¬† You can’t sleep at night because you don’t have AC or a fan to keep you cool.¬† You can’t shower when you want to because the water heater won’t work.¬† Kids can’t do their homework because there is no light.¬† I haven’t found any statistics, but I’m sure Tanzania loses billions of dollars a year to lost productivity.¬† I went to a factory the other day that simply shuts down when the power goes out: running the generator is too expensive.¬† They lose up to 12 productive hours a day because the government can’t get its act together.¬† In my senior thesis (Conveniently posted in the “Other Writings” section of this blog) I wrote about the need to increase infrastructure rather than aid to developing countries.¬† I didn’t even mention electricity because I had no idea.¬† If I were writing the paper now I would put this essential element of development towards the top of the list.

Another thing on my mind has been the relationship between NGOs and businesses in developing countries.¬† There are so many NGOs in Arusha it’s crazy.¬† Whether they are actually having much impact is up for debate.¬† I had a thought the other day that I’ve been considering carefully.¬† I think non-profit organizations were created for wealthy rather than poor countries.¬† They were designed to fulfill needs that free-market economies missed.¬† So if a poor community in Compton had terrible schools and the government wasn’t doing it’s job, NGOs would step in and provide after-school programs, free lunches etc.¬† The problem is that we’ve taken NGOs which were designed to address very specific needs in small communities, and used them to replace entire economies, resulting in mega-NGOs that become huge bureacracies.¬† Their intentions may be good but they are killing countries.¬† Again, I don’t have statistics but I wouldn’t be surprised if 10-20% of Tanzania’s struggling economy came from donations.¬† That is dangerous ground where systems of dependency become permanently ingrained in peoples’ mindsets.¬† Twice today people have introduced themselves to me, promptly asking for money.¬† Something is wrong with that mentality.

I have one more strange story before I finish.¬† Today I was walking back from my meeting with World Vision and met an albino guy on the road.¬† He didn’t speak much English but we must have walked for a couple of miles together before I got into a taxi.¬† It was strange walking with another “white” person in such different circumstances.