Thursday, January 17, 2019


Getting Around Arusha and Vicinity

Whether by foot, bicycle, moped, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, dala dala, bus, car or truck. . . the roads are always busy with traffic coming and going.

First there are the human-powered vehicles.

This is a favorite capture of mine, through the window of our Land Cruiser as we were driving to Arusha.
A Maasai warrior pedals on his bike talking on his cell phone with his buddy seated behind him holding a
young goat on their way to market. Note the iconic Maasai walking sticks tucked
 across the bike frame.

Bicycles are not just for carrying people; they are also used to transport goods to town or to home.

These dried stalks may be food for cattle or used as a fence around a house.

Collecting firewood is typically a woman's job, but this man may be taking this bundle to market to sell or trade.

Then there are the mopeds and motorcycles. . .

In fact, this is a fairly typical scene in Arusha illustrating several modes of transportation.

Note the lovely flowering trees in this city center scene.

Motorcycles and street vendor carts abound in Arusha.

But when your cow or other animal is too big to carry on a bike or motorcycle, you walk it to market.

 . . . and the passenger vehicles. 

A motorcycle, tuk-tuk, SUV, passenger bus, and our safari vehicle all share the road on the way to Arusha.

A colorfully painted dala dala

A 4X4 is a good vehicle to handle all the roads in Tanzania.

A passenger bus with an assortment of baggage including a car tire and a basket of live chickens.

Another dala dala with the words BORN HERE HERE painted across the windshield

And one of our three safari vehicles parked at a money exchange stop.

And finally there are the trucks.

Trucks are the heavy haulers that carry big loads from Point A to Point B. We saw them on the highways and also on the narrowest back roads where there was barely room to pass. 

Like the dala dalas, the cabs of some of the big trucks are brightly painted.

But wait, I must not forget the carts.

Wheeled push-carts are the back bone of local market sales and delivery. And like most developing nations, they are seen everywhere stacked with fresh produce, building and agricultural materials, small animals, clothing, plastic buckets, propane tanks, trees and bushes, or whatever else must be transported from here to there.

Friday, January 11, 2019


A Dala Dala Ride to Remember

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious 

and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. --Walt Disney

After a morning of serious learning and discovery, Lenny decided it was time for us to rub elbows with the locals. So for all of us who wanted to, he gave us each a shilling piece along with instructions to take a ride in a dala dala.

As described in Wikipedia, "Dala dala are minibus share taxis in Tanzania. Often overcrowded and operated at unsafe speeds, these minibuses developed as a response to an insufficient public transport system in the country." 

Oh my! Had I read this description before my trip to Tanzania, I might not have taken Lenny up on his offer. But since I only read this as part of my post-trip research for this blog, I was game for a new experience. Clearly there is something to be said for 'ignorance is bliss' when traveling.

Lenny explains how to ride a dala dala

Dala dalas get their name from the slang term for five Tanzanian shillings ("dala" for dollar), the bus fare in the 1970s and 1980s when these vehicles started operating.

Now a standard trip costs 400 shillings (25 cents), although the fare can be more if you're going a long distance.

Typically, dala dalas are bigger than a tuk tuk but smaller than a standard passenger bus. We saw them in sizes ranging from an extended 18-passenger van to mini bus size. Regardless, they are generally crammed with as many people as possible and then some with children seated on laps and people standing, albeit crouched. 

All dala dalas are brightly painted with designs that apparently indicate the route along with seemingly random English words taken from the movies, TV, or pop-culture. I am not sure if they have meaning other than being 'hip,' but Lenny said the owner/drivers loved to one-up each other with the latest colorful signage.

This dala dala even has room on the roof to carry a large sofa. Hopefully,
it's a purchase by a passenger, not extra seating for overflow passengers.

The game plan was this: because there were nine of us, we divided into three-person teams; Lenny would tell each dala dala driver where we were to get off; and then we would exit the dala dala and wait for our tour bus to come along and pick us up. While on the dala dala, Lenny asked us to start a conversation with the people around us. That sounded easy enough, except I speak no Swahili, and I imagined most of the locals riding in a dala dala spoke little or no English. 

The first dala dala stopped in front of us with only one person exiting and three of us wanting to get on. But having experience getting on the Paris Metro when full, I wasn't going to let a visibly packed dala dala scare me off. Clutching the coin in my hand, I squeezed myself on board, eyeing a potential empty seat in the back row. Doug followed me and sat on a jump seat in the row in front of me while a man, woman, and child entered and squeezed in between Doug and the left window. Our third traveler found a space toward the front as seen by the shock of blond hair visible at the shoulder of the standing woman. Then we were off. 

The little boy appeared to be mesmerized by Doug. And I was mesmerized by his big, brown eyes. . .

. . . and his cute orange A-B-C cap.

As per Lenny's instructions, I tried talking to the people around me. To my left was a mother and daughter, both dressed in black burkas. The young girl's face was showing; however, I could only see her mother's eyes. While her daughter giggled with her hand covering her mouth, I couldn't tell what the mother was thinking as I tried in vain to explain my presence. 

However, to my right sat a young man dressed in a dapper shirt, tie and jacket who did speak English. I found out that he was an Information Technology consultant on his way home from work. I spoke with him until I realized we had been on the dala dala for quite awhile and became concerned about when we were supposed to get off. A few stops later, our third traveler shouted back to us, "Now!" and we squeezed past the other riders and exited handing our shillings to the conductor.

Then we stood for what seemed like a very long time watching more dala dalas stopping to unload and take on new passengers, until eventually three more OAT travelers disembarked and then three more. Within minutes, our tour bus stopped and picked us all up. 

Chalk up another exciting and successful learning and discovery adventure!

I especially liked this man with his color-coordinated yellow shirt with the yellow lemons he was selling. I asked if I could take his picture, and he willingly flashed me the peace sign.

Each dala dala is owned by the driver. The routes are regulated and fees are pre-set. Typically, dala dalas pick up passengers at central locations; however, they will also stop anywhere along their route to drop someone off or allow a prospective passenger to board 

But the dala dala is not a one-man operation. In addition to the driver, there is a conductor called a mpigadebe.  The conductor gets out at every stop and tries to convince passers-by that they want to ride the bus. He hits the roof of the bus when it's time to move on. And he collects the fare as each rider disembarks.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

As much as I have written about impromptu adventures so far on this trip, this is the one activity actually written about for this day in our "Day-By-Day Itinerary" found in the Final Document Booklet. Since I had no preconceived ideas what it would entail, I was open to much learning.

*  *  *  *  *
Unlike the Albino Peacemakers location that is not readily visible from the street, the site of Safe Water Ceramics is clearly marked. 

Our visit began with a demonstration how the ceramic water filter works.

Dirty water is poured into the ceramic filter which has been inserted into a plastic bucket
 which has been fitted with a spigot. While the process is not instantaneous,
basically it's this: unsafe, dirty water in and clean, drinkable water out.

The "magic" which makes this all possible are the ingredients and the construction. In addition to using a special kind of clay, colloidal silver is added as a bacterial filter, and pine sawdust burns out to leave a layer of charcoal that also acts as a filter. 
Notice the before and after glasses of water.

The history of SWCEA is much like that of the Albino Peacemakers sewing cooperative which began with a chance encounter with an American tourist. In 2005 on a trip to Tanzania,Tracy Hawkins observed a man selling clay flower pots along side the road and thought this would be a good idea to make handcrafted pots to sell to tourists. Her research into this venture eventually had her cross paths with Potters for Peace, a U.S.-based nonprofit that produces ceramic pot filters in Central America. After learning how to make clay filter pots from them in the Dominican Republic, she returned to Tanzania and presented her idea to her partner Mesiaki Yonas Kimirei (aka Kim), who agreed. 
And the rest is, as they say, history. 

*  *  *  *  *
After the initial orientation and demonstration, we were taken to the production room where we watched one of the workers make a clay pot. After his demonstration, our OAT group was asked if anyone wanted to make a pot. My hand shot up immediately. So the photos below are a side-by-side comparison of the master filter builder and of me. 

A special press was designed and built to produce each clay pot. The first step is to take a large ball of pre-weighed clay and form it over the plastic-wrapped cone shape.

The next step was to move the clay cone under the cone press and then lower the press onto the clay cone using an attached ratchet which is a re-purposed a tire jack. To remove the clay cone, the ratchet process is reversed. The result is a hollow cone.

Next the sides of the cone are smoothed with a bit of water and a straight-edged smoothing tool. Finally, the date is stamped on the bottom. It is important that each cone has a date because they only are good to use as a water filter for five years. And VOILA!

Seen below (top left) are a few of the tools used by the ceramic filter makers and other potters who also make traditional clay pots on big kick wheels. The beige clay cones seen in the foreground (top right) are drying and waiting to be fired; whereas, the red pots in the rear have already been fired. The cones are fired in a large kiln (bottom left). Corn cobs are used in the beginning to bring the temperature up quickly, and then wood with a blower is used to maintain the temperature. Near the end they use propane to reach a final temperature of 960 degrees. A correct balance of heat and timing is what produces the correct layer of charcoal as the sawdust is burned. The bottom right photo is of two temperature cones that are designed to melt once a certain temperature inside the kiln is reached. They can be viewed through a peephole in the kiln door.

After the demonstration we were able to purchase water filter kits that we would later distribute to local people who have no source of clean drinking water. Each filter kit costs $40 and lasts five years for a family of eight. One ceramic filter can clean 36 liters per day or one glass of water an hour.

This is the first water filter distribution we made along our drive the following day from Arusha to Tanganire Park. The distributions are totally at random as our drivers see a group of women or people who appear to have no access to safe, clean water.

In addition to the verbal instructions given to the women recipients (as women are in charge of getting water each day), the kit comes with laminated picture instructions that show how to use and clean the clay filter with the brush that is also provided in the kit.

In follow up studies, the cases of typhoid and cholera have dramatically decreased among people who regularly use these filters for their water. 
In one study, infant mortality actually dropped to 0%.

For more information about Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa, click on this link:

As a final comment, the printed booklet I referenced at the beginning is a wonderful tool provided by OAT and was handy to have on the trip. However, it has become an invaluable resource after the trip as I write this blog and reconstruct our 21 days in Tanzania. That's because my memory doesn't begin to keep all the names and places straight nor in any kind of chronological order, much less know how to spell some of the local words.


Albino Peacemakers

Our first full day in Arusha signaled the beginning of the base trip--Serengeti Safari. It was filled with many opportunities, only one of which, was actually mentioned in our itinerary. But experience had already told me not to worry. Lenny would make sure we had many chances for learning and discovery.

After winding through the back roads of Arusha occasionally sighting views of Mount Muru, we made our first stop. Behind this foreboding albeit interesting wall was the home of the Albino Peacemakers. 

For the past 50+ years Martha Mganga has lived with her albinism. As the first-born of three siblings with albinism out of seven brothers and sisters, she was psychologically abused by her father, bullied and discriminated against by her teachers and classmates, and attacked and accused of being a curse by her neighbors for causing everything from bad harvests to seasonal weather changes. Yet, she was lucky as many albino children are killed shortly after birth. Others are gruesomely murdered or dug up from their graves for their body parts which are used in witchcraft rituals.

Mganga admits being driven to suicide several times in her teens, but remarkably was spared and instead became Tanzania's foremost advocate for children and adults with albinism. For 40+ years she has been educating the community, counseling people with albinism and their families, and helping them access health care and education. In 2006 Sister Martha Mganga registered Albino Peacemakers. Since then donations from other non-profit groups and individuals have allowed her work to grow.

It is impossible to tell from the street what life-changing and educational work
goes on behind this wall.

Today Albino Peacemakers is a fully functioning non-profit organization and includes a women's sewing cooperative. The sewing group began after a chance encounter with Sandy Andersen, a woman traveler from Oregon. After three annual week-long visits to Arusha as well as long distance communication via e-mail and YouTube videos, she taught the initial group of albino women how to sew and design fabric items which they sell on location or in stores around Arusha. This work provides jobs for this otherwise under-served and discriminated group of Tanzanian citizens.

These are just some of the many functional fabric items made by the women in the Albino Peacemakers sewing cooperative.
Without the melanin in the skin, people with albinism suffer from
peeling skin, chapped lips, and poor eyesight. In addition,
early all albinos in Tanzania develop dangerous precancerous
lesions by age 20 and many die before age 40. 

By working here, the women can work outside but in the shade
wearing long sleeves to protect themselves from the
life-threatening effects of the sun.

As part of my own learning and discovery, I tried my hand at sewing on this old-fashioned treadle
sewing machine. I remember learning to sew as a 7th grader but not on a machine quite like this.

These beautiful vintage sewing machines were donated by Rotary Club which also focuses on cancer prevention 
and treatment through training health workers and providing medical equipment. 

This lovely woman greeted us upon our arrival and then related her story of giving birth to her first son who is an albino. Quickly she witnessed first-hand how he was shunned by members of her own family along with her neighbors, and she knew she had to do something. As a result, she began educating herself and then her family and community about the condition while advocating for her son. When her son was only three months old, she met Martha Mganga and the women of Albino Peacemakers, and now she works with them to continue their educational outreach.

This woman designed and sewed this stunning outfit that she is wearing.
It could easily be sold in the fashion market of NYC for hundreds of dollars.
Lenny helps a woman in our group with translating shillings to dollars
for the items she wants to purchase.

In the center is a list of all the items the sewing cooperative makes and sells
listed in order of popularity.

Tools of the trade

To communicate with Albino Peacemakers, follow their Facebook page here:

Stay tuned for the next blogpost which includes more learning and discovery in Arusha at Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa.