Then Came the Monsoons

And with them came respite. I love rain. I mean, I reallllly love it. To me, a perfect morning means me curled up in bed with coffee and a good book with the rain streaking the windows. So, it’s only natural that with the first week of the Big Rains came the first week that I’ve felt useful at Zanrec and with it a little bit of the weight of being here disappeared.

For the first four weeks of being in the office full time, I honestly didn’t really do shit. I worked on some database projects and wrote a manual for our hotel training that has since just sat in my computer taking up space. I barely used Swahili since nearly half of the staff in the head office is foreigners.

The last three weeks Zanrec has been in the throws of registering our NGO, Patuza*, which will deal with all of the community development work. And by throws I mean to say that we’ve hit a lot of vikwazo (barriers). The new general manager of Patuza technically can’t be caught in the office because she doesn’t have a work visa. She can’t apply for said visa until Patuza is officially registered. Patuza can’t be officially registered until a meeting with the general assembly is called. A meeting with the general assembly can’t be called until we figure out who is in said assembly because when applying to register the list was sent off without making a copy first.

The main project on Patuza’s list is the environmental training for students that will conclude with a much-anticipated recycling competition. This project depends solely on receiving permission from the Ministry of Education to work in the schools. We held a seminar and invited teachers and representatives of the ministry to give them the rundown. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. Obviously, the school and government have their own ideas of how we should do things. Finding the balance between having our strings pulled and sticking to the goals of Patuza and Zanrec is proving to be a bit harder that we thought. Our competition is most likely going to be centered on plastics because that’s the most feasible option in terms of budget and safety. The attendees of the seminar want the competition to be a full-scale waste management project, but they have no funding to provide us to make that possible. They discussed how pampers are a large problem because they aren’t biodegradable and they’re often thrown randomly throughout the neighborhoods. Thankfully, my colleagues were able to kindly explain that since we are working with Save the Children, it probably wasn’t the best idea to basically assemble an army of child laborers to run through the streets collecting the community’s trash and dirty diapers.

On top of the vikwazo, the project won’t start until after I leave. I came to Zanrec as a sort of Jack-of-all-Trades, but we agreed that my main focus would be educational program development and evaluation. Based on the timeline, it turned out I would end up leaving well before the horse left the gate. At least being here has hammered in the truth that things don’t happen the way you want them to. It’s been an exercise in learning how to roll with the punches (sometimes literally heh) and keep a positive attitude.

Here’s where we reach that respite I was talking about earlier. My supervisor, Theresia, has been awesome about making sure I’m getting the most out of my time with Zanrec. I expressed to her that I was worried about the lack of Swahili exposure and within a week she made some changes. A few member hotels have been requesting more training for new employees or for those that may not have fully understood the initial training. I would be in charge of leading these trainings.

Zanrec isn’t just about takataka (waste). We’re working everyday to create a clean Zanzibar. This means we’re also looking for solutions for creating green energy sources. In Zanzibar, most people use either coal or wood as fuel for cooking. In the city the tendency moves toward gas cookers, but mashambani (in the villages) nearly all families use coal or wood.

Here’s what the means: It is estimated that within 20 years there will not be a single tree left in Zanzibar. According to the World Health Organization, pollution is the world’s largest killer in the developing world. 8.4 million out of the 9 million people killed in 2012 due to exposure to polluted soil, water, and air were in low and middle income countries. Approximately 4 million people die each year from indoor cooking smoke, more deaths than both HIV/AIDS and Malaria. Poverty doesn’t just affect people in terms of meeting their everyday needs. Poverty traps you in unhealthy and dangerous situations. Most people understand the dangers and illnesses that come from cooking smoke, but they don’t have the opportunity to choose an alternative.

Think about it. Everyday you are responsible for cooking food for you family. You know you are putting yourself and your family in danger while cooking, but what’s the alternative? Kutopika? (to not cook?) These are the decisions people face while living in poverty. Basic acts of sustenance can kill you.

This is where we start: Zanrec is partnering with an organization from the mainland called Arti. They’ve designed majiko (stoves) with efficient material that heat up faster and stay hotter longer. These majiko are pretty amazing. Compared to the normal stoves used in Tanzania, they reduce the cooking time by 50%, reduce the energy input by 50%, and produce 80% less smoke. Compared to the amount of time women spend cooking in Zanzibar (I would estimate nearly half the day), this is changing lives.

This past week I spent two days in the field. I conducted two trainings independently and traveled to some hotels teaching the staff about the new majiko. I guess I’ve developed a bad taste in my mouth about hotels, knowing how damaging they can be to the environment and local communities, but the hotels that partner with us are leading the way in something we call ecotourism. It was so refreshing to interact with managers who are invested in their employees’ well being. The majiko are more expensive than what’s normally sold in Zanzibar, but they last longer and come with a 2-year warranty. The majority of the population would not be able to afford such an investment up front. The hotels we’ve worked with so far are enabling their employees by setting up a payment plan. One hotel is even going as far as possibly buying the stoves for their employees as an end of the year bonus.

I was pretty overwhelmed with the responsibility of conducting a training independently. Sometimes talking to a group of Waswahili (Swahili people) can be like talking to a brick wall. I was aiming for the training to be more of a discussion so they could drive the training in a way that would be most beneficial to them. It was kind of difficult to get any interaction at first, especially from the women. Things started to get a little easier as I went along. I finally won them over when I asked, “Mbona ukimya? Mnaniogopa au mnashangaa kumwona mzungu anayeweza kuzungumza Kiswahili vizuri?” (Why is it so quiet? Are you guys scared of me or are you all surprised to see a foreigner who can speak Swahili well?)

After months of feeling stagnant and kind of useless, it has been so exciting to be working to give people the opportunity to change their lives. The excitement that everyone showed about the majiko is enough to make up for all the disappointments we’ve faced while being here.

*Patuza stands for “Pamoja Tusafishe Zanzibar,” the tagline at Zanrec. I wish someone had seen my face once I solved that puzzle




Explaining how to sort different types of waste

Explaining how to sort different types of waste

Look at that smile!

Look at that smile!


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