(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Makamba

In the past several weeks I've been doing my best to get settled into the new job. It's a lot of new information to take in but I am starting to feel a bit more comfortable with my knowledge of what's going on. One of the things that has been helpful is taking the time to visit all of the field operations and meet with staff. I began with the trip to Muyinga in the north. Then there was the trip to Kigali. Then this past week I was off to Makamba, our field site in the south.

The drive along the coast of Lake Tanganyika is exceptionally beautiful. I had been to Makamba last year while I was still in Tanzania so I had a decent idea of what it was about. Nonetheless, it was still a very pleasant drive minus the police checkpoints and the time I was buried in my laptop.

Stove to support bread making activity
We arrived around noon and I had lunch with the Field Coordinator. We spent the afternoon meeting about various issues prior to the large gathering of the entire field team. They were generally very welcoming with the exception of the usual questions regarding salary increases.

The next day I made a brief stop at a gender-based violence workshop where I met with representatives from partner organizations. I wasn't able to stay long and was soon whisked away to a savings and credit activity that we are doing in a very small village near a town on the lake called Nyanza Lac. It was a wonderful but long meeting where I was able to participate by simply saying a few words and then letting them get on with their own thing. It was as close as a tall white guy can come to being a fly on the wall in a rural, sub-Saharan African setting. With the exception of occasionally looking to see my reaction to things, they carried on as if I wasn't there.

Opening the locked box of cash - three members each possess a key to ensure security
The activity is set up such that it is self-funded with the exception of some basic bookkeeping materials. Otherwise, the biggest thing we add is expertise. The beauty is that it is sustainable and they will be able to continue it in the future without our assistance.

While I was sitting there, a small girl was sitting across the way. She initially was terrified by seeing me and then gradually warmed up to me as the meeting progressed. At one point she began to fuss and I gave her a pen which she proceeded to chew off and on for the duration of the meeting. I think that helped break the ice. Not long afterwards she came closer and even sat down on my feet facing me with the slobbery pen sticking out of her mouth. While I focused on listening to my Kirundi translator, I suddenly felt a vibration on the top of my shoes. The vibration became audible and it quickly became apparent that the little one was quite happily having a little bowel movement. The mother, who was one of the money counters, was sitting in front of me to my left. Her eyes opened wide with horror and she started to get up to retrieve her daughter. Just then an elderly lady, who I found out later was the grandmother, waved off her daughter, came over, swooped up the little one and headed for the door. As she picked her up, however, it was quite apparent to all on my side of the room that junior was not wearing nappies.

She may look innocent...
The young mother, with a renewed look of horror as she saw my shoes, came over with a cloth that she'd been sitting on and proceeded to wipe them off. Trying not to disrupt the meeting, I motioned to her that it was fine and I finally got her to retake her seat. I looked down and the remnants of the greenish, watery mess were already starting to dry. Several in the room seemed to get a kick out of the whole thing. Good news is we both ended up with a story to tell.
Bread makers with one of our staff

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