I want to start this blog post with a disclaimer that apologizes, as it has been far too long since our last post, for which we are sorry. Know that this post has been mulling over in my head for some time, but the words to express it were nowhere to be found.
In my recent time spent abroad in Kenya and now Tanzania the divide between the people never ceases to amaze me. In Kenya, I went to the United States International University, a school for children of privileged families. Politicians, both Kenyan and International, sent their children there to fulfill the requirement of a college education before they would take the jobs pre-arranged for them regardless of their individual strengths, weaknesses, or abilities. I viewed the semester long program as a social experiment of sorts. Students who attended USIU would never set foot in the public hospital I worked in, nor would they brave the public transportation into Town, or venture into the slums, which sprawl across various parts of the city. Since then I am still amazed at the experience of seeing some of the harshest examples of poverty along side some of the most extravagant displays of personal wealth I have even seen.
This situation is not specific to Kenya alone or even developing countries in general. It can be seen in major cities across the world and begs to question: what creates this divide? And how can it be overcome? One answer, which is certainly not the end-all solution, is opportunities. The lack of opportunities afforded to all people is certainly one part of the problem. At the same time, we can also say that in order to bridge this divide we must then increase and create more and better opportunities. The next obvious question then is how to create those opportunities or where do they come from? To which again, we have no exhaustive answer, but would like to offer one opinion. The opportunities about which we are speaking, can in large part come from human connection. By reaching out to people who have different experiences and lives we can intermingle our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas to bring about new thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. These interactions on the surface are “human connections,” but they are more so the connection of human lives and all that we as individuals have gone through and learned. We change and grow as we continuously interact with others, they teach us even as we, maybe unknowingly teach them.
In mid January, I had the good luck to be able to attend the Oyster Bay Farmers Market in Dar es Saalam with our fellow Project Coordinators Monique and Sophie, who are based in the city. Hailey and I had been sending Tabora products to the Farmers Market for a few months at this point and we were weary. We had been talking about the irony of running a food processing business to focus on nutrition in Tabora, but then sending all of our best products to a city 8 hours away in order sell at higher prices to the larger expatriate community. Additionally, we had seen inconsistent sales at the market, which meant losses for our partners in Tabora. This visit served as a way for us to fully understand what the ultimate goal of our participation in the market is, why it is helpful to both the Tabora project and the 2Seeds Network as a whole.
After a long bus ride during which I constantly feared that the crops I was bringing down from some of the other project sites had some how flown out of the underside storage compartment of the bus, I quickly learned that Dar is not quite so different from Nairobi. There is a clear divide between different sections in the city, where you can see foreigners, expatriates, and wealthier Tanzanians lived very different lives than not only the other, less wealthier Tanzanians in the city, but also the people we have come to know and love like family in Tabora.
When we woke on the morning of the Farmers Market, I was feeling quite anxious of what we were sure to encounter that day. As we loaded up the car, I found my mind wandering to advice that someone had given me when I was preparing to leave for Dar, which was “don’t expect everyone to know Swahili.” My concern was that for the last 5 months, Swahili had become a part of my daily routine. I was used to selling our products in Korogwe in Swahili to Tanzanians. I had absolutely no idea how to sell our products to anyone other than the people in Korogwe or in any other language other than Swahili. As we drove across the bridge onto the peninsula I began to see this as my opportunity to act as a bridge and connect the people in Dar with our small project and with the incredible people we live with in Tabora. This was my chance to tie our products to specific stories and pictures; to introduce the most important element of 2Seeds, the human element, our partners. I could connect the peanuts and popcorn to specific events and make them more real to the people in Dar. And in turn, I would take what I saw and who I met in Dar back to Tabora in memories, stories, and lessons to be shared with those who have not had that opportunity or may not even know opportunities like those exist.
As the day progressed, my brain slowly switched back over to English and into marketing mode. Sophie and I had what she described as one of the most successful farmers market since she had started bringing 2Seeds products late last year. When we saw that Tabora products weren’t getting enough attention, or drawing as many eyes as the stack of egg trays from the Kwakiliga Project balanced at the end of the table, we decided to take a more aggressive, proactive approach to marketing. No, we did not force people to buy anything, but we did open up a bag of each product and proceed to walk around the entire market, asking both sellers and buyers to taste a little and tell us what they thought. This opened up the lines of communication and gave us the chance to describe the project and our partners to people, after which they were hooked. As more and more people stopped by the 2Seeds table, we not only sold more products, but we also connected people, many complete strangers, with the network.
I met a woman who had moved to Tanzania years ago and fell in love, both with the country and with a Tanzanian who now work together selling homemade cupcakes and mini pies! I met a group of young Tanzanian men who were selling strawberries and blackberries from Morogoro, a city a few hours outside of Dar! I met a man who had run a chip factory in Italy for several years and told me exactly what kind of potato we needed to buy to get the brightest chips. I met a young couple who were doing work in agricultural development who had just arrived in Dar a few days earlier. I talked with a whole range of people and whether they were young, old, Tanzanian, foreign, each of them taught me something. In some cases, it pertained directly to our project, but in others it was helpful or new advice on Tanzania, development, or life itself.
They were all lessons I could, and did, take back and share with our group and neighbors, but likewise, I shared the lessons we have learned in Tabora with each person I interacted with. I shared with them lessons of learning Swahili, or how important it is to store water for drier seasons, or what it is like to watch someone’s son learning how to speak for the first time. I showed them our hardships and our successes, and to some degree enlightened them to what my life for the past 5 months has been and what my partners’ lives are like every day. Trying in some ways to bridge that gap between what people see and know and what they don’t see and don’t know, whether because of ignorance or just the lack of opportunity.
While I met many people and made many new friends during the market there are two women who have kept in touch since. The first woman, Lydia, is a Tanzanian woman who works with a group called “Food Processing Enterprises,” which sells a variety of processed foods and spices including dried fruits and vegetables! With some serendipitous luck, their table was located next to ours and I was able to chat with her throughout the course of the day. She told me that they were based just outside of Dar and she would be more than happy to talk to me about the process of solar drying, mentioning that she does trainings on the process of drying and storing food as well as how to build your own solar machine. As Hailey and I are hoping to build a second, larger machine with our partners in the near-ish future this seemed too good to be true! It was by a complete chance that I was able to go to this specific farmers market and that they happened to be stationed next to us! We are currently still in contact and exploring the ways in which we can work together despite the distance in between.
The second is a woman named Christine. She works with a farmers association in Zanzibar called “UWAMWIMA.” They are currently looking at different designs for solar dryers in Tanzania, in hopes of constructing their own as an addition to the work they are currently doing. She has reached out the 2Seeds ground staff and we are planning a time in the near future for her to visit Tabora to meet our partners and see our dryer.
Throughout the course of the weekend, I kept telling Sophie and Monique that “things happen in Dar.” The amount of people I met by sheer coincidence and some good luck continued to amaze me even outside of the farmers market. Sophie connected us with man named John Bosman, who owns a butcher shop in the wealthier neighborhood on the peninsula in Dar. He is interested in selling eggs produced by one of the other 2Seeds projects, The Kwakiliga Project, but he also decided to place a test order for Tabora products! Even though it was only a trial run to see how our products would sell, it was still one of our biggest orders to date with the highest sales prices we’ve seen. The result was that our partners’ individual profits for the last month were more than double than the month before. With crossed fingers and some follow up on our part, we will be able to set up contract for consistent orders with this butcher shop.
I read once that human connection is both the most important and complex challenge we face in the world. In a time when one word answers are way too common, and whole relationships are built over text messages rather than in person, there is a lot to be said for the face-to-face connection whenever possible. If you think about your local farmer’s market, what draws you to it? Is it the promise of fresh, organic food? Or is it the chance to connect more directly to that source of fresh foods? Markets are more than just a place to buy brightly colored and natural foods. They are an opportunity for people of all different genders, races, social classes to connect around a shared interest. Markets give us an opportunity to create a sense of community and mutual learning between consumers and producers. We are able to use these farmer’s markets in Dar as opportunities to connect potential consumers with the values and stories of Tabora, and of 2Seeds as a whole.