Research Field Trips

written 2/20

In the recent developments of our project, we decided to take our women through a somewhat intensive research process to aid our impending decision making. At this point, we were faced with choosing between food processing and keeping chickens; a very difficult choice (particularly for chicken-crazy Tanzanians). To combat the chicken fervor and ensure that our women know what they are getting into, we decided to take them on some field trips to see (with their very own eyes) some of the work that they would be doing. Despite some initial troubles (field trip doesn’t exactly translate well into Swahili and the fact that we were not, in fact, splitting up into two separate groups took about two weeks to sink in) our field trip week commenced with a bang.

Our first trip took us to Kwakiliga, a fellow plains village very close to Tabora with a similar climate. We went to see the chicken project that our directors, Sam and Ana, are currently helping to begin this year. With Ana’s encouragement, they are using a special coop design developed in Brazil. We arrived the day that the roof was being put up. Due to a small oversight (oops), our women were not aware that we wanted them to help with physical labor and arrived decked out in their finest. The partners in Kwakiliga were exceptional hosts and provided us with tea, small cakes (called cakey but taste like soft pretzels), and lovely conversation. The women saw the difficulties firsthand and even wanted to bring some men into the group so that they would get some help building the coops when we started in Tabora. It was an incredible thing to see the partners of Kwakiliga explaining the different parts of the coop to our partners and have them ask questions.

The next day I headed on a food processing trip with two of the group members. We headed to the home of a well-to-do woman who lives near the main town (Korogwe). We first met Mama Mayauka through the nutrition officer who Ros and Rachael worked with last year. Mama Mayauka has learned how to make all sorts of food products and was willing to help me open the eyes of my women to the possibilities of food processing. She went through the nitty gritty details of making a nutrition blend of four or five different flours (fed to babies) and of making liquid soap. My women diligently took notes and I could not have been prouder. Our own master baker in Tabora, one Mama Asha, was very shrewd and got all the information she could. Of course, I was a little thrown off by the sudden interest in liquid soap because that was not on my radar at all and I didn’t see any connection between soap and nutrition. After visiting with the Mama for many hours, we headed down into the market to try an exercise that had the potential to be beneficial. We visited one of the more expensive grocery stores and asked about the potato chips they sell (very expensive chips) and then I took the women to buy potatoes in the market to show them how much the people making the chips can mark up the price when selling them. I think they got it but sometimes they just smile at me and humor me. Then we headed over to what is known as the highway where the buses stop coming from larger cities. This is a crazy transport hub with some restaurants and stores to get drinks, cookies, or snacks for traveling. I had investigated the spot earlier and had made some friends with two of the store owners. We headed over to talk with them but the women were noticeably out of their comfort zone and it took some prodding to get them to talk. We confirmed what I had been told, which is that if we bring them a sample of our products they might be interested in buying. After work was done, we sat down to a fancy lunch at the restaurant. The women didn’t understand when I just got a plate of fruit but it was the most appreciated meal I had eaten in a while. Ah, fruit season.

The very next day I headed to Kijango with the women who traveled to Kwakiliga. Kijango is the second work site of another 2Seeds Project (formally known as The Magoma Project). They keep chickens and sell the eggs; with the profits they are able to give food to the students twice a week. After a long ride into Magoma (and another short ride over to Kijango) we were graciously welcomed into the teachers’ office. The school is larger than in Tabora and there were some teachers milling about the room. We held a short meeting with the head teacher and the main teacher in charge of managing the students for the chicken work. The head teacher was very formal in his attentions and made sure that our meeting did not fail to meet the strict standards expected for any Tanzanian gathering, even one so informal as ours. He considerately created an agenda on the spot and needed to make sure all the details of the agenda were settled and agreed to before we could proceed. We didn’t dare offer any corrections (not that any were needed). We had a somewhat helpful summary of the project from the second teacher and a much more helpful tour of the chicken coop when he was able to explain the actual work the students do. The set-up is remarkable and the project seems very successful. The women were a little over-awed. My friends in Kijango had that morning found out that the coop was experiencing a bee problem and they were in the middle of trying to remedy it (by removing all the water). We had our question and answer period outside underneath the large tree right next to the coop. This group of women was a little bit quieter but they managed to ask some good questions and, with me pushing them along, keep the conversation going. Unfortunately, they did not remember everything that they learned but it was a good experience. And the head teacher’s wife made us a delicious lunch before our hike back to Tabora.

After these three trips within three days, there was a break in the research due to a village-site meeting (in lovely Bungu) and hosting people on the stakeholders trip (the lovely Meeks). After a week, I managed to arrange another meeting with Mama Mayauka. This time we wanted to see food processing in action. The goal was to dry some leafy greens with her fancy drying machine (hello black plastic to seal in heat!) and possibly cook something fried that can be sold in tiny packages. Both wishes came true. I headed in early to pick up some greens at the market (I was later chided for only bringing a small amount; I didn’t try to explain that there was no way I could know what amounts are small and large because I was coming that very day to learn how to do it: a grammatical nightmare for my Swahili skills). The tutorials were wonderful and Mama Mayauka was a huge help in getting to make sure the women were participating and understood every step she was taking. After a brief break during which I had to run around and get all the supplies to make what is called tambi (little crispy bites of friend cassava flour), we continued learning. The women were so surprised that making these things was well within their power. Mama Asha took most of the packages back to Tabora to sell in her duka (yes, they all sold out) and I took the rest to show the other women in the group what these three had accomplished. Everyone was extra excited because they were getting free food but they were also so surprised to see that their friends were able to make something they don’t.

The field trip week (I use week loosely to mean the time in which these four trips took place) was designed to provide knowledge of the work the women would be entering. It was successful in that it opened their eyes and their minds (in this situation, those two are necessarily linked) to the possibilities. Seeing that there are other groups of people, not so unlike themselves, doing things that aren’t terribly complicated was huge for some of them. Of course, Mama Asha was ready to go but then she is a very unique Taboran. These trips were also fun for me—a chance to show the women some of my life and what I had been doing when preparing for these trips. Suddenly I was the one with an upper hand (that doesn’t happen nearly as often as you would think) and it was important for them to see both what is out there and the ways that 2Seeds can help them achieve it.

crossposted at

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