Monday, March 15, 2010

Special Edition: In the Market for Western Heads East!

Now that you know more about Western Heads East, I encourage you to attend a celebration event taking place at UWO!

You are cordially invited to “In the Market for Western Heads East.”  Support Western's community response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.  Come celebrate the successful women-led, micro-enterprise initiative utilizing probiotic yoghurt developed by two Western professors.

Join past interns, the fundraising team, faculty, staff and students in extending a warm Western Heads East welcome to the Ambassadors of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia who will be in attendance for the evening. Important stakeholders from Western will also be attending, such as Dr. Amit Chakma.

The Great Hall at The University of Western Ontario will be transformed into a lively East African market with stalls where interns will provide poster programs of their experiences. There will be food and wine pairings, busker entertainment, multi-media presentations, and much more.  We will be featuring a silent auction of hand-carved crafts made by Tanzanian and Kenyan crafters, and paintings from local London artists.

Western Heads East, first established in East Africa in 2004, is a unique collaboration between The University of Western Ontario, governmental and non-governmental organizations in Tanzania, Kenya, and more recently, Rwanda. Documented evidence shows that the probiotic yoghurt has health benefits, especially for people with compromised immune systems and suffering from under-nutrition.  This simple, life saving technology has formed the core of women-led social businesses in Africa, with a goal to make this probiotic yoghurt accessible and affordable to all community members.  So far, 34 Western students and 10 staff members have visited and spent time with the women's groups, government agencies, and institutions of higher learning in these three countries, and these have become our firm partners in the transfer of technology, research and service learning.

We ask that you set aside Thursday, March 25  from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm to experience this unique East African marketplace in the Great Hall, and give your support to Western Heads East.  Tickets are $50 per person, $25 for students.  Wine and traditional food will be served.

Invite any of your friends, family or colleagues who may be interested! This is a fabulous opportunity to learn more about Western Heads East and to become involved.  Please visit our website at , or email the team at or me at for more information!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Week 5.. Getting ready for Joke Dols's Clinical Trial

I will have to post a few times in a row this week to catch up! We have been very busy with Joke’s trial, and I was sick for a bit last week. I’ll describe the two main research projects that we are helping with, and then get into some day-to-day details that I wrote out for week 5!

Clinical Trial: Joke Dols

Joke Dols is a medical graduate from ErasmusMC University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She is an MD candidate (in the Netherlands you aren’t an MD until you have a PhD or a specialization, whereas in North America she would be considered an MD now), so she is working on this project to work toward that. The trial is being supervised by Dr. Gregor Reid (Director of the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Surgery at UWO, etc) as well as Ruben Hummelen (Research fellow at Lawson Health Research Institute UWO, PhD candidate also from Erasmus, working under Dr. Reid).  Other investigators involved are Dr. Butamanywa from Sekou Toure Regional Hospital in Mwanza, and Dr. Changalucha, who is the Director of NIMR (National Institute for Medical Research Tanzania). These doctors worked alongside Ruben and Jaimie Hemsworth in the past with other clinical trials and probiotics research.

The goal of the trial is to study the impact of probiotics on the efficacy of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and recurrence of bacterial vaginosis (a condition which makes women more susceptible to HIV, and increases transmission of HIV). The trial will involve 150 women who are HIV positive, over the age of 18, taking ARVs, not breastfeeding or lactating, and with no allergies to milk, etc. Half of the women will take probiotic-supplemented yoghurt and half will take unsupplemented yoghurt (all made by the Mamas at the yoghurt kitchen!), for 30 days, 125 mL each day. On the first and last day, blood tests will be taken by finger prick (to calculate viral load) and vaginal samples will be taken to test for bacterial vaginosis. The project is double-blinded, so Joke and the other investigators (including me) cannot know which yoghurt is which! All of the yoghurt, after it is made by the Mamas, is tested for viability and quality control by Olivia at NIMR, and she is the only one who knows which is probiotic. Joke finished the protocol for this research in April 2009 and waited almost a whole year for her ethics proposal to be approved- she has worked very hard! Thus far we’ve had a few setbacks and complications, but other than that it has been very exciting. I am helping with mostly administrative tasks, distribution of the yoghurt to patients, transport of the yoghurt to the hospital, and making the yoghurt with the mamas, etc, while Olivia is doing quality control at NIMR and also helping with making the yoghurt.

Olivia, Joke and I the weekend the trial began. Joke's boyfriend, Major, owns a shipyard in Mwanza and likes to take us out for boat rides!

Moringa project: Yolanda Hullegie and Arja van Tienen

The “moringa project” is a research project that will be conducted by Arja van Tienen and Yolanda Hullegie, two Dutch medical students from ErasmusMC in the Netherlands as well. The research is again being supervised by Dr. Reid and Ruben Hummelen. Arja and Yolanda will be arriving in Mwanza at the end of March, and they will hopefully be staying with us in the WHE intern apartment! Olivia and I are very excited to have some roommates. We currently have a spare bedroom with a bunk bed in it, so there is definitely plenty of room for the 4 of us. The goal of their project is to develop a sustainable micronutrient supplemented/probiotic functional food to target the gastrointestinal and micronutrient abnormalities of HIV patients. If the results of the study turn out to be useful, we will be able to implement them at the yoghurt kitchen to further benefit HIV patients in Mwanza!

Yolanda and Arja will be fortifying the probiotic yoghurt with different micronutrient sources, including moringa (local plant that is extremely nutrient dense) and developing fermented probiotic porridge. Stable foods are eaten here frequently (ie ugali), so adding a probiotic strain and/or micronutrients would be sustainable and beneficial. Olivia and I have been doing some initial investigating on our own with the moringa and with different grains and fermenting. Olivia will be helping with testing of the fermented products for viability of the bacteria (quality control much like she is doing with Joke’s trial), and I will be helping with the sensory evaluation of the products that will be conducted at the end of the study. Since this part will involve human subjects, we had to apply for ethics approval through UWO. I worked on this huge document a few weeks ago. It’s interesting to see all of the things that researchers need to consider when preparing a proposal. It makes sense that everything is heavily regulated and that strict measures are taken to protect peoples’ rights, even off-site. I feel like I have been thrown into all of this without having taken a lot of courses that would have made things more clear (ie Research Methods, Stats, etc), but it’s fun to learn right in the field!

Week 5

This week we made some good progress with packaging. I am ecstatic and cannot wait to see how this changes things at the kitchen!

Last week we tried contacting a bunch of different package companies in Tanzania and Kenya. We hadn’t had much luck with any of them. We found a big box of small, white plastic bags for packaging in the kitchen that are used for the WHE project in Kenya. They are produced in Nairobi, Kenya, so we were looking into options for transporting them here. These bags are extremely cheap compared to any other option for packaging that we have seen thus far.

On Monday we decided that we would look into getting our labels printed while we waited to hear from Nairobi about the bags. We edited a label that Missy had created before she left, and we wanted to print it onto stickers that could be applied to the bags. The label displays our brand name (FITI), nutrition information, etc (see picture!).

We walked around town checking out countless shops selling stationary, books, office supplies etc. We found some pretty decent options for sticker labels that we could use, but all the vendors seemed to be shocked when we told them how many we would want to print. We didn’t find anything that would bring the total cost of our label (including the sticker and printing) below 100 Tsh. This didn’t seem feasible, since we would still have to pay for the packages themselves. We were getting pretty discouraged, when a man suggested that we go to a shop that he knew of. He pointed to a tall metal sheet/fence that had guards around it. When we got past them, we found a field/stadium behind the fence. In the corner there was a tiny office with a dirt floor, two old computers and a bunch of men eating chicken. I was shocked and skeptical, but it turns out these guys make really cool labels! How we would have ever found this place without Esther’s translation abilities and persistence I do not know.

We discovered that this place behind the stadium is just a small office for collecting orders, and the actual production of the labels (for t-shirts, food products, etc.) is done at the owner’s house! He showed us some sample labels, and estimated that he could get us labels at about 50 Tsh apiece if we ordered a large quantity. This was very exciting for us. The quality of the labels exceeds paper sticker labels. They are durable and actually meant for food products.

After our visit to the label office, I went to a Vodacom store to look into the Vodafone USB Internet device that Missy left for us. It doesn’t work on my computer, so I wanted to see if there was a way to fix it. The man told me to come back with my computer.

By the time we were finished at the Vodacom store, we were famished, but we had to rush over to NIMR at 3:30 to meet with Dr. Changalucha about our involvement with the trial. We had been trying to arrange this meeting for weeks! He was finally well and available. The meeting was quick, and Dr. Changalucha was extremely welcoming and supportive of our work with Joke’s trial, as well as our plans to help Arja and Yolanda with the lab work for their research project in a few months. He directed us to his lab technician in the Microbiology department, George, to help us arrange the logistics for Joke’s trial. Later that night we met with Joke to have a debrief about our meeting with Dr. Changalucha and our plans for the week.

On Tuesday I got up early to go back to the Vodacom store with my computer and the USB device. The man with whom I had spoke the day before took me outside and down a few blocks to a different building. This one had a security guard outside that opened the doors by scanning a key card. The building was air-conditioned, clean, and full of new computers in actual cubicles where employees sat. This was the first establishment I had seen with this much sophistication and technology. I guess Vodacom is pretty big- it is one of 3 networks in Tanzania and the word “Vodacom” is painted/posted virtually everywhere in the city. A man there took my computer and tried a few things, but didn’t seem to have a clue what to do with my Mac. I left my computer there for him to “play with”, because I had to return to the apartment for our Kiswhili lesson at 10:30.

After our lesson, Olivia and I walked to Mabatini to catch the Mamas before they finished up at Mtoni. The Mamas make mass amounts of chapatti, mandazi and chai (tea) for the students of Mtoni Secondary School every morning. They have a small building on the grounds of the school (right across a field from the yoghurt kitchen) where they cook. The Mamas rotate in shifts between Mtoni and Jiko La Jamii (the yoghurt kitchen).

It started pouring when we arrived at Mtoni, so we all ran to the kitchen and crammed onto the benches and on the floor to have a meeting about Joke’s trial. We advised the Mamas that they would be making about 12 L of yoghurt on Wednesday. Olivia will be doing quality control testing on Thursday, since Friday is a holiday here. Saturday the trial begins. We also talked about containers for transport of the yoghurt to Sekou Toure Hospital (where the testing and yoghurt intake for the trial will take place), and logistics of transport.

Next we headed back to Vodacom to pick up my computer. The man still hadn’t figured out the problem, but we did find out that using Internet by this method is very expensive. One MB uses up 250 Tsh on a phone card. He tried to interest me in other bundles available, but they were also very expensive. I left my computer there again, with the man promising to figure something out within the hour.

We then went out to the parking lot to find Pius to take us to NIMR for our meeting with George (the Microbiology lab technician at NIMR). Pius was nowhere to be found, and of course I didn’t have my phone because the Vodacom man needed it to work the USB Internet device. We got a bit anxious because we knew if we were late, everyone at NIMR would be gone home. It was crucial that we speak with George about Joke’s trial, since quality control of the yoghurt needs to start in a few days! While waiting for Pius we spotted a man selling aloe vera plant- we considered buying some, but decided against it because we often buy obscure plants and vegetables that we don’t know what to do with, and then we forget about them and they rot.

A man selling aloe plant on the street 

We did find Pius eventually; he had gone to find something to eat (the day had been long for all of us!). We ended up meeting up with not only George, but also Epiphany and Editha (the two other lab techs, who culture the GR-1 probiotic strain for the TWG Mamas). We discussed Olivia’s involvement with quality control (testing for viability of the bacteria), organized supplies needed, and took a tour of the lab. We arranged for quality control to be done every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and we organized a special time on Thursday to come in and watch the probiotic culturing procedure. Everything was so much easier than I thought it would be. George kept saying, “When is best for you? Whenever you like, just pop in!”. All three of the lab techs are really friendly, flexible and helpful. George especially was very interested in the trial, and was excited to hear about how the Mamas were doing and the moringa project that Olivia and I will be helping with in the near future.

By this time it was about 4 PM, but we still needed to pick up my computer and return to the label office.  The man at Vodacom told us that alas, there is no software available for Macs and I cannot use the device on my computer.  His words: “Macs have many, many problems”.

Back at the office behind the stadium, we scored big time. We met a man named Peter who was extremely enthusiastic about our yoghurt project. The file for our label wouldn’t load on the computer at the office, so they took us across the street and into a small alley where they have another office. The computer there had Photoshop, so we did some manipulations and re-editing of the label (the guy there was also so helpful!!). We then walked back to the original office and had an hour-long discussion with Peter about our label, packaging, the future of TWG, and his services. Peter asked why we would bother making stickers when he could get our label printed directly on our plastic bags for us.  We of course loved this idea, and after some calculations he came up with an even cheaper price for us than the stickers! I quickly decided that Peter could seriously be our official marketing consultant. He gave us a ton of tips for packing food products, talked about the ins and outs of government regulations and advertising, mass production of the bags and other packing options, and we even talked about our competitors (ie Mara Milk- the only other yoghurt producer that we know of or have heard of in Tanzania). He agreed that there is a huge market for our product, and told us he wants to help get us on our feet because we have so much potential. I am so excited to have met this man!! He is exactly what TWG needs- enthusiasm, motivation and resourcefulness.  We told him that we would let him know as soon as we had figured out exactly how many bags we currently have that can be printed on.

We met with Joke that night to collect some posters and brochures that she had made to recruit patients for the trial. We discussed where we would post them (in the yoghurt kitchen and throughout Mabatini), and talked about the meeting with George, Epiphany and Editha. Tuesday was such a long day!!

On Wednesday we woke up early to make the first batch of yoghurt with the Mamas for the trial!  I was a bit worried at first that we would mess it up somehow, but everything went smoothly. Joke called me first thing to tell me that Dr. Butamanywa thought she should order more yoghurt than we had originally estimated. Since Joke’s trial requires the women to consume yoghurt every day, we will be producing yoghurt every three days at 125 ml per person per day. That’s 375 ml per person per batch, and we at first estimated that 30 women would come for the first day (12 L of yoghurt needed- 6 L probiotic, and 6 L non-probiotic). We changed the estimate to 16 L.
Top Left: Pasteurizing the milk

While pasteurizing the milk and then waiting for it to cool, Olivia and I pulled out the big box of plastic packing bags in the kitchen. The box was completely infested with worms, multiple types of unidentified bugs, and a massive flying cockroach. Mice had also chewed out the box. This was a depressing site, so I went back to stirring the cooling milk while Mama Leah took the bag outside. I was in the middle of realizing how much of a setback it would be to wait for a way to get more bags from Nairobi, when Olivia called me to look at the box. There were a few of the bags on top that were infested, but the rest of the bags were inside an extremely thick plastic sack that had kept them clean and untouched. YES! What’s more, the bags were packed in bundles of 100 inside more individual wrapping. They are not ruined!!!
Right: Mama Leah and Olivia open the sack of non-infested bags

Left: A helpful instruction sheet kept in the kitchen to remind the Mamas of how much starter culture and how much probiotic culture to add to the milk 

We finished the yoghurt production around 1 PM, and called Pius to bring us and the huge bag of plastic packages back to our apartment. We counted 10 800 bags – amazing. We then had some lunch, went to the market, and then to an aerobics class with Joke. I never thought I would do an aerobics class in Mwanza. It was a pretty cool experience – the instructor was intense. He yelled for the entire hour and a half, marching around the room pointing at people and demanding that everyone keep up and try harder. It felt a bit like a football practice. At the end we were doing crunches and tricep push-ups while counting together out loud. When someone didn’t keep up, we would re-start the repetition.

I’m pretty interested to see how Joke’s trial goes! Mama Leah agreed to help us recruit patients by spreading the details by word of mouth. Hopefully there will be a good turn out for the first day.

Esther is getting ready for her trip to Uganda. TWG was invited to send one representative to a conference in Entebbe (capital city of Uganda), and the mamas chose to send her. The workshop is entitled "Land use Management for Sustainable Livelihoods and Poverty Alleviation in the Lake Victoria Basin: the Case of Urban Agriculture in Mwanza, Kisumu and Entebbe". It is hosted by The Inter-University Council for East Africa, Ardhi University if Tanzania and SIDA. Research is being done to determine ways to propagate projects for scaling up urban agriculture in the region.

Me and Esther with her PrecisionAir plane ticket to Uganda, excited about her trip

More interesting points about African life!

All types of stores here are simply "shops". They are small, dirty, and look like closets that could be portable if they weren’t attached to the rest of the row down the street. The owners run the shops all day long, and they may be open or closed at any point during the day. We once went to a print shop, where business was in full swing: customers were talking to the owner and people were unpacking stock, etc. We walked next door to compare prices at another print shop, and then returned to find that the first one had been locked up and closed down… at 1 o-clock in the afternoon. Shops in town tend to sell one type of thing. For example some will sell piles and piles of old shoes, some will sell food, others fabric (kengas and kitenges), speakers, fridges, or paper. Shops are places for socializing. Most have plastic lawn chairs or wooden benches of some sort in or around them, and friends will stop by and chat with the owners. One of the shops across from our apartment usually stays open until about 9 PM, and when we run over there is usually a small group gathered there to talk and drink beer. ALL types of shops sell sodas. Sodas are kept in Coca-Cola fridges and bottled in glass. Varieties include a variety of Fanta flavours (pineapple, passion, orange, lemon), Coke, and Pepsi. That’s it. Everyone drinks it and everyone sells it. Even the TWG Mamas sell it! All of the empty bottles must be returned to where you buy the soda from, or else the owner of the store will hunt you down (this happened to Olivia). Enormous Coke trucks make rounds throughout the day, dropping off crates of these sodas everywhere, and collecting the empty bottles.

Certain types of food are served/prepared/sold at certain times of the day, and at some points in the day you can’t find much prepared food at all. After midnight nothing is open, not even small the shops. Breakfast (chapatti, mandazi, vitombua, chai) is available at cafes between about 7 and 10 AM, lunch is 12 to 2 PM, and dinner is 8 to 9 PM. Other than that, you can only find mandazi on the street, your own produce and meat in the market, or meals at one of the nicer, sit-down restaurants in town that have menus (where you will wait for 1+ hours for your food to be made). Chips are a big deal here. “Chips” means fried potato wedges, cooked with an omelette-like egg and vegetable mixture. Chips are made everywhere on the street, but only in the afternoon and evening! There are five places that I can think of within 1 block of our apartment where chips can be found. 


On Wednesday last week we went for a ride on Major (her boyfriend)’s boat. We arrived at Tilapia with a bunch of our other friends, grabbed a drink and boarded the boat. It was still early in the evening when we set out, and I figured the ride to Tunza would be quick. It turned out we were on the boat for over an hour, so we got to see the absolutely stunning sunset on the perfectly calm lake. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful – Mwanza is built right on the lake, but only parts of the city are visible from the water since there are so many mountains and hills. Khalid (Major’s brother) pointed out a long line of fishing boats lined up in the distance when it got dark. Recently a plane crashed in the lake there, because the pilots (who were Russian and had probably drank too much vodka, according to Khalid) thought that the line of lights from the boats was a runway. Five or six of us climbed to the top of the boat, but we later climbed down because Major became worried about the stability of the boat- haha. About half an hour after we left it had gotten dark, and we stopped the boat and a few of the boys jumped in to swim. When we docked at Tunza later, we played on the beach, danced and climbed into a tree house that we found. Wednesday had quickly turned into a weekend, and it was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing nights of the past month! I will never forget Lake Victoria or that beautiful sunset- wow.

Sunset from the boat!

A few times we’ve seen huge crowds of people walking through town in a pack, obstructing all traffic, animals, piki pikis, dala dalas, and all the other crazy things that are normally in the streets. In the middle of the crowd a coffin is carried by seven or eight men, and continuously passed among the men. This happens every time someone dies, we learned, and it is a social obligation for entire communities to attend the burial. If you know the person who died or live near them and don’t attend, you will be shunned and no one will attend the burials of your family members.  You will be left alone with a dead body. Muslims bury their dead without the coffin, and the crowd then returns with an empty coffin. Shops close in the area where the person died.

Khanga vs. Kitenge
Khangas and Kitenges (kee-ten-gay) are the colourful, patterened fabric that Tanzanian women wear wrapped around their waists as skirts and aprons, tied around their shoulders on cold days, worn over their heads to protect from the hot sun, tied over their shoulders to carry babies in, etc, etc! They are simply large rectangles that are all the same size, and the women tuck them in a way that keeps them on with no effort. Olivia and I have still not mastered this, and we often have to stop and re-tuck ours. Tanzanians compliment us when they see us wearing them ("umepenza!"). Khangas have a standard outline with something written along the bottom in Kiswahili, while Kitenges can be any pattern and don't have any words on them. In the picture below, Khangas are in the piles on the right and Kitenges are in the piles on the left.

Kitenges and Khangas

Lilian is our friend that we met during our first week in Mwanza. Her mother, Mary, works for a women's rights organization that is associated with Kivulini, and Lilian worked sometimes as a seamstress in a shop on the first floor of our building. She is 21 years old and has a son. After our Valentine's party, Lilian invited us to come for lunch at her house. She lives with her parents about a 45 min dala dala ride from our area, and she cooked a lovely meal of African food for us! We spent the afternoon playing with Lilian's son and her niece, and talking with her younger brother. After lunch she showed us her diploma in Hotel Management from her college in Dar Es Salaam, and told us how she had been looking for a long time for a job so that she could afford her own place. We asked if she had applied at Tilapia, and offered to take her resume there since we go there often. That week I went to Tilapia and wrote a letter to the manager explaining that I am a regular guest there and recommended her as a well-spoken, caring and skilled person who would be great person to hire. They interviewed her, and two days later I got a text message from her saying that she had signed a 2-year contract with them!

Lilian's home cooked meal: fried bananas, fish, rice, pineapple, spinach of some sort...

Almonds amaze people here. My mom shoved 6 bags of almonds into every pocket of my suitcase right before I left, so I pull them out to snack on occasionally. Everyone asks me which tree they come from.

Olivia almost got run over by a car while walking in Mabatini- it actually ran over part of her foot. Like I said, honking means move out of the way! I guess she didn’t move fast enough…

Dinner with some of our friends at Tunza: all 3 of the girls from Sweden are named Anna, and 2 of the guys from Switzerland are named Georg.

Pendo's daughter and grandson

Mama Hawa's daughters! We love playing with them when we are in Mabatini

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mbongo Mweupe

Other than a few hassles, everyday life in East Africa now feels pretty regular. We are used to people hissing, yelling, staring and even laughing at us. We hosted a party at our place on Saturday night with some friends and their families, and we discovered the roof of our building.

The roof has a great view, and is good for reading on weekends


This week it rained heavily a couple times. The roofs of a lot of houses and shops are just sheets of metal, so the rain makes for noisy, sleepless nights. Our roof leaks in the kitchen, and one morning we woke up to an entirely flooded floor. Parts of the streets flood every time it rains. A couple days ago our sink drain became completely plugged, so I was washing dishes outside on the porch for a while until we fixed it. The power goes out in entire sections of the city many nights for a few hours at a time, and our water is shut off periodically. Internet was hard to access this week! The Internet cafĂ© near our apartment has been closed for days with no explanation, and Tilapia’s WiFi was also down for a while.

This is how the street in front of our apartment looks every time it rains.


Early last week we decided to have a Valentine’s party. There was virtually nothing in Mwanza that could have reminded us that Valentine’s day was approaching, except a small, heart shaped cake that we found at a bakery down the street one day. No marketing schemes, no billboards, no radio commercials, no sales or special promotions like in N. America - what a difference. We invited our friends and the Mamas to come to our apartment on Saturday night. Some of the Mamas didn’t end up coming because they thought that the party was on Sunday. Even though we said Saturday night in our invitation, everyone was confused. They thought we had just made a mistake. Why would we have a party for Valentines if it was not actually Valentine’s day?

So we bought the little heart shaped cake, went to the market early Saturday morning, and then cooked in the afternoon with Mama Joyce, Mama Asha and others. It was a great evening and the food was wonderful - African women are amazing cooks!! The power went out of course for part of it, but we lit some candles and proceeded.

Our cute little cake- the most decorated baked good I have seen in Africa

Mama Joyce, Mama Asha, and other women cooking up a huge feast 

The electricity went out, so we lit candles

Bottom left: Tim (from England, working on a project in the ship yard)
Top Left: Dr. Joke Dols and her boyfriend Major, who lives here and also works in the ship yard
Right: Olivia eating chapati with rice and fish

Recurring theme of this internship: fermentation

The probiotic yoghurt is fermented milk. We are working on creating a fermented porridge. We cut into a pineapple that we bought one day last week and it had fermented - the smell was so strong! We had free fermented banana wine at Tunza a couple times, they are trying it out as a new product. We bought dried mangos today and they taste fermented. I had mandazi this morning and it tasted fermented (this one is a bit far-fetched, but I’m not kidding!). Everything tastes fermented.


A couple days ago we visited Mtoni High School, which is located in Mabatini near Jiko La Jamii (the yoghurt kitchen). There we were treated like high status guests of honour. We were introduced to hundreds of children gathered below a platform outside the school, given a guided tour of the grounds, had a meeting with the faculty and assistant Headmaster, and learned about challenges that they face (lack of books, lack of teachers, concepts are taught in Kiswahili but the books are in English, etc). Mtoni has a partnership with Clarke Road Secondary School in London, Canada. We brought some funds with us that were raised by Clarke Road students for Mtoni, and we are waiting to hear what Mtoni plans to use these for. We learned a lot about the school systems here in Africa. The Assistant Headmaster, Albert, explained that truancy is a huge issue. There are 900 students enrolled at Mtoni, but on any given day 300 will be absent. It is hard to discipline students since parents will keep their children home to help with work, parents don’t show up to scheduled meetings, and parents are often unreachable. Children can be missing from school for weeks at a time. The faculty was very interested in what we had to say about the school systems in Canada. We explained how our student governments work, subjects that are taught, etc. This was an extremely enlightening experience- we feel so lucky to have structured and effective school systems in Canada. 

This was taken right after our meeting with the faculty at Mtoni. Albert is on the left side of me, and the two in front in uniforms are Head Boy and Head Girl

Albert and Gaudance have both explained to us numerous times how difficult it is to teach all school subjects in English (textbooks are in English) to students who speak only Kiswahili. Every time I meet people my age or younger who speak decent English, I ask them, Where did you learn English? Usually they will tell me they learned it in school. This confused me because everyone is taught the same, but it seems that only some actually learn the language. Gaudance told us that children need very good teachers starting at the earliest level and continuing each year in order to keep up with the English, or else they need to be extremely motivated to practice on their own. If they fall behind for one year, it is impossible to catch up and teachers will explain science and math in Kiswahili to facilitate catch-up for concepts. People don’t speak it in every day life and many of the teachers let their students fall behind.

Some students from Mtoni High School. They always greet us with "good morning", "good afternoon", or "good evening". They often mix these up though. 

On Sunday morning, Salome showed up at our apartment at 8 AM as she had promised. We walked for what felt like an hour and a half, past Mlango Moja, Isamilo, a few mountains and along Lake Victoria. As always most shops along the way were closed, and everyone was headed for church. We reached our destination close to 10 AM: a very, very long building that stretched into a field, constructed mostly of logs and metal pieces. From down the street we could hear the gospel ensemble- they have a pretty impressive sound system at this church! The worship segment lasted a good 45 minutes and then the pastor took the floor. He greeted the congregation (I’d estimate 300 people) and spotted us right away. He said something in Kiswahili about wazumgu and kiingereza (people and English) and two students around our age came to sit beside us, and then translated the entire sermon for us. This was pretty impressive. They were really eager to make sure we understood everything that was being said. The pastor was really passionate and caring, and even singled out our visit to Mwanza and the church in one part of the sermon, as an example of motivation and initiative. After the sermon the pastor asked Olivia and I to greet the congregation. With the help of one of the translators we thanked them and explained the WHE project and our research. They had some traditional dancing afterwards, and then we hiked up a mountain by the lake to Salome’s house. We looked out on a beautiful view of the lake and the city from a cliff outside her small, empty, stone home. Salome has very few possessions like most people in Tanzania. She made ugali and stew for us. It was a very humbling visit and after the tiresome walk back home, I felt very lucky to live in spacious, furnished and homey apartment.

Me and Salome in her house

Interesting notes:

Gaudance explained the time situation a bit more. Tanzanians start counting time at 7 AM, when the day officially begins (sunrise). So 7 AM is 1 o-clock, and they count until 6 PM (dusk), which is 12 o-clock for them. Tanzanians count days, not nights. There is no AM or PM, you simply say asubuhi, mchana, jioni, or usiku (morning, afternoon, evening or night). Gaudance insisted that their system makes much more sense than ours does. If you ever tell a Tanzanian that you are staying somewhere for two nights, they won’t understand this. They count days only.

Everything is much less professional here, and less politically correct. During our meeting with the Assistant Headmaster and the faculty at Mtoni, there were frequent interruptions that no one seemed to notice except us. Many of the teachers would come and go, Albert answered his phone and proceeded to remain in his seat and have the conversation with a friend whilst chairing the meeting (people answer their phones in all circumstances), people started separate conversations while another was addressing the group, etc. People also talk about other people being too fat or too skinny, people tell us that white skin is nicer, etc.

Last week I mentioned that shikamoo (translation: please receive my respect) is used as the greeting for all elders. This week Olivia and I were shocked to learn that in more rural areas (more traditionally), this greeting is used for greeting all men. No matter what their age, all women are obligated to respect all men with this greeting and by bowing in front of them. If the boy is say, five years old, women must bend on their knees and say shikamoo.

Tunza at sunset right after yoga  


Bargaining for mangos in Mabatini at night


 Hassan still comes to learn English. He is a very good student and practices lots on his own!


Chapati that Esther helped us to make


Olivia, Mama Joyce, Mama Asha and me! Mama Joyce gave the Kanga I am wearing to me as a gift 


Cutest little girl!


Soccer Practice

PS: mbongo mweupe means "white person who lives here", as opposed to mzungu (white person who is foreign).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New friends, tribes, and prisoners

This week has been so amazing! I have learned so much. Olivia and I have made lots of new friends, we have become much more independent within the city, and we’ve begun using and getting a handle of the language.


Each day we try to greet people as we pass them in the streets, and we have come to know so many. It’s amazing how simple greetings can really facilitate relationships so easily here- it is not out of place to yell out “mambo” to any person you happen to encounter or walk by.

We met Mohammed and Isaac through Missy, and they like to check up on us and invite us to hang out in their office down the street. Salome, another friend of Missy’s, stopped by on Sunday to have yoghurt with us. We learned lots about the city from her and will be attending church with her next Sunday. Hassan likes to come by our apartment frequently to learn English, and he teaches us Swahili. Ben and Pius work and hang out around our building and like to talk. George likes to come to the market with us to help us bargain, and we especially love spending time with the yoghurt Mamas and their children!


Mohammed and Isaac escorting us to our apartment

Feeding Mama Cecilia's daughter Jamie (named after Jaimie Hemsorth!) some probiotic yoghurt

Last week we formed a special connection with a group of children in Mabatini, near the community kitchen. Mama Cecilia had referred us to her friend’s salon to get our hair done. The women who work there are extremely friendly and love to talk to us whenever we are in the area. By the time Esther and I had both had our hair done, there were a large group of children (probably 40) that had gathered outside the salon to play with Olivia and stare at us. This was the first time we had stayed in one place for hours with them, so they all got very comfortable with us. We visited all afternoon and into the night, playing African versions of “duck duck goose”, counting to one hundred in English and Swahili, etc. At times they got vicious with each other, fighting over who got to sit on my lap or grab Olivia’s hair. At one point when they were all really excited, three older boys were holding a 2-year-old above their heads. When one of them got the opportunity to grab Olivia’s hand, we watched the small one free-fall through the air to the ground. He got up and carried on. One orphan named Rose is picked on by the rest of them because she often sleeps in the streets and has a prostitute mother. That was hard to watch and we did our best to comfort Rose- we bought her some buns and I gave her a granola bar from my bag later on. We see these kids scattered throughout Mabatini every day now. One- and two-year-olds will reach out to us from their mothers’ arms when we stop by. These same kids used to burst into our tears with one look at our skin colour.


Watching me get my hair done!


This boy cried whenever he looked at us the first time we met him

The Masai

We first encountered a tribe called the Masai one day while walking home through the city. There is a back road where they sell beautiful beaded belts, bracelets, anklets and other tribal items. All Masai wear robes/shawls made of the same blue and red fabric, earrings, sandals, and many have large spacers in their ears. We see them everywhere in the city, and they are frequently employed as security guards at different places. The Masai always carry sticks as a form of self-defense. Esther has told us that they can be very harsh (if you do something to offend them) and that they drink the blood of some animals. Olivia tried to take a picture of one Masai woman cutting the tail off a sheep while we were looking at her merchandise. She yelled in protest and told us that we must pay 10, 000 shillings ($10) if we wanted to take a picture!

Masai beaded belts


Aside from Hassan’s Swahili help, lots of people assist us with the language. Very few people speak English; we are fully immersed. It’s not like going to Quebec City to learn French. We often spend long walks to work with Esther learning new phrases, self-introductions and greetings, and then we practice them immediately on the people walking by.

The swahili people are extremely polite, respectful and friendly. Everyone greets you. You are constantly welcomed- verbally-everywhere you go. Every single time. People say sorry, pole!, when you drop something or trip. Elders are always greeted with shikamoo (shee-ka-moh). No matter if the person is five years older than you or fifty, it is always used. I found this a bit confusing at first, because what did you do if you couldn’t tell the person’s age? There are so many other greetings and specific responses already. Why must they differ with age? Then one day I experienced its significance. A small child entered the kitchen, looked directly at me and said “shikamoo Mama” (mama is like a title, ie Mrs). I was amazed and responded with marahaba. I felt admired and valued; I wish these words could be used in English!

Today we had our first Kiswahili lesson with our instructor, Gaudance. He is a very friendly man who teaches missionaries in the area. I really enjoyed our time with him. He is extremely knowledgeable about all things grammatical, in both English and Kiswahili. One thing that we were repeatedly confused with and couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone about, was the difference between Swahili and Kiswahili. We now know: swahili is the adjective and Kiswahili is the noun. Tanzanians are swahili people and the language is Kiswahili.

Interesting notes

Many times a day we will see a person walking around with a megaphone, yelling random things into it. I have no idea why; I assume they are advertising or selling something, but they don’t normally have anything else with them. People sometimes drive by in huge trucks blaring ridiculously loud club music. No one is the least bit concerned or disturbed by any of this. I guess there are no noise by-laws. We once asked Esther to tell us what they were advertising and she said she thought it was Crest toothpaste.

Some kids think we are albino.

One day when we were with Dr. Joke from NIMR (she is Dutch), some children yelled out Mzungu!, to which she replied Africans!

Sometimes we mention little things in conversation that no one here understands. Esther and our taxi driver were once amazed by the concept of Lifeguards. When we drove by the lake I described that I used to work as one. They thought I was kidding.

The prison outside of town has fields that are worked by the prisoners. We drove by some prisoners- they basically roam free. Apparently if they try to run away, they are sentenced to double the remainder of their time there.

People who steal can and will be stoned or burned to death by the community if proven guilty.

Chickens, ducks, cows, cats and dogs wander freely through the streets, fields and neighbourhoods. The cows and chickens have owners and eventually return home, but most dogs and cats sleep in the streets. We’ve seen numerous dead ones.


Cows roaming near St. Augustine's University of Tanzania (SAUT)

Tanzanians tell time opposite to how we do; the big hand of the clock points in the opposite direction. So when it is 12 noon, they say it is 6 o-clock. I didn’t realize this for a while. When we were planning meetings with Esther and the Mamas last Monday, Esther kept telling me 10 o-clock PM. I kept asking if she was sure she didn’t mean AM. She finally said “oh, no! I mean 4 PM!”. I thought, that’s not even close, how can you possibly mix up 4 PM and 10 PM? Now I understand.

Work: goals and progress

A few of the things we are working on with the TWG Mamas:

Packaging of the Yoghurt!
In order for production and sales to increase, the yoghurt needs to be packed in a way that makes it easy to transport. Presently, customers bring their own cups and containers to the kitchen from home, or use some of the cups that the Mamas keep and reuse. We recently found a company in Arusha (a few hours away) that packs for a medical supplies company in Mwanza. The Mamas really like the packaging that they use. We are in the process of getting prices worked out, etc.


Mama Leah's son having some PB yoghurt

Selling ideas.
Once the yoghurt is packaged, we will be able to expand in this area. Presently the Mamas sell the yoghurt at the kitchen and at a couple other places in town. We would like to be able to sell it in the market and in stores. Many vendors have agreed to sell our product already! They know how much the people like it, and dairy products are scarce. You don’t see cheese around, and we’ve only seen one other type of yoghurt.

Teaching other women’s groups to make probiotic yoghurt.
There are two other women’s groups in town that are interested in opening their own yoghurt kitchens that we know of. One in particular has lots of motivation within its members. At our meeting on Monday the Mamas agreed to train these women and help them come up with a budget plan. We hope to get the other group involved as well. We also brain stormed about advertising the TWG training services to other women’s groups.

SCF Grant
Before Missy left she worked on a grant proposal for TWG. Presently they are not receiving funds from anywhere, which will quickly become detrimental. Subsidy for people living with HIV to receive free yoghurt has ceased as of January 2010. We are in the process of updating TWG’s current budget and assembling a projected budget to include future expansion. These will be included in the SCF grant proposal that we will submit.

Video clips to send to Canada for the March WHE Showcase.
These will include Mama Paskwalina discussing the positive impacts that the project has had on her health, her family and the community. Make sure you attend this event! Contact Ashley Motran for more details (


Last week we journeyed to Adilisha, a company that grows and produces moringa products just outside Mwanza. It was a very strange trip, but also extremely beneficial. We bought some of the leaves and seeds and got some other information from the company. We then picked some fresh moringa from a field near where Mama Joyce lives, dried it for a few days, and ground it in our blender. The powder that we bought and our own powder seem to be pretty similar! The next steps will be to evaluate the best amounts to incorporate into the yoghurt, the viability of the bacteria in the presence of moringa, and the acceptability of the product.

In order to prepare a probiotic porridge, we will need to find a grain that ferments to produce a good product and can keep the bacteria alive. Before we left, Dr. Reid told us that he didn’t think we would succeed in this. The two Dutch students found that other strains have survived in fermented grains. To start we are going to try fermenting Cassava flour and millet.

Sensory Evaluation
The Mamas think I should grind and dry my own sweet potato flour to incorporate into the yoghurt. I think this will have to do, because we haven’t found any in the markets, nor have we found anyone who knows where it can be purchased.


Olivia and I eating buns...aka deep fried dough made and sold on the street. So tasty.

Fresh fish that Pendo cooked for us one night

A vendor at the market- The streets are lined with rows and rows of these vendors

Helping the Mamas make Chepati that they sell at a nearby school, Mtoni

Mwanza is known as the "Rock City". This particular one (on Lake Victoria) is on the 2,000 Tanzanian Shilling bill.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Week 1

When I went out to eat breakfast on the balcony this morning, I noticed the streets were empty and most of the shops were closed. I guess on Sundays everyone is either in church or at home!

The Sunday Market

Pendo (who cleans our apartent) came by to take us to the Sunday Market. We took mental notes of the landmarks on our way, so that we would be able to find it next Sunday. Pendo pointed out lots of other useful places like bakeries as well. This market was even more exciting than the one we went to on Wednesday. We bought fresh mangos, pineapple, passion fruit, avocados, mini plums, garlic, potatos, sweet potatos, rice, beans, peas, tomatos, peppers, carrots, onions and bananas fresh off the branch! It was a heavy load for the three of us to bring back, and we paid just Tsh 15,000 (about $15) in total.

The place was crowded with vendors selling all different items, and as we walked by they would yell “Mzungu!” (white person) and shout out prices and names of their items. There were even large cages of live chickens being sold...a few boys reached in to grab them by their feet and lift them toward us.  Children walk through the crowds selling plastic bags to shoppers, and they would follow us through the market begging us to take their picture and buy their bags. By the time we were finished we had a whole crowd of them behind us.

When we got back to the apartment we had an hour-long conversation with Pendo and her daughter Margaret, which would have taken about five minutes had we been speaking the same language. We learned lots of new Kiswahili words (hoho- pepper, embe- mango, etc) and Margaret offered to take us to her church one day soon. We also met Pendo’s son, to whom we agreed to teach English and computer skills tomorrow evening.

The people in Tanzania are so interesting. This internship was a big deal for me because I’ve always lived at home, so this was my first time really “moving out”. I had also never travelled anywhere that required me to do any major cultural adjusting.  We’ve already met lots of people from all over the world; locals and travelers, people working and volunteering here, and people on vacation even. One French snorkeling instructor was backpacking Africa and was just passing through Tanzania when we spoke with him at Tilapia. He had been to Chad, the Congo, everywhere…and was looking for people to rent a vehicle with to go into the Serenghti.

I can’t believe we’ve been here for almost a week already. Tomorrow we have another meeting with the yoghurt mamas at the kitchen, and then we will begin investigating Moringa!

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Upon our arrival in Dar es Salaam, my first impression of Africa was just like I imagined- everything is basically outside, nothing is air conditioned, nothing opens early and there doesn’t seem to be much security except for a man sleeping behind the baggage check station. I spent a good ten minutes in the departure waiting room searching for my converter. I asked someone if there were any outlets anywhere to plug in my laptop and the person (security guard?) told me he expected me to be his wife. When we finally found a plug in an obscure hallway entitled “wasafino nchini” with a notice above the door saying you must be inspected before entering (I was not), it didn’t work.

We arrived in Mwanza at 11:30 AM Tuesday morning. Mama Joyce (one of the yoghurt mamas) and Esther (WHE Liaison) were at the airport to meet us with Pius, the taxi driver. The drive into the city was overwhelming, there was so much to take in. We had heard that Tanzanians carry everything on their heads, but items of this size?

Before coming to Mwanza, I had been told that everything is much less rushed and more laid back compared to North American lifestyle.  The drive to our apartment from the airport gave me the opposite impression- everyone seemed to be trying to get somewhere, the streets were constantly filled with cars honking at each other,  crowds were constantly forming and dissipating as people carried things and yelled at us and each other to buy merchandise. Since Tuesday I have realized that the streets are that way because of the state of infrastructure and because people get around mostly by walking, not because they are necessarily in a hurry. Honking is necessary because there are very few stop signs and traffic lights if any, and pedestrians do NOT have the right of way. Honking means move out of the way. In general, things really are more laid back. Things happen slower, and people have less commitments. Time is taken to prepare meals, and people stop to greet each other sincerely. Every time we go down to the shop below our apartment, we go through two or three different types of greetings (shikamoo, habari, mambo), they ask how we are doing, they tell us again and again that we are welcome (karibu sana), and they tell us to enjoy our time and to come back again. When we return in the afternoon we go through the same process.

The apartment is beautiful- I could not have asked for a more comfortable place to live (considering our location). The apartment has three large bedrooms and large windows in every rooms. It is very spacious, with a balcony that wraps around three sides of the apartment overlooking the busy streets below and hills on the outskirts. We are already familiar with many of the people in our area (called mlango moja)- everyone is so friendly!  
For the first few days our taxi driver Pius (we always use the same one because we know he is safe) drove us to get gas for the stove, to the market to get some groceries, to get phone cards and other supplies. On the third day we went to meet the Mamas at the yoghurt kitchen! They are all lovely women. That afternoon we sat through a Tukwamuane Women's Group (TWG) meeting. They elected a new chairperson (Mama Joyce) a new assistant chairperson (Mama Leah), secretary (Mama Asha), assistant secretary (Mama Cecilia), treasurer (Mama Elizabeth) and chair of discipline (Mama Sabina). The meeting took place in Kiswahili, with Esther translating for us to summarize. 

Yesterday we walked for hours through the city to run some errands with Esther. The streets all look similar and they wind around and don't follow a logical grid, so I had no idea where we were most of the time. Hopefully soon we will learn our way around! We saw so many unusual and interesting things. People constantly walk around yelling random things into megaphones that they are carrying. People sometimes blare extremely loud, obnoxious music from their cars or trucks. Seriously, I've never heard sound of that volume coming from a car. Near the end of the afternoon we stopped at a fabric store to pick out some pieces for dresses and bags that we will have sewn for us.