“Everything is possible” the words of our taxi driver that seemed to fit with so many things in this past trip to Zanzibar.
Right from the start nothing seemed to go as planned. We arrived at the ferry terminal only to find all the tickets were sold out, thinking that we would have to start our Zanzibar excursion the next morning we headed out of the Terminal and down the street. It was then that we met the incredible Mr. James. He pulled us into his office telling us he would just go talk to the Captain of the ship, it was fine. In disbelief we sat there as they scrambled to find us ways on to this boat. After several minutes, some of his employees came back slightly disappointed but not completely out of options. They exclaimed that they could only get the residents tickets on the ferry but they could fly us to Zanzibar on a private plane and book us a ticket for the ferry back. It was only a $20 difference from the original price but they could quickly tell we weren’t completely sold, so with their excellent business skills they started to throw in extra incentives. They started with free transportation to the airport then adding a hotel in Stonetown with free breakfast for only $15 per person. This was deal breaker.
Off we were on our private plane to Zanzibar, some people still in disbelieve this would all work out. There was quite a bit of traffic but our driver ensured us the plane would wait for us! Never worry! We enjoyed a quick private plane ride, were picked up at the airport, customs went flawlessly and made it to the hotel. That night we walked to the local food market enjoying every type of fish, seafood and chicken you can imagine while we made our plan for the weekend. It was simple, we would spend the night in Stonetown, in the morning head to the East side of the Island for some beautiful swimming and relaxation. Then Sunday, head back to Stonetown to meet up with a friend and head to Prison Island. That was the plan at least.
The rest of the evening and morning seemed to go smoothly, as we enjoyed delicious dinner and breakfast and were able to get a taxi to drive us to the East side. He found us a great quiet place to stay. This was going to be a perfect afternoon laying by the pool, getting a great tan (or burn) and walking by the beach. It was not 10 minutes after changing into ourswimsuits and getting outside that the thunder started to roll and the rain down poured! Change of plans, it would now be a perfect cozy afternoon listening to the rainstorm, playing some scrabble and enjoying some delicious pizza!
Sunday morning, we are packed and ready to head out to meet our friend for Prison Island. Per usual in Africa, we have more people than fit in the car, so stuffed with 4 people in the backseat our driver Ali takes off. It should be about an hour until we are in Stonetown, we’re right on time! Not more than 20 minutes down the road we are pulled over by the police, apparently you are not allowed to have that many people in car…who knew! It was easy to understand that through quick conversation in Swahili that he wanted a bribe, not completely sure how this was going to happen we all sat quietly in the back as Ali got on the phone with his boss. A few long minutes later the Police Officer received a phone call and was told to let us pass. As we are speeding off, Ali tells us that he works for the High Commissioner in Zanzibar and he is able to do anything he wants, “Everything is possible!” says Ali. We are all quite impressed with his achievement and sing along to the most perfect Bob Marley song on the stereo, “Get up, Stand up!”
Of course, it is not smooth sailing from there. Our car starts to slow to a roll and then to a complete stop. We are out of gas and it is downpouring again. Ali without a worry in the world just out of the car, grabs a empty jug and hops on the back of a truck to the nearest gas station, as we all sat in the car laughing at the events of this trip. A few minutes later he returns on another car with just enough gas to get us to the last stretch to Stone town.
We did not make it in time to see Prison Island or enjoy the warmth of the sun beating down on us. We had to pay a little more to get to there and we did not find a perfect paradise of a beach to stay on. Everything we planned seemed to change but in the midst of all this craziness and chaotic trip we laughed. It is incredible how we can focus so heavily on the little details in life missing the pure beauty of human connection.
This is certainly a trip I will never forget. What was supposed to be a quick getaway for the weekend ended up being one of my favourite moments thus far in Africa! I am beyond grateful for the many moments of this past weekend that I was able to learn and experience so much with some wonderful new friends. The friendships mean so much more than any souvenir I could ever imagine. I am blessed.
MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field
“Everything is possible” the words of our taxi driver that seemed to fit with so many things in this past trip to Zanzibar.
I love food! One of my favorite side dishes in Nicaragua is tostones, fried plantains. Lucky me because I got to eat all the tostones I wanted by doing a case study in Rivas.
I visited the International School of Livestock and Agriculture in Rivas (EIAG in Spanish) where MEDA has supported the lab at the university to combine different plantain seeds to create a vitro plant that won’t be affected by disease or insects. In past years, plantain production has been low due to the spread of an insect pest known as black weevil, which feeds on the leaves, and black sigatoka disease, which causes yield losses. I went into the lab and saw the whole process of the vitro plant.
I interviewed twenty male and female farmers to see their progress with the technology. Farmers said the planting of the plantain (vitro plant) was exactly the same as the normal plantain they used before. The only difference was that they didn’t have to use any or few pesticides, a happy side fact. They noted that they had more production and the leaves were bigger and healthier. One farmer had no experience in planting plantains and said it was quite easy with the help of EIAG technicians.
One of the most amazing indications found in the case study that I witnessed with talking to local farmers was their desire to help one another. EIAG has a methodology of the Waterfall Method to spread information about the vitro plant, in other words spreading information with the word of mouth. Many farmers, like Norbin Abel, said he likes the innovation and helping farmers with a new level of knowledge. Junior, one of the technicians that explains the vitro plants to farmers, said he was helping farmers to be more stable in their production. The overall objective of farmers, technicians and the university was to help one another in the community.
The goal of MEDA and EIAG is to have efficient production and incorporate small producers into the equation with the national and international market. Carl Sagan in Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997) stated, “Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.”
The next day the E-FACE team headed out to an agricultural intervention site in Gamo Gofa. You may be wondering what agriculture has to do with child exploitation and the weaving industry. Well, not much actually. However, the aim of the agricultural intervention is to help households that are at-risk of having their children engage in child labour improve their livelihood and income through other means. In this case, potato is the chosen commodity and will provide the targeted households with options (i.e. supplemental income for school tuition) besides child labour. During the visit, the farmers explained their excitement in the project and the techniques they learned from the E-FACE facilitated agronomy training sessions. The excitement of the farmers was contagious and I found myself eager to see the results of the hard work when harvest time arrived.
Down the hill from the potato farm was the village school facilitated by World Vision. E-FACE in partnership with World Vision, provides the livelihood programs for the working youth and households involved in the textile industry. World Vision provides the education portion of the project, ensuring that the at-risk children are in school. The visit to the school was by far the most rewarding and inspirational part of the entire trip. When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by children eager to have their picture taken during lunch break. I happily obliged and held an impromptu photo shoot.
We were then lead to a classroom to view the improvements being made to the structure. The school had recently added educational paintings, improved lighting and better desks to encourage the students to learn. It was amazing to observe the difference between a rural Ethiopian classroom versus the Canadian classrooms I have grown accustomed to seeing. I experienced a major wakeup call about the importance of education and how difficult it can be to access a proper education for some communities.
I participated in the Great Ethiopian Run last Sunday – and what a blast it was! Originally a few of my colleagues and I were supposed to run it together, but life got in the way and I ended up running it with a friend of mine from the local gym!
While there were a minority of runners who were racing, this event is much more of a “fun run” than a race. The course was 10km in total, and there were tons of great distractions throughout. We were drenched with water multiple times, which I really appreciated considering the heat! At the halfway mark there were huge speakers playing popular Ethiopian music, and massive trucks were handing out water balloons. As you can probably guess, a massive water balloon fight broke out!IMG_1228 My friend, Fantahun, and I post-race!
The course was flat in some places, but very hilly in others. The sheer quantity of people (40,000 in total!!), combined with the narrow roads (often plagued with pot holes) and (fantastic) distractions actually prevented running in certain stretches of the course, at least for us middle-of-the-pack runners. I really didn’t mind the odd walk break though – racing at this elevation and heat was a bit of a shock!
The race wasn’t timed, but I’m guessing we finished in an hour or so. It was tons of fun and I’m so thankful my friend from the gym ran it with me!
After a month of anticipation, I was finally able to go to on my first site visit for the MEDA E-FACE project. To give a bit of background, E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation) aims to reduce exploitative child labour by improving market access to textile and agricultural markets for vulnerable families and improve working conditions for working youth. Having worked on many of the contracts for the programs being implemented, I was excited to see my contribution to the project in action.
During our nine-hour car ride, the first thing that stood out to me the most was the abundance of cattle, donkeys and goats in the road. In past posts I have mentioned animals in the road but the trip to Arba Minch was by far the craziest. Our wonderful driver Mekdem did an amazing job avoiding each donkey or goat that decided to wander into our path. Although bumpy and extremely long, the trip was so beautiful that I am now certain the Garden of Eden is lost somewhere in Ethiopia.
We arrived at the hotel very late so we decided to rest and start very early the next day. After a nice breakfast we headed to the first site, a textile intervention undergoing technology upgrading. With a portion of their own savings, the weavers were provided spinning tools to help boost their productivity. During the meeting, the weavers discussed their progress, their expectations for the coming project phases and how the project has impacted their lives. A few of the weavers even mentioned being able to afford school tuition for their children and medicine for sick family members since starting with E-FACE. At that moment, I felt extremely proud to be a part of the MEDA E-FACE team. My small contributions to the project were helping someone to make a difference in their life. After a month of doing assignments, reports and contracts, it was all starting to make sense and I was finally starting to see the bigger picture.
On the way back to the hotel, the team got together to discuss the day’s events. Using the feedback from the weavers, we were already making adjustments to the program. At that point I realized that the process of improving lives is not something that can be done overnight. It requires effort from every individual involved in the project. It takes a lot of time but, in the end, it really does make a difference.