MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Happy New Year!

Fresh cut grass
Coffee Ceremony Preparation
Pouring Coffee
Dabo Bread
Injera with national wat

The Ethiopian New Year is marked on September 11. Ethiopians follow a calendar that is slightly different so the year is now 2005. Melkam Addis Amet!

I was fortunate enough to arrive at such an opportune time and experienced a few of the special customs they celebrate.

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Jet-lag and culture shock

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I think I'm finally recovering from my jet-lag! (Knock on wood.) Now that I've discovered white noise tracks that I can play on my iPod when I go to sleep (to drown out the street noise below!), I'm sleeping a lot better. Today was a holiday, so I slept in and took a nap. I'll have to relate my laundry adventure another time; suffice to say that the little portable washing machine here was not as intuitive as I initially assumed! I'm headed for another early night, which will be nice, since tomorrow at work should be a lot more intense than Monday! (Fortunately, it's a four-day weekend thanks to Eid and the King's birthday. Lots of time to look around Casa and catch up on sleep!) The culture shock is a little bit harder to deal with. I feel quite timid a lot of the time, which is not how I normally am; it's like I've suddenly become extremely shy. Partially, I think I don't want to offend anyone; I'm the newcomer, but it's hard to know what's acceptable. The other part is probably that being a foreigner attracts a lot of attention, and it can be super jarring to have someone yell after you on the street. One guy yelled, "Ça va?" (equivalent to "How are you?", or, in this context, "How you doin'?") after me for a full minute. It's definitely something I've encountered elsewhere, but because here it seems discriminate (that is, because I'm a foreigner, rather than just someone walking by a construction site in NYC), I think I'm finding it more jarring.

It's not just that everything is different; it's that, in this context, I'm different. What I thought was pretty decent French is appallingly insufficient, which has made me - even with English speakers - almost a mute. (My accent is bad, and theirs is indecipherable to me - not a good combination!) I don't know how to be polite; I don't know how to do anything, almost. Sometimes I've even felt nervous about leaving the house, which is so not me, and not reflective of the place I'm in, either - Casablanca is not a dangerous city. But between the language barrier, the stress of moving, jet lag, and adjusting to a new culture, I've felt like everything is out of control. So here's the truth: My French will improve, and my culture shock will get better. Everyone's does. From reading that MEDA sent me to my own research, it's just a necessary phase. I remember going through parts of it when I moved to Baltimore from Calgary, so it's no surprise that I'm feeling it moving from the East Coast to North Africa! The intensity has surprised me, but after a few weeks I'm slowly starting to get my bearings. (Hopefully they'll forgive me at work for doing my best impression of a silent data analyst... I'll stop stuttering eventually.) Here's what I've found the most helpful for combating culture shock: 1. Reach out. Reach out to your family, reach out to your friends. Write letters, Skype, send texts, Facebook - whatever. Some of the websites caution against relying too much on your 'old life' for support, but when I really need to feel grounded, my friends are the ones who provide that. (Love you guys!) 2. Don't hole up. It might be enticing to hide under the covers, but it only delays the inevitable. You will need food, water, diet Coke (if you're an addict like me), etc. Even if it's just for ten minutes, get out of your own space. Say hello to the shopkeepers. Keep your eyes up (unless you are on an uneven sidewalk - in which case, do not do what I did and sprain your ankle!). 3. Don't force it. You will have good days, like I had today, where you get into your project at work and talk to someone you love from home and feel great about the next six months. And you will also have bad days, like I had yesterday, where everything seems impossible. (The things you admit to on the internet... in my defense, I totally felt better afterward!) It's normal. From what I can tell, everyone experiences different levels of this, and nobody is immune from culture shock. It manifests differently for different people - I am prone to worrying, so obviously mine is manifesting in anxiety right now - but it's something that most people experience in different ways. 4. One day at a time. Instead of thinking about how bad you're going to feel for the next six months, focus on getting to the end of one single day. Not only does it prevent self-fulfilling prophecies - I'm miserable because I knew I was going to be miserable! - but it narrows your focus, which makes everything that seems huge and impossible seem smaller. 5. Perspective is important. Six months is nothing. I spent six months transitioning out of my last job! It's not that I want to dismiss this as being 'all in your head', but to some extent, if you're physically safe and your basic needs are provided for, then that knowledge can help to get you out of feeling insecure. 6. Read, read, read. Read everything you can about the culture you're in. A lot of websites suggest doing this before you leave - and that's a great idea - but doing so when you're there can also be really helpful. 7. Go easy on yourself. This is one I struggle with - I really felt like I was "failing" to adjust here, rather than going through the process of adjusting. Give yourself some room to make mistakes or just plain feel homesick, instead of viewing that as some kind of zero-sum loss. Let every day be as clean a slate as possible

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Packing

It's a difficult thing to do – leaving everything you love.I love home.I love my grandparents, my parents and siblings and extended family.I love my friends. I love my bedroom and my pet dog.I love road trips and weekend adventures. But it’s probably that appetite for adventure which allowed the whispers of flight to materialize into action. So where did the whispers come from? By nature I’m an incredibly curious person.I often find myself wondering how things work.I find delight in exploring and discovering.Naturally this leads me to sometimes wonder what the lives of other people around the world might be like.What’s happening in the developing world?What is their culture like? What are the people like? Why don’t they have what I have?Do they even need or want what I have in Canada? Why are things unbalanced?And why is humanity so broken anyway?I’m not naive enough to think I will find answers to all these questions.Nonetheless, it was time for me to find a way into the developing world and scratch the surface.So now I’m on my way to work with Mennonite Economic Development Associates doing an IT internship in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.The project I will be involved in is the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to discuss the details of my job position in future entries.Today I’m focusing on what it’s like to leave.And of course the emotions are intermingled…yet I find that when I suppress my apprehension, I’m excited to live in a new culture. When I suppress the sadness of leaving family, I find I hope to make new friendships.I hope to find creative and practical ways to serve the local community.I hope that I will find my work meaningful.I hope that the sacrifice will be worth it.

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In typical Ferreri fashion...

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As life would have it, there was a curve ball waiting for me when I walked into work two Mondays ago…I was asked to fill in at the last minute for a colleague and assist on rolling out some financial education trainings for loan officers of a large microfinance bank in Zambia. Since the trainings were going to be decentralized by region, it would require flying to some pretty remote areas of the country on progressively smaller propeller planes, and also give me my first taste of bus travel in Zambia. Even crazier, though, is that I would only have 24 hours to get up to speed, buy, print and assemble all of the materials for the trainings, pack AND learn enough about Zoona so I wouldn't embarrass myself as their representative at the trainings. I, of course said yes, although I am not sure I had much of a choice ;) In the end it probably ended up being the best thing for helping me learn about the mobile banking business, the challenges and opportunities that mobile platforms have for microfinance, and allowing me to learn a little more about the country I'll call home for the next 6 months and the wonderful people who live in it.Starting from the beginning though, I was to fly to Ndola in the northwestern part of the country, also known as the Copperbelt, for our first training. Well, I almost fell over when I saw the 10 seater aircraft with two propellers that was responsible for getting us across the country. After some reassuring words from my new travel partner, Jackie from Microfinance Opportunities, I tried to push the terror aside and remind myself that i was lucky because "at least we weren't going on the plane next to us that only had one propeller" (more on the 1 propeller plane later ;)) For a person who loves rollercoasters, I don't know why the same movement on an airplane makes me want to try like a baby. Suffice it to say, the shaking, incredibly loud humming of the plane's engine and sudden drops made me ecstatic to jump off the plane after we landed. The most interesting part about plane travel in Africa, though, is getting to observe who is able to use this form of transportation. I think it is important to note that in the cost of my airline tickets (for 4 flight legs) was 5.2 million Zambian Kwatcha or $1,020.[1] That's right to fly to 2 places in Zambia it cost more than my flight to Zambia, excluding the taxes or which is even more frightening roughly similar to the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.[2] Sadly, this does not even include the passenger charges that we had to pay at each airport of departure which were another $12/each. Now, despite the fact that I am a scaredy cat when it comes to flying, I know that it is an incredible luxury and it makes me feel uncomfortable when I think the median income of Vision Fund clients who will be the beneficiaries of this financial education program. But, since Zambia is such a big country (larger than the state of Texas) and road travel is not always the easiest, fastest or safest, this is the only way we can fit in all of the trainings in a week and half's time. Since we were heading to the mining belt, it is no surprise that there were a few mining/businessmen types on the flight. Many of the mining guys (they are always men) are Aussies and are wearing jeans, Oakley sunglasses and cell phone holsters. Then, there are the impeccably dressed African business men; the very casually dressed tourists (although not sure why tourists are going to the mining region), and then there are the NGO crowd, usually laden with materials or bags with packets etc. In this particular instance…this is us. Once we arrived in Ndola, we had about an hour's drive to Kitwe (the second largest city in Zambia) where the training would be taking place the next day. Being that we were in the Copperbelt, it seemed apropos that we ended up staying in a place that was smack dag across the street from a big mountain of ore or something. Thankfully, the warnings of my Zoona co-workers about the air quality never ended up being an issue. Since we were staying a little ways out of the city center, I can't give too many impressions about Kitwe, except to say that it is expensive! I was shocked at what $57/night ($290,000) gets you. I was told that the mining concessionaires and the constant influx of people keep the prices high. I did have A/C and hot water, which was a blessing since it was hot during the day. The first room I saw, though, did not have a toilet seat ;) I think the most memorable parts of the stay in Kitwe were (a) my first meal with Nshima served without utensils; (b) my first introduction to Zambian time…everything is always 10 minutes, even 1 hour after the fact; (c) having to provide an introduction to Zoona and field questions during the challenges with the Zoona platform section; (d) seeing the enthusiasm of the loan officers when they were presenting lessons on financial education; and (e) the twice daily power cuts that made planning your shower all the more important. It was also very clear after our first training that I was not only incredibly fortunate to be seeing so much of Zambia in my second week on the job, but also because I was going to learn so much about the mechanics of training, adult learning, and financial education. Just as a background, Zoona is working with an MFI to do client loan disbursements. Formerly, the MFI disbursed loans in one of two ways - (1) loan officers had to travel around to loan groups with large sums of money which was neither safe nor cost effective, or (2) clients would have to travel long distances to get to their nearest MFI branch to pick up their loans at their own expense. While all of the operational challenges of this partnership have yet to be sorted out (I am hear gathering feedback about these challenges and disseminating updates about progress), Zoona's mobile agent network has the potential to make loan disbursement much easier in terms of time and cost for the MFI and clients. I was really impressed by the first training, the material was not only engaging, but you could also see how interested the loan officers were in learning how to train their clients on financial education. Some of the topics that were covered were lessons on: (1) When is a loan good or bad?; (2) Tracking your business and household expenses; (3) Ways to Save; and (4) Using Zoona to manage your money. Although many people were familiar with Zoona's money transfer services, it was great to be able to talk about some of the other services that could be useful to their clients...i.e. as a safe place to deposit your money, using Zoona to pay your bills or even to repay your loan. I think I will save the part about the challenges of the Zoona account for Part II of the blog since it gets more into the nitty gritty (or mechanics) of mobile banking. After a successful 9 hours of training and a good night's sleep, though, we had to head out to our next stop on the financial education tour - Kasama. Kasama is in the northern province of Zambia, very close to the border of Tanzania and Lake Tanganyika. Based on the reactions of Zambians when I told them where I was going to next, I would also venture to say that Kasama is not a place that many people travel to for work or otherwise. This is where the trip starts getting a little more interesting/challenging as the planes start to get a bit smaller. This time we were led to the tarmac where there was a single propeller plane waiting to take us back to Lusaka , so we could then fly to Kasama. At this point I wasn't sure I could do it...the look of panic on my face was something I couldn't even hide from our pilot who actually asked me if I was going to be okay. Obviously I made it, but I was definitely counting down the minutes till the flight was over and relied on the music from my ipod to get me through the two long trips. That's before I even realized that we had to land on a red clay/dirt runway, my first ever. You can short of tell what type of town you are arriving in by the red dirt runway and singular airport building…Kasama is sort of one horse town. There are only two flights into town per week and it is about a 10 hours to Lusaka by bus or car. Since we arrived on a Thursday, we have to stay in Kasama for the weekend until the next flight date - Monday. There are also not a whole lot of mzungus (Swahili for white person) so I definitely attracted a little bit of attention when I walked around the town. Kasama has one main drag with a few strip malls, a few ATMs and a ShopRite, which makes Kasama the place where people come from around the smaller towns in the Northern province to do their shopping, commerce and banking. Hence, it is the perfect town for a Zoona agent. I am excited to say that this was my first visit to one, apart from the training center in downtown Lusaka. I got to sit with him for a little bit of time and ask him about the challenges he was facing as an independent agent. After being in Kitwe for the training I had a little more context related to the challenges of using the agent/mobile money platform for microfinance loan disbursement from the MFI side of things, but it was great to get an agent's perspective on the challenges.

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Introduction

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Love,in all its forms (or lacktherof) is all people care about, IMHO! I aim to capture and share what love looks like in the Ukraine- by drinking up the culture (na zdorovya!), getting intimate with 'the hard life,' and injecting my own love into the agricultural development project I have committed to for the next 6 months (Thanks CIDA and MEDA!)My introduction to this country has left me feeling star-struck. It started with a week of courtship-- wining, dining and soaking up the sun on the breathtaking coast of the Black Sea in Crimea. There is a calm in the air. The cove where we were staying is hugged by mountains with huge trees,beautifully groomed grounds, rose bushes, marble benches and mineral springs to drink from along the way. Near our resort (actually closer to the town that my Dad grew up in, Gurzuf) there is a mountain that looks like a bear drinking from the sea called "Medved Gora." The beaches here are stoney, different beaches (marked by cement dividers that break the waves) have different size and colour stones. After a quick swim on my first day I was quickly captivated by the mosaic on the beach and have collected so many natural works of art:)The mountainside hides away several impressively large "summer homes" of old Tsars and nobility—my favourite was the Livadia Palace where Nikolai II, Anastasia &Co used to vacation before their tragic demise. The mountain side has since been populated with health resorts where people come for an all-inclusive stay of healthy food and various procedures (as prescribed by the doctor when you arrive and based on your medical history.) The approach is really interesting to me… The government (both Ukrainian and Russian) pays for the elderly to come once a year for 3 weeks as a preventative measure so they don't end up draining hospital funds. (And perhaps also in gratitude for years of service to the country....but who can say!)Life on the mountains makes for plenty of natural exercise (goodbye, eliptical!).The gardens are easy on the eyes and there are toothsome treats growing wherever you look-- figs, grapes, berries and cactus pears. Of course the views are what make the climbs such a soulful experience. My climbs lead me to discover what I now consider to be one of my sacred places: A 300 year old tree (The Platan) where many famous authors, poets and painters drew inspiration. I have done a bit of writing there myself (couldn't resist!) and plan to return soon.I also lucked out in my introduction to the team at MEDA that I will be learning from and supporting during my internship. The day my resort time finished was the start of the annual retreat of the two Ukrainian offices (Melitopol and Simferopol), in Alushta, just a short drive down the coast. The weekend consisted of warm welcomes, passionate presentations, a horseback trip through the mountains and evenings of singing, dancing and 'enjoying' -- Ukrainian style!My arrival to Melitopol also brought some gifts of fate. I arrived on the "Dyen Goroda," which is the city's anniversary celebration. We celebrate Melitopol's 228th in style! Sasha, the lead on the gender component of the project (where I will start my work) met me in the morning with her husband and son for a full day of fun and getting to know my new home. There was a huge festival (think 50 000+ people in a city of 150 000!) with various groups strutting their stuff in a parade that seemed to go on for an hour--- marching bands, athletic clubs, various cultural groups and a TON of ballroom dancing groups! Another lucky break for me :an ex-world champion in ballroom dancing teaches in Melitopol!After a full historical and cultural programme, I said goodbye to the charming and welcoming family and headed to my new apartment. Klassna! That means cool / classy (?) in Russian.. a popular slang word. After christening the place with a dance party I settled in and started writing about my adventure to date.. only to be interrupted by fireworks jumping into my living room view! This was a moment of deep connection with the city for me. There is something about being part of collective attention---sharing moments of consciousness and joy-- that weaves you into the human energy grid of a city.First day at work was also comical and unique—but hey, I am spoiled by this point and already expect that something is up! As a joint celebration for my arrival and for my coworker's birthday, a 10am cake and cognac were served! In terms of work (which was ever-so-slightly affected by the morning's festivities) it was mostly exploring the existing documents-reports, spreadsheets, and getting settled into the office.The rest of the week consisted of field visit days – to the MEDA office in Simferopol, and to sort out some logistics for the upcoming festivities for International Rural Women's day in Zaporizhzhya and finally in Tokmak, where the Zap. headquarters of UWFC (Ukrainian Women's Farmers Council) is located. UWFC in Zaporizhzhya is a large NGO that brings together rural women around topics of agricultural production, marketing and capacity building.Services provided by this NGO are in great need in rural communities, where most women have limited access to information about new technologies and approaches in agribusiness. I will be working closely with this group, helping the staff of five improve their business skills through a series of workshops and also collecting information for 'Success Stories' and 'Lessons Learned' in the project's reporting scheme. It was amazing to meet some of the clients of the project, getting tours around their farms, which for the most part have been thriving since their involvement. The farmers I met all had kind, hopeful eyes and an inspiring love for the land. Week two has been full immersion into office life. We tackled Monday with another celebration (Thanksgiving!) and the following days have been showing me a clearer picture of what to expect for the coming months…the unexpected!Looking on with energy, delight and gratitude--care to make it a date?Yours truly...
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Top 15 Things You Observe Moving to the Big City

1) Your life is run by rush hour and traffic

2) Use Crosswalks

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From Waterloo to Dar es Salaam

Just came back from training in Waterloo, ON for my new job. It was a mile-a-minute introduction week to MEDA, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, with a fantastic group of 13 other interns who have placements everywhere from Zambia to Ukraine. Training was far more engaging than I expected as we were introduced to MEDA’s ethos and development programming.

One hears many theories and strategies for the best, most durable means of engaging in development and social change while studying development at school. I was impressed with MEDA’s approach that stressed demand-driven programmes that would be sustainable, scalable and measured by a double bottom line: for financial performance and positive social impact. It is through acting for economic empowerment, inspired by Mennonite values, that MEDA chooses to pursue social justice among the poor.

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International Development 101

I suppose it would be a good idea to tell you what it is that brings me here to Ukraine! For those of you who don’t know, I am participating in an internship sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA is a branch of the Canadian Federal Government, and as the name dictates, it deals with International Development.

People often ask, “What is International Development?” This is a funny question for me, because even though I did my Master’s in Development Studies, I still have a hard time defining it! There are many definitions and debates surrounding development, but I think a practical definition- and the definition most prevalent to my internship, would be that International Development is/are deliberate attempts by foreign actors, working with local partners to assist in the economic/social/political development of a country or a specific group of people.

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The 5 Cs of Credit in Development

Field Staff in the Rice Field
Ethiopian Children
Christian monastery painting
Spices in Bahir Dar Market

Working with consultants has its perks. Not only do they offer a fresh analytic perspective, but they also provide advanced industry knowledge.

Left: In the field, literally

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Part II of the Zambia Financial Education Tour!





Picking up from where we left off...One of the things that came out of the Kasama training is that the mechanics of mobile money and the agent network are a little difficult to wrap one's head around. I will be dedicating one of my next posts to the mechanics of mobile money and the agent network, but since this posting was about our trainings I thought I would include one of the diagrams I ended up drawing during our trainings to show how an agent manages his/her float or cash liquidity.

The other part of this equation is managing the funds in an electronic bank account so that he or she can transfer on behalf of a client. I mean in reality, the agent is like it's own little bank...an agent must ensure that it has enough cash on hand to meet customer demand for it (for money transfer or loan pay outs) while at the same time having enough funds in an electronic account to transact (really, transfer) on behalf of a client to a third party or savings account (i.e. money transfers, or Consumer to Business bill payments, loan repayments or air time purchases).

There is a constant deposit and withdrawal of money, and shifting of money from cash in hand to electronic in this agent model. Not being an expert in mobile banking (yet?), the biggest issue an agent faces is not having enough money for payouts, with the second one being not having enough electronic funds in his/her bank account to transact for clients. To this end, they are constantly converting cash funds into electronic or vice versa. As I mentioned in part I of my blog post on the topic, the financial education trainings also included educating the staff of Vision Fund Zambia, a microfinance institution, on how clients can use Zoona to receive and repay their loans, as well as receiving feedback on the challenges clients had with the platform. You may already be able to guess what I am going to say...but the more you think about it, the more you realize how much stress loan payouts can exert on an agent's liquidity, especially if loans are disbursed in groups. I will undoubtedly be addressing ways to combat these challenges during my time here in Zambia, but needless to say it is one of the big hiccups to growing mobile banking/payments too quickly. This is even more true when you are trying to support small and medium businesses as agents, where access to working capital is severely limited, if not non-existent. I am happy to report that the trip also gave me an opportunity to do some some wonderful sight seeing in the Northern province, thanks to our weekend layover there. We were told that a trip to Chishimba falls could not be missed and as you can see from the pictures, they were right :) The falls certainly did not disappoint and we were some of the only people there....well, that was at least until we stumbled upon a church choir who was recording in front of the falls. Left: Mutumuna, my MEDA bag, and me - up close and personal The church choir was gracious enough to let me snap a million photos of them and even take a few recordings that I will try to upload soon...well, all for the small fee of taking a Mizungu picture with every one of the male members you see to the right. Not sure why I have that kind of appeal, especially with the beautiful nature in the background, but I guess I am the exotic thing in the remote area of Zambia. Even so, such a small price to pay for such a gift.  The other must see in Kasama is the ancient rock paintings. I was initially drawn to see this site after reading in the Lonely Planet that "Archaeologists rate these paintings as one of the largest and most significant collections of Ancient Art in Southern Africa." Sadly, the paintings (who I suspect are not all that well visited) are starting to fade and the tourism infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, our guide didn't feel see the point of taking us to any more than two of the painting areas since there were pictures of the paintings in the visitor center and it was pretty hot out. :) After having traveled around a bit, I am now very much aware how much I had taken for granted the tourism infrastructure which is commonplace in the U.S., Canada and Europe.Had I not been so rudely interrupted by a massive wasp sting that left me writhing in pain, I was hoping I could press our guide into showing us more of the painting sites. Oh well.... After removing death grip from the plane arm rest, I was finally able to snap a photo of the view from the flight.
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Another taste of Morocco

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Camel for Lunch

Three Saturdays ago, I went to explore Habbous, the new Medina area created by the French during the Protectorate in the 1920's, with my friend and her boyfriend who was visiting from Canada. We walked through Maarif in the general direction of Habbous, then up through a very local neighbourhood that included several butcher shops with huge chunks of raw meat (or indeed most of a cow) hanging in front of the shops. We also passed numerous flocks of 20 or so sheep every few streets. These had arrived all over the city about 10 days before Eid (October 26th), including a flock that was installed in the garage next to my apartment building.

This is because Eid-al-Adha is the Festival of Sacrifice - to commemorate Ibrahim (Abraham)'s willingness to sacrifice his son (with the son's permission) to God. As a reward for his faith, God switched out Abraham's son for a ram, so Muslims celebrate this event by sacrificing a sheep, goat or cow, and share the meat with neighbours, family, and supposedly the homeless as well (I didn't observe this but I did read about this). So this means, going out and selecting a ram for your family ahead of time from one of the flocks shepherds bring in to the city, and bringing it home a day or so before Eid. We're talking millions of sheep being sacrificed on a single day in Morocco, let alone across the Muslim world. In fact, half of the sheep in Morocco are slaughtered on this single day (according to the daily newspaper).

Back to Habbous - we finally took a taxi to get the rest of the way to Habbous as we were turned around from exploring this small Moroccan neighbourhood, and we promptly arrived about 10 minutes later. The walled area is clearly newer, and is next to a royal palace (always closed to the public), a park and a mosque. We browsed the shops, the olive souk (barrels and barrels of numerous varieties of olives), and continued to the area past the walls that is the only market where you can buy camel meat in Casablanca.  We bought it some ground camel meat (it is unclear whether it is mixed with beef or not) straight from one of a street of butchers - while we stood next to the furry head of said camel hanging from the awning, which was flanked by the camel's bare hump. Sorry - no photos of that! Then we walked around the corner, to a row of small "restaurants" that cook your meat for you, and serve it to you with cooked onions and tomatoes and bread. We had a couple pots of mint tea too. The meat was surprisingly good! You sit practically in the street, with the smoke from all these little restaurants blowing in your face. We then headed back through the market area and had a look at the carpets and clothing stalls before walking back to Twin Centre (a good 25 minute walk at least), through a nice neighbourhood and park.  Eid-al-AdhaSo, seeing all these sheep chilling out (AKA unknowingly awaiting their imminent deaths) on every second street, I figured the actual sacrifice on the feast day would be equally visual, possibly in the street (my street is filled with apartment buildings - where else would you do the act itself? I thought). Especially since entrepreneurial folks started selling charcoal, rope and knives, or knife-sharpening services, all over the place suddenly. Friday morning, Eid, was a holiday, so I woke up a bit later than usual, but to a much quieter street than usual. The "bah"ing I'd heard all week was gradually silenced, over the course of the morning, but not in an obvious way. It was raining as well. There were virtually no cars driving by on the busy road behind the building - I think it was the quietest I have ever heard Casablanca - even at night.  From my balcony I could see a couple sets of families up on the rooftop larger balconies off their apartments who were obviously going about the sacrifice business, although I couldn't see much looking up, but there were few people in the streets.  A co-worker invited me to come to her family's place in the late afternoon for the holiday, so I left my apartment just after 1:45 pm to try and locate a rare taxi. As I went past my building I saw families working on cutting up their sheep carcasses in the basement/parking garage of my building - aha, this is where they must be doing it! I also saw the carts of sheepskins that men were collecting, most people don't tan their own sheep skins anymore, they give them away. The taxi ride through Casa was eerie - very few people and very very few cars. The smoke from the charcoal fires used to cook the sheep heads on street corners wafted down the empty streets, making me think of an abandoned city in a war zone perhaps. The meal at my co-worker's was much more informal than I expected - I had visualized something akin to Thanksgiving or Easter - lots of family, lots of food. But we ate a late lunch of tripe, bread, onion-tomato salad and french fries, with tea and homemade cookies accompanied by fruit to round it off. I had to leave before supper was served in order to get back to my apartment on one of the last trains (within Casa) and I was a bit worried about the number of taxis that would be available. Perhaps supper is the larger meal with more dishes.  Those who know me well know that I'm a picky eater - I don't like or eat fish, seafood, sushi, hardly like eggs, and rarely eat weird things. There was even a year or so when the only meat I would eat was chicken. So I would like to congratulate myself for trying both camel meat and sheep tripe, within a week. I only managed one mouthful of tripe, and did not find it my liking, but I think it is likely something you have to grow up on to enjoy.
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A Ploughman's Paradise

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In September I was given the opportunity to attend the 2012 International Plowing Match (IPM for short) in Roseville, Ontario. To be honest, I had never heard of the IPM until this experience so I was surprised about the crowd it gathered. Over 100,000 people (mainly farmers) visit this farming and agricultural expo of sorts each year, bringing together people over various competitions, displays, demonstrations, and food.

MEDA had a booth in a tent with other community organizations and we were just there to spread the world about who we are and the work we do, with a particular focus on our agriculture projects like Techno-Links, Farmer to Farmer, EDGET, Ukraine Horticulture Development Projects, GROW, and Cassava Seed Champions, amongst others.

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Welcome to Simferopol!

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I made it…. I’m in Ukraine! From the emergency row seating on the 9 hour flight, to my pick up at the airport, everything about my trip was smooth sailing! A little piece of traveller’s advice: Ask for emergency row seating, it’s like free first class!

Because my flight arrived so late, it was decided that I should spend my first night in Simferopol in a hotel so that I could rest and recover from the long trip. Special thanks to my supervisor Irina’s mom for coming to pick me up from the airport and taking me to my hotel! The next morning, my first full day in Ukraine, my supervisor -Irina Antonovskaya (the Monitoring and Evaluations Manager at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project) came to pick me up and take me to my temporary apartment.

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Managua - Take 1

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Bienvenido a Managua, Nicaragua

I am finally on the ground and life is buzzing with change, challenge, and adventure. This is definitely not my first time landing in a new country with a completely foreign environment in front of me, and quite frankly, this time is actually easier than some in the past, as when I stepped out of the arrivals area to confront the herds of taxi drivers and seemingly best of new friends, I had the advantage of some familiarity with the language, which was not always the case many times before. I was meeting Kathy, my fellow co-worker and intern with MEDA in a hostel/guesthouse that was supposedly located somewhere near the office of MiCredito. The first taxi driver did not take my proposed price and insisted on double, but I soon found the chosen cabby to help me complete the journey into the city for the reasonable fare of 10 USD. When we finally pulled up to the hostel it was clear that I was expected by the owner, as the moment I stepped up to the gate (as most every place is gated in Managua, either communities or single dwellings) she immediately exclaimed: "Adrian?" with a very inquisitive tone. Once inside she pointed to where Kathy was and I snuck up to surprise her for a grand reunion and hugs :) The next day was my first set of waking hours in Managua, as things look quite different when you can see them in plain daylight. The city is completely disorganized (like many developing nations' cities), but the addresses here are fairly difficult as well, as there really aren't any. Almost all directions and addresses point to a general reference of where you are going. e.g. two blocks south of the "virgin roundabout", 1.5 blocks east of here, and then 2 houses more to the south with the house on your right hand side. This is the address of said house you may be trying to find. Needless to say, when things are already extremely confusing, this doesn't facilitate the matters much. The streets themselves are always a good way to get a sense of the noises, the smells, and the scenery, that constructs a well-rounded feel of the city. Some characteristics are notably similar to other places I've been, but certain aspects that I experienced here are not as prevalent around other capital cities in Latin America. The mule-drawn carts were one scene I haven't seen a whole lot of before, and the level of handy craftsmanship in constructing wheelchairs using plastic patio-chairs.

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Welcome to Addis – Why I am here?


Why am I in Addis Ababa? Good question – sometimes I ask myself the same thing, just because I am no where near fully adjusted to calling this city home for the next six months (or 24 weeks – yes, I am keeping count).

Pictured left: A view of Addis from our hotelIt all started with an application to an internship I heard about through university. This application was followed by two interviews – the second of which I totally thought I botched. I guess my interviews weren’t epic fails as to my very pleasant surprise I ended up getting the internship as a business development intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) for six months in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After a week of orientation in Waterloo, Ontario (where MEDA’s head quarters are) and a month filled with a mix of emotions.. anxiety, pure panic and excitement to name a few.. I was on a 13-hour flight from Toronto to Addis!I’ll briefly explain the projects MEDA is working on in Ethiopia. MEDA is currently working on two projects in the country, which are being jointly funded by MEDA and donor partners.The first project, EDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth, Entrepreneurship and Trade), is working with two crucial value chains in the country – rice and textiles – with the ultimate objection being to increase household income by 50% for 10,000 families over the next four years. To accomplish this, MEDA will facilitate the improvement of client household’s capacity to access the domestic markets for their goods. This will be accomplished through an enhancement of production techniques, appropriate technologies as well as several support services.The second project, E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation), is a joint partnership with World Vision Ethiopia to reduce child labor in the country. E-FACE will target 20,000 youth (17 and under) involved in exploitative working conditions and 7,000 vulnerable households in the country to improve both the incomes and overall livelihoods of these families and youth. MEDA’s role in E-FACE will directly target 3,250 youth (between 14 and 17 years old) while World Vision will target 16,750 children (between 5 and 13 years old). MEDA will also focus its efforts on reaching 7,000 families involved in the E-FACE project and facilitate their improved access to textile and agricultural markets in the country.Overall, I am very excited to be a part of MEDA’s work in Ethiopia, even if my time here will be brief.

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Bon Appetit!


So one thing, everyone likes is food, right? If, for some weird reason you have no interest whatsoever in food, then by all means, feel free to skip this post.Anyways, to start off with, I knew coming to Morocco, that food would be different. I know they eat a lot of breads, I know they don't eat pork, but I never thought much about breakfast foods...Milk SnobIn my first few days in Casablanca, my roommate took me to the local equivalent of a mini-mart, where we get some staple supplies. She warned me about the cereal selection. Uh oh. I happen to really like cereal - I like to eat it every day in fact. We approached the cereal section and I am aghast - the main cereals to be found all have chocolate in the name...eek! But we're in a small store, so I brush it off and find some yogourt and some other items. Then we get to the dairy section, but I can't find a single carton of milk in the fridges...there is leben and another type of buttermilk-like dairy product people here drink but no ordinary pasteurized, homogenized cold milk. This could is a problem.Coming from a dairy farm, I know that bought milk will never taste like home milk since it has to be treated. I know this. I tolerate this, but I like my milk on cereal. Having bought milk in Europe, I never thought I wouldn't be able to get fresh milk at the store. The only milk to be found is UHT milk in cartons that look like juice tetra packs, and they aren't refrigerated until after opening. What IS this? I have never heard of UHT milk before, so I decided to avoid it until I knew how it could keep, unrefrigerated - to me that just sounded wrong. I went home to look it up.CerealSince avoiding the chocolate-coma cereal and shelf milk seemed like a good idea, I go with the flow and buy a "petit pain au chocolat" (Chocolate croissant) from the local bakery for breakfast each morning to go with some orange juice, and this is working out for me still (into week 3). Yum! The bakeries here are fantastic. Last weekend, we did another trip to the Acima, a larger grocery store, further away. This time I bought some Frosties (not Frosted Flakes, Frosties) which should be the French equivalent of Frosted Flakes since they are Kellogg's, have Tony the Tiger on the box and the packaging looks the same, right? Wrong. Along with the Frosties I bought some whole milk (it's either whole or skim), and have some for breakfast one morning in lieu of a croissant.The cereal doesn't taste the same. The "pétales" of corn (not "flocons") are different, texture- and size-wise. The milk also has a different, heavier taste to it. I'm not sure if it is the sweeteners from the cereal or the milk flavour, but something is TOO sweet. I've tried it again to see if I can pinpoint it, but I can't. Maybe trying the Special K equivalent next will be an improvement.Local cuisineA lovely entrance in Rabat's Oudaya KasbahBeing so close to Europe and as the 6th largest city on the continent (fun fact), Casablanca has considerable Western influences on the menus of local restaurants. In terms of Moroccan foods, I have tried a chicken couscous, their version of pizza (on a flatbread rather than a dough), and msemen with dried meat (kind of like a crepe). At a work lunch between meetings today we ate in a hotel restaurant, where they served a delicious lamb tagine with raisins and caramelized onions. I look forward to trying more dishes like this. I must say, the orange juice here is very good. None of the oranges I see in the market look particularly nice for eating, but the juice is sweet and smooth. I'm personally surprised not to see more clementines (all the ones we bought in Quebec came from Morocco!) but maybe it is not the season?

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Packing for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


It’s under a day now until my departure to Addis Ababa. My goal had been to “frontload” my packing for fear of any unwanted popups. I believe I’ve done a semi-successful time of planning ahead. I have moved some times before – to London (Ontario) or Vienna – but preparing for Addis Ababa has its own set of challenges. Entering a developing African country typically means bringing everything with you that you would miss. With that being said, you can probably find the majority of actual necessities in-country. The issue only arises once we have to answer the question: what is a necessity?So below you will find an extensive list of what I decided to bring. Perhaps this could be of use to future travelers on work placements in Addis Ababa, or a similar developing city with a high-altitude climate. Here it goes!Important Documents- Travel Immunization Record- Extra different sized passport photos (6)- Proof of graduation (work permit purposes)- Photo copies of passport, atm/visa cards, birth certificate, sin card, provincial health card, student card, vaccination record- Bank, health insurance & emergency contact information- Reminder cards. Since I have not earned the habit of eating safely in a developing country, I created reminder cards to store in my purse summarizing some key statements.- Flight tickets- Passport- Select photos of family and friends- US$Technology- Camera, memory card reader, extra memory card- Computer- Video camera, DV tapes (5) + cleaning tape- External Hard drives (3)- Wristwatch with alarm- Chargers- Adapters (Europlug 2-prong + India/Asia 3-prong) this was a bit of a headache- Surge Protector- eReader- Ethernet Cord- Mp3 player & headphonesGear- Mosquito Net (permethrin soaked nets, advised as extremely effective, are not available in Canada)- Bed sheet- Towel- Microfiber towel- Umbrella- Hand sanitizer (2)- Water purification drops- Emergency blanket- Mosquito Repellent 30% DEET- Flashlight- Moist wipes- First Aid Kit (assorted bandaids, blister bandaids, tweezers, alcohol pads, polysporin, waterproof matches, clotrimazole topical cream, surgical gloves, adhesive tape, scissors)- Diarrhea Kit (chicken & beef bouillon, immodium, pepto bismol, gastrolyte, gravol, cipro)- Laundry Kit (Woolite detergent travel packs, clothes line, sink plug – I’d recommend Austin House, tide to go, laundry bag)- Kleenex- Swimsuit- Sunglasses- Sunscreen- Scissors- Pencil Case- Double sided tape- Bandana (for lengthy dusty travel)- Paperback books (I brought…Richard Dowden’s Africa, Amharic Phrasebook, a book borrowed from a friend – Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, and a title I sourced in a Veinnese bookshop History of Ethiopia, Paul Henze. And of course, the much-loved Bradt guide on Ethiopia, Philip Briggs)- Map of Ethiopia- Blank small notepads- One checked bag, one 45L carry-on backpack (I love MEC)Personal Hygiene- Facial wipes, eye makeup remover pads- Hairdryer- Personal medications (advil, caltrate, vitamin D)- Contacts, solution, eye drops- Lip balm- Razors- Toothpaste- Preventative blister balm- Favourite shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner- Face cream, cleanser- Sanitary napkinsFood- Parmesan cheese: I’m not sure if this one is allowed but I’m going to claim it and see.- Peanut butter (750g of Skippy is a true necessity for me!)- Favourite Teas & Hot chocolate- Lindt chocolate bars: I read a blog that the chocolate wasn’t very good so just in case I get that craving- Spices (cumin, mustard, cinnamon, basil, thyme, oregano, salt&pepper)- Sriracha hot sauce – only my staple ingredient in every dinner- Soy sauce- Protein bars (Cliff & Luna brand are great)- Baking powder- Almonds- Travel mug: required for my coffee before work every morningClothingConsidering that most Ethiopians dress conservatively, I erred on the side of long-sleeve tops, pants and loose lightweight clothing.- Variety of work-appropriate collared shirts (preference to long-sleeves)- Basic tank tops for layering and casual cotton long-sleeve tops- Slacks (3), capris , long shorts (2) and a pair of jeans- Long skirt, pencil skirt, knee-length dress- Cardigans (4), sweaters (4) and blazer (1)- Footwear: boots, open-toe sandals, black pumps, tan flats, running shoes, walking shoes and flip flops- Rain jacket, leather jacket- Scarves (3), tights and leggings- Gym strip (3)This list may have been excessively exhaustive in the depth of information I provided. At the very least, it highlights what I perceive I need versus what many other people may require elsewhere.

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Carb overload



Last night I had dinner with E., the other intern currently here (C. will be joining us in September!). It was iftar, the traditional meal breaking the fast at the end of each day of Ramadan. The food was delicious, but one thing that was different was the number of bread-based food items served to us in this enormous meal! Here's a picture of courses 3 and 4:

Pictured left: Course 3: Savory bread; course 4: dessert bread

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The Void

“The Void”- That’s the term my sister uses to describe the time of life that I am in. ”The Void” is this tricky time right after you graduate college and suddenly your future is completely open. It is an exciting time and a scarey time. It is also a time of questions, question like:What do I really want to do with my life? Where do I want to live? Do I move to be near friends or a job? Now wait, what are my life values? How do these values shape how I live and work? What am I really passionate about? How do I even go about finding a job? How do I afford to pay off my debt and still manage to eat? How do I find a place to live and people to live with? What should I be pursuing? How do I figure this all out? How do I weigh the decisions between my dreams of adventure and what reality presents me with?My journey hasn’t been easy. Its been invigorating at times and quite dark at times. It feels like I am in the middle of the ocean struggling just to stay above water. But, even if I manged to get above the waves, I would still be lost in the open ocean.All that to say, this MEDA internship is a lifeboat in the open ocean of life. It is a chance to explore and define my interests and passions. It is an opportunity to learn from my co-workers and the projects they are involved. It is a chance to work for something greater than myself. And that, in and of itself, is truely life giving. Thank you MEDA.

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First week adventures: cockroaches, communications and coordination




First impressionsPictured left: This is the view of my street from my balconyI arrived just over a week ago in sunny Casablanca, and noticed a few things right away:-it is hot. We're talking 28-30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis. They're predicting 31 for this weekend. And the sun is brighter that I've ever seen it. On the walk to work at 9 a.m. it is high in the sky, and on the way home, it is blinding. I even got a bit of a sunburn on my 3rd day. There's only been one semi-cloudy day so far in 10 days, and it cleared out to allow the afternoon blinding to begin. -it is big. The city is 3 million people and you definitely can get lost if you're not paying attention. Luckily I live about a 7 minute walk from work, so that is an easy daily commute. We (myself and another MEDA intern) have a lovely large apartment, in a Moroccan neighbourhood (I think we are the only Westerners). But there is a market down the street and tons of local shops. You don't have to go far to get what you need, despite it being a huge city.-it can be smelly. With this heat, and that many people, there is a lot of garbage in the streets. Of course, that can create a certain aroma...They do collect it regularly, and there are street cleaners, but you appreciate your recycling and compost at home more when you don't have access to either. -there are feral cats! This might seem obvious to some people but I've seen dozens of cats all over the city. Not house cats, wild cats. A mother cat even gave birth in the hall in our office building. The kittens were adorable, but sadly, they had been displaced when we came in on Monday.

Pictured right: I walked to the Hassan II Mosque one evening, it is stunningCommunication Development Internship The whole reason I am in Casablanca for six months is to work as the Communication Development Intern with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) Maroc office. I started on Monday, and they've been letting me get acclimatized, but I did learn what my tasks will be for the duration of the internship and they sound both challenging and fun. I'll be writing up financial success stories about youth that have participated in the YouthInvest program (3 per month) which will involve monthly trips to Oujda, where MEDA Maroc has a regional office, to interview youth. Did I mention it is a 10 hour train ride overnight to get there? It will be a great opportunity to travel and see more of the country. I'll also work on the English version of the newsletter, help with a study they will be doing, and help put together a document that details all of the financial services for youth in Morocco. This will be the biggest job to take on. I'll also help with additional communications work as needed, and help do some knowledge management for MEDA. CockroachesNow you want to know why I put cockroaches in the title. That's because, having never seen any before arriving in Morocco, I have now had to dispose of two of these intensely gross, huge, FAST bugs. The first was pretty dopey, so maybe it was on the way out anyways, but I helped him out by tossing him out the window. The second was much more creepy as I watched it race through our apartment living room and into the kitchen. Then, while I tried to figure out how to catch or kill it, it raced to our bathroom. Crouching under the sink with the cabinets open, I managed to stun/hit it several times with the dustpan before quickly scooping it up and flushing it down the toilet. No one warned me about cockroaches before I arrived. *Shudder*Coordination I am quickly getting settled in to life here in Morocco. Having a roommate who is also an intern has been really helpful - she arrived before me and has helped me learn and adapt quickly to the neighbourhood. The apartment is furnished but, for my own peace of mind, I bought sheets and a new pillow for my bed. I don't know where Moroccans buy their linens, but it definitely wasn't where I bought mine! The cost me 3 times what they would have in Canada! Oh, wal-mart, how I miss you! Everything else here is very cheap. A chocolate croissant (they love bread and it seems to be the staple of all meals) is only 3 dirhams (about 30 cents) and everything else (other than American bedsheets I suppose!) is similarly priced.Pictured left: The Hassan II Mosque from the seawall, it is one of the largest in the world, about 15 mins walk from the apartment

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