Saturday, June 28, 2008


Me with the new entrepreneurs

Handing over Richard's new small-business wheelchair
(Daktari wa Viatu is Swahili for "The Shoe Doctor")

Joseph and I displaying the completed small-business wheelchairs

Three small-business wheelchairs.... coming right up!

Thursday, June 26th

I was really nervous today. Mostly because I was afraid the wheelchairs wouldn’t be finished, and their delivery was the reason for the party in the first place. Joseph drove me to the workshop early in the morning so we could help them put on the finishing touches. He didn’t know the word “nervous” but I couldn’t really figure out how to explain it!

I was in charge of putting the rubber stoppers in all the exposed pipe ends, which resulted in me getting my hands completely covered in rubber cement. Then I started moving some of the small pieces into the car and ended up with black paint on my arms from a piece that was still a bit wet. At that point I decided I would be more useful at KASI, helping set everything up and greeting people as they arrived.

The hardest thing about the party was figuring out what time to tell people it started. Seriously. At home if I said the party started at 11am, people would probably come around 11:10 or 11:15, just a little fashionably late. In Tanzania if I told people the party started at 11am, the first guest might trickle in around noon. This usually drives me crazy but today I really appreciated it because we needed all the extra time we could get to finish up the chairs.

The party that was slated to begin at 11am officially got underway around 1:30. Another reason it started so late was that Tanzanians take forever to greet each other. It’s really quite sweet actually. I think I talked about this in another entry so I won’t go into too much detail, but in the schedule of the event that Dr. Nyamubi and I made we allotted 30 minutes for “greetings.”

Dr. Nyamubi welcomed everybody to the event and then I spoke for a while, introducing the relationship that MIT has developed with KASI and the local wheelchair workshops, and then talking specifically about the small-business wheelchair project. Everything I said had to be translated which was actually nice for me because I could think about what I wanted to say next while my translator was speaking. Next our VIP guests spoke—the Moshi District Administrative Secretary was there, as well as Annarose, the Siha District Commissioner who is giving us a piece of land. Everybody spoke in Swahili so I don’t know exactly what they were talking about, but I heard it was good.

When everybody was done speaking I called Hilda, Peter, and Richard up individually to give them their new small-business wheelchairs. It soon turned into a photo frenzy with everybody wanting to jump in and shake hands and congratulate each other. Good thing I had a clean MIT t-shirt to wear today! When all of that was finished lunch was served which was really tasty, and people had plenty of time to mingle and talk about what had just happened.

There were two journalists in attendance—one was a radio presenter and the other works for ITV which is the main news channel here. I don’t know if we’ll get any coverage but they did take me aside after the event for a special interview. I probably sounded like a blubbering idiot in my Swahinglish but it was fun!

I was too buzzed with excitement to head home after the party so I headed over to the Kindoroko Hotel which has a really cool bar on its rooftop. There’s no elevator and let me tell you, after 5 steep flights of stairs I was some thirsty! It was a little cloudy so I couldn’t see Kilimanjaro, but I did have a good view of sprawling little Moshi. And the mango juice I ordered was so fresh that I could see the bartender crushing the mangoes behind the bar. A perfect way to end a perfect day.
Monday, June 23rd to Wednesday, June 25th

What a whirlwind start to the week. I knew that the small-business wheelchairs would be finished soon so I was busy planning how I would deliver them. Should I visit each person at their house to deliver their new wheelchair? Should I invite them all to lunch and then give them the wheelchairs? Should I organize some sort of party for the delivery? It quickly became clear that a party was the way to go.

The guest list started at about 10 people but overnight it escalated to almost 30! We were planning to have it on Friday but a few of our VIP guests could only make it on Thursday so we bumped it up a day, which means we had a LOT of work to do to make sure the chairs are finished in time.

On Tuesday I met with Hilda and Peter—two of the people who are trialing the small-business wheelchair—to finalize the details of their businesses and to help them get any materials that they still needed. We managed to talk our way through breakfast and lunch (which were both very tasty). In the afternoon I went to the workshop to check on the chairs and found that they were ready to be painted but the spray paint gun was broken. So off to town we went. By the time we came back it was well after the workshop would have been closed, but the chairs had to be painted then otherwise they wouldn’t be dry in time for the delivery. Samson did an awesome job spraying the chairs while I bounced around and tried to entertain him. He taught me how to use the spray gun which was actually pretty fun, and in return I introduced him to Pringles on the way home (which he is now obsessed with).

Wednesday I caught up with Richard, the last of my three disabled entrepreneurs, to check-in and get an update on his plans. He was originally going to have a shoe shine and repair business and while he is still planning on doing that, it turns out that before his accident he used to own a small shop in town that was pretty successful. Since then he’s started a pretty big farm at his house, growing rice, beans, and maize. He wants to combine everything and reopen his shop to sell the things he grows on his farm, while running his shoe shine and repair business out front. I can’t wait to be a customer!

Back to the workshop to make sure the chairs would be ready in the morning and everything seemed to be going fine, until we noticed a small, technical manufacturing error about which I won’t go into much detail. But it resulted in us having to do a lot of cutting, re-welding, grinding, and more painting… all the night before they needed to be finished. So it was another long night at the workshop, but boy did I sleep well that night!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Discussing the design for the drawers

Me with my freshly painted signs!

In front of Marangu Waterfall

A weekend in... Moshi!

Saturday and Sunday, June 21st-22nd

This was the first weekend I spent completely in Moshi so I had lots of time to explore. There are several really cute coffee shops here. One almost reminds me of Starbucks, except in addition to cappuccinos and lattes they also serve hotdogs. They all have really good coffee which is grown right here in Moshi, and all of them seem to be very popular with tourists!

I bought some postcards and went to one of my favorite coffee shops—appropriately named, The Coffee Shop—and sat in their garden while I wrote them. But I realized that I don’t have anybody’s address so if you would like a postcard please send me your address! After some exploration I located the Moshi Post Office and I even bought stamps so I could practice my Swahili.

To balance my touristy afternoon, for dinner I went to a real local restaurant and ate a huge plate of food with my hands. Each meal begins and ends with washing your hands in steaming hot water. Sometimes you have to get up and wash your hands under the communal tub of hot water, but other times the waiter brings the hot water to you which is really nice. The only problem with this dining situation is that sometimes you’re halfway through your meal and your phone rings, but you can’t exactly pick it up because your hands are covered in food.

On Sunday I expanded my exploration and headed for the mountain. On clear days Kilimanjaro looks absolutely majestic and I would love to climb it, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. A lot of the tourists I see in Moshi are on their way to the mountain and I often think about joining them… maybe on my next trip. Anybody want to join me?

Joseph’s grandmother is from a village called Marangu which is just about as close to Kili as you can get without being inside the actual national park. Aside from being home to the tallest mountain in Africa, Marangu boasts a large natural waterfall which is where I was headed. We drove up to the entrance to the park where we were literally accosted by a dozen guys claiming to be mountain guides. I ended up choosing a young guy named Benedict who had climbed Kili 15 times. We negotiated a deal for the day and then set off for our first destination.

We hiked for about an hour, winding our way through the edge of a coffee farm, collecting small children who wanted to follow me along the way. Whenever I go hiking I always end up with a pack of little kids following me. They’re really cute but they always make me feel lame because they quickly scamper over the rough parts in plastic sandals while I’m in my super North Face hiking boots and still slipping all over the place. We finally ended up at a beautiful little waterfall. Joseph hopped his way into the middle of the river so he could get closer to the waterfall, but I was very content to look from the edge.

After lots of photos we hiked our way back out and up to gate where we had left the car. Then we drove about halfway down the mountain before we turned off onto one of my favorite Tanzanian dirt roads. We bumped and jumped our way down until Joseph decided his car couldn’t go any further. So we got out and started hiking!

We eventually made it to the entrance to Marangu Waterfalls and I could already hear the water roaring up ahead. Kilimanjaro is home to the Chagga tribe and the area around the waterfall was like a kind of museum of their culture. It was interesting to read about the history of their tribe and some of their folk stories, but I was too excited to see the waterfall. Somehow I climbed down the steep, muddy steps without falling, although Joseph had no problem letting me know that I was going really slowly and that he could fall asleep waiting for me to get down.

All the hiking was definitely worth it. The waterfall was just beautiful. The water, which comes from the mountain, was moving really fast and the sound of it hitting the rocks below was the only thing you could hear. This time I decided to take a chance and try to make my way into the middle of the river. My guide helped me to take lots of pictures so hopefully some of them came out well. When I find an internet café with a faster connection I’ll try to post some.

After we made our way back out again I was pretty exhausted, but Joseph wanted to say a “quick” hello to his aunt who lived down the road. Now I have to tell you, nothing about saying hello in Swahili is quick. Saying hello can actually be quite a lengthy process, shaking hands or hugging while you go back and forth exchanging greetings. If the person you are greeting is your elder you have to give them an honorable greeting by saying “shikamoo” to which they have to reply “marahaba.” Then you get into the jambos and the habaris; then you have to ask about everybody else in the person’s family that you know. So we went to greet Joseph’s aunt who was really sweet… and we ended up staying for almost two hours.

I took a much needed shower and I’m back home now, but I think I’m too tired to go out. Good thing I stocked up my kitchen a few days ago.

In my "studio"

Friday, June 20th

I spent all morning painting the signs which I had stenciled in Arusha earlier in the week. It’s really nice to have my own place because I can do whatever I want—like turn the sitting room into a studio! The brush set I got had about 12 different sizes and the smallest ones came in really handy.

The biggest challenge in painting the signs was that I have the arts and crafts skills of a third grader, but at the same time I’m a huge perfectionist. Yes, I’m admitting it. The solution I came up with was to use the smallest size brush and to work really, really slowly. And I think I did a pretty good job! I painted the MIT wheelchair class logo in the corner of each one, and then the name of the shop in big letters, with the phone number of the “shop owner” at the bottom. I’m still hoping to paint some small graphics that represent each business but I’m going to practice on paper first.

I opened my window that looks out to Kilimanjaro and left my signs to dry, while I headed into town to KASI. I had been in Arusha for a while so it had been almost a week since I had seen those guys and I definitely missed them. They are hiring a few new employees so they were busy doing interviews, but I still popped in to say hi and to make plans for next week.

A stack of cucumbers or a pyramid of tomatoes?

Thursday, June 19th

I drove back to Moshi this morning and headed straight for the wheelchair workshop at KCMC. They had finished making the wheelchair frames but were waiting for the brackets which we had made in Arusha. I had my hands full when I walked in—umbrellas, brackets, tables. There’s a guard who I have to sign-in with at the gate and I can tell she thinks I’m kind of crazy. I can’t wait to roll out of there with the completed small-business wheelchairs and show her what I’ve been working on all this time!

Samson and Albert came up with a neat design to hold the drawers under the seat. It’s slightly different from what we did in Arusha, so it will be good to get feedback on both designs. We welded on the bottom bracket that acts as a stand for the table (and by “we” I mean Samson welded while I shielded my eyes and then checked with the square to make sure it was straight). And then we welded a small piece of pipe onto the side that will hold the umbrella.

On my way home I stopped at the market because Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard was looking pretty bare. I love going to the market here. All the vegetables are super fresh and grown more locally than you could imagine. Rows of women sit with assorted stacks in front of them—piles of oranges, stacks of cucumbers, pyramids of tomatoes, rows of onions. Things are priced by group, which vary by size. So the small pyramid of tomatoes might be 200 shillings while the bigger pyramid is 400. You have to bargain a bit but I’m getting better.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Trying to upload pictures...

So iPhoto isn't working on my computer which means it's a huge pain to get the pictures off my camera. And I can't resize them so they take foreverrrrrrrrrr to upload. But I think I may have finally gotten one posted. It should be from my cooking lesson with Abdullah's wife, Fatuma.

"A business without a sign is a sign of no business"

Monday, June 16th to Wednesday, June 18th

What a busy week! I arrived in Arusha on Sunday afternoon so Monday morning I was ready to get to work. I picked up Jake (another MIT student) and we headed to MobilityCare. They had made great progress on the wheelchair frames, and were just waiting for the small-business “accessories” so they could weld a few final pieces. I brought the completed drawers and tables, and we got to work designing a track for the drawers to slide on.

In the afternoon we went into town to look for a signwriter to paint the tables that will also serve as signs. When I was telling my dad about the design for the small-business chair he reminded me of a sign we saw in Antigua (a favorite family vacation spot), that read “A business without a sign is a sign of no business.” Which is exactly why these business wheelchairs need signs!

The first signwriter we went to gave us a price that was much higher than I expected to pay. I thought it was probably because I was a “mzungu” (white person in Swahili) but even when Joseph went by himself to another signwriter the price was still high. Now I’m certainly not an artist—in fact I have probably have the arts and crafts skills of a 3rd grader—but I wasn’t expecting anything too fancy for these signs. So I decided to do it myself. We went on a crazy goose chase around Arusha and finally tracked down the right kind of paint and brushes, and large stencils for the letters. The best part was that the shop reused glass Konyagi bottles for dispensing paint! Konyagi is a local Tanzanian gin which they are very proud of. And now I have a collection of bottles in my apartment.

On Tuesday we painted the tables white which took forever because the sun kept hiding. The weather has been kind of crazy. It’s supposed to be the dry season but it’s been kind of drizzly and very cold. It’s not a Boston winter but I’ve still been wearing two fleeces to dinner.

On Wednesday we stenciled in the words for each of the businesses and prepared them to be painted. We had set up a table outside in the shade for the stenciling operation and it was really zen sitting there, methodically plodding across each table and penciling in the letters. I almost felt like doing some yoga.

… …

When Daniel visited MIT in March he had a burrito from Anna’s in our student center and he loved it! He kept telling everybody back at MobilityCare about burritos and asking me if we could make them. Jake is a much bigger burrito eater than I am so we decided to make Wednesday “burrito” day for lunch. We went all over town getting avocados, rice, beans—the only thing we couldn’t find were tortillas so we used chapati which is a round, flat bread they eat here that is similar but thicker and sweeter.

We set everything up outside and showed everybody how to fill their burritos. The only problem was that we all put way too much inside and then it was impossible to roll them shut! But they were really delicious and everybody seemed to enjoy the afternoon. I wonder what else I could cook for them… any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another weekend in TZ

June 14-15

I spent Saturday in Moshi. In the morning I went to KCMC and we finished making the frames for the 3 wheelchairs there. I also sharpened my kitchen knife so now I’ll actually be able to slice my cucumbers and pineapples easily.

Tanzania was playing Cameroon in soccer so in the afternoon I went to a local bar with a few friends to watch the game. The crowd was crazy! If Cameroon had the ball the entire place was dead silent, but when Tanzania even touched the ball they all started whooping and cheering! Unfortunately the match ended in a 0-0 tie but Tanzania still has a shot of making it to the World Cup in 2010 if they win their next two games. Hope they can do it!

On Sunday I drove to Arusha and met up with Jake, another MIT student who is working on a similar project at MobilityCare. We went to Daniel’s house and hung out with his family, and then took Daniel, his brother Alfred, and his 2-year old son out to dinner.

The place we went for dinner had a playground which I thought would be good for little Joseph, but I ended up chasing him around the swings for at least an hour. How do little kids have so much energy?

A very successful day!

Friday, June 13th

As of today, there is a piece of land in the Siha District of Kilimanjaro with KASI’s name on it. Cue excitement! I would love to write about everything that happened today because it was pretty amazing, but we have to go out and celebrate. So briefly…

There are six districts in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania with the newest one, Siha, just added in 2006. Henry arranged for us to meet with the new District Commissioner to see if she might have some land for us to build the new KASI facility. On the drive there Henry let me in on a little secret (the District Commissioner is his younger sister!)

It was a beautiful drive up to her office and even more beautiful driving down the meandering grassy lane to her house, sunflower fields flanking both sides. First I had to sign her official visitor’s log which made me feel pretty important considering the President of Tanzania had signed just a few pages earlier. Apparently the color of the signature signifies how important you are—the President signs in red, members of Parliament in green, and everybody else in blue or black.

Like most Tanzanians, Annarose, the Siha District Commisioner, was such a warm, welcoming person. Henry and I told her about our plan for the new KASI facility and about the funds that we have already raised and she was really excited. There are very few schools for disabled children but one of the best ones in the country is located in her district. So Annarose was very enthusiastic about building her district as a hub for all of this activity.

She has to look at her maps and figure out exactly which piece of land she can give us, but she said by next month we will be able to come and look at it and start working. The only condition is that we have to plant some trees—she really likes gardens, much like somebody else I know! The district is right inbetween Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru so it should be pretty spectacular on a clear day.

I can’t believe this all happened so fast. I expected to spend the whole summer searching for a piece of land and we already have one. Next week we’ll continue planning how to spend the funds from GlobalGiving. I can’t wait!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cooking Lessons

Wednesday, June 11th

Since I’ve been here people have asked me a lot of questions that I just don’t know the answers to. Maybe I look smarter than I really am? In any case, here’s a sampling of what I have been asked:

How did Oprah make so much money?
How many floors are in the tallest building in the world?
Is it safe for people on the top floors of skyscrapers to open their windows?
Will Obama choose Hillary to be his vice-president?

After I finished working for the day I went to visit Abdullah’s wife, Fatuma. Abdullah is in South Africa until the end of this month but I couldn’t wait for him to come back to see his wife and new baby girl, Nadia. Nadia is about 7 months old now and she’s sooooo cute! I played with her for a while until Fatuma announced that it was cooking time. Last time I was at her house she taught me how to make ugali, which is a basically a stiff porridge made from maize powder and a staple for many Tanzanian meals. It’s not that hard to make and it fills you up like nothing else.

Today Fatuma wanted to make pilau, which is a really tasty spiced rice dish. It’s much more complicated than making ugali, but it tastes a lot better too! I tried to be as helpful as I could, cutting up tomatoes and onions and being the master stirrer.

Fatuma is such a good teacher. We joked around and said that I was the first student in her new cooking school. I probably didn’t get an A but I got to eat my final project so I was happy!

And for you, only mangoes!

Tuesday, June 10th

I ate an entire mango for breakfast. It was soooooo good, but I’m sure I’ll pay for it later. If you open my refrigerator you’ll find it filled with mangoes, oranges, bananas, cucumbers, eggs, and of course bottled water. I love going grocery shopping here. On Monday the fundi came to fix my stove so now I can actually start cooking—not that I’m a really good cook or anything. So far I’ve made pasta, eggs, and toast. But hey, I’m learning!

I got to see a lot of Moshi as I ran around town yesterday. I started off at KASI and we just about finished the website. Although it’s not totally done yet, I’ll let you all have a sneak peak:

There is still a lot of editing to be done but I think we did a pretty good job given the circumstances! The wheelchair technicians at KCMC have all the materials to make the three new small business wheelchairs and they’re working on them now. Can’t wait to see them when they’re done!

In order for GlobalGiving to transfer the money we raised to KASI there is a lot of paperwork to be done. I was a little worried about getting it all done before the deadline at the end of this month but Henry and I pretty much finished everything in a single sitting this afternoon! I’ve noticed that things that seem like they will take forever get done really quickly, and things that seem like they should be finished in no time end up taking forever. Ironic but interesting.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Weekend in Arusha

June 7-8

I started off the weekend by visiting the fundi to check on the wood drawers and tables for the wheelchairs. He had finished all of the drawers and they looked fantastic, but he was still working on the tables. So I decided to come back later in the afternoon.

Joseph took me out to breakfast which was a good way to pass the time until the fundi finished. It was a traditional Tanzanian restaurant, but they had a few things I recognized from home like a Spanish omelet, toast, and hard-boiled eggs. Joseph wanted me to have something traditional like “kuku soupu” but I wasn’t too sure. Now I understand why he’s so skinny! Kuku soupu, which is apparently one of his favorite breakfasts, is a plate of boiled chicken and boiled bananas, with a little cup of broth that you dip everything in. Talk about low-carb. My toast was really good but I’m definitely going for the chicken soup next time.

Later we went to the Mountain Village Serena Hotel where Joseph’s dad works. I needed a quiet, relaxing place to do some brainstorming and writing, and the Mountain Village is definitely the place to go for that. Sitting in their garden you have a stunning view of Lake Duluti. Plus you get to sit in really cool giraffe chairs that Joseph made himself. His father was recently named the chief of their tribe so I felt pretty important to be spending time with the chief!

Back to town to see the fundi who had finished everything. The tables were perfectly finished and the drawers look really neat and professional. I’m so excited! He was a really sweet guy, and he gave me a really good price. So if you want any kind of woodwork done in Arusha, I know the place to go.

Sunday was pretty relaxing. I saw a bunch of old friends in town, and then headed back to Moshi in the afternoon. Back to work tomorrow!

The Maasai Drives a Landcruiser

Friday, June 6th

Back to MobilityCare this morning to keep working. With the woodwork outsourced to the fundi in town, we still had to make the steel brackets, cut the pipe, and weld various bits together.

The morning got off to a good start with peanut butter and banana sandwiches. In case you haven’t noticed, I eat these a lot when I’m here. The bananas are just so good! I’m going to start counting how many bananas I eat each day, but if I had to guess I would say I’m eating at least 5 or 6 each day. Mmmmmmmm.

Joseph cut the large piece of pipe into the smaller couplings and then I drilled most of the holes for the screws. If nothing else, 2.007 taught me how to drill holes. Thanks! Joseph was working really fast and within no time he was welding everything together. Everybody has promised that they’ll teach me how to weld this summer, but I was in no rush to learn today.

So I took the prototype small-business wheelchair outside and wheeled it around for a while. Yesterday we finalized the design of the drawers and desk, but somehow I had forgotten about the umbrella. Originally it was supposed to slide right into one of the hollow pipes behind the user’s shoulder. But in riding around I found that my arm kept hitting it when I reached backward. Not good, but nothing we couldn’t solve. I took the chair back inside and shared what I found with Daniel and Joseph, who both quickly agreed that we needed to change something. We found a new spot on the outside of the sideguard where there is space to mount a holder for the umbrella. And by moving the umbrella to that spot it covers the user so much better. So it seems like a win-win.

After we finished everything up we headed into town, which was really bustling with people. The streets were literally packed from end to end. Luckily Joseph knew exactly where he wanted to go. His church is doing some major renovations and they need five new toilets, which his mom had volunteered him to buy. The first toilet store didn’t have what he was looking for so we went to a second. And then a third. Who knew there were so many toilet stores in Arusha? He finally found what he was looking for, and now I know exactly where to go if I ever want to buy a toilet in Arusha. You never know when that may come in handy!

One of my favorite things about Tanzania is that people don’t really plan things too far in advance, and some of the best times happen completely unexpectedly. Tonight was a perfect example. We went to a place called Triple A which is a radio station, restaurant, bar, night club, barber, and car wash all rolled into one compound. I definitely recommend passing by if you are ever in town. We had gone to get tea (called “chai” in Swahili) because it was getting dark and chilly, at Triple A’s restaurant, and found out that they were hosting the Miss Arusha 2008 pageant in the main hall later that night. There was no way I was about to pass up that opportunity!

Tickets were 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about $8) and it was well worth it. Ironically the tickets stated that the show started at 8pm, everybody said it started at 9pm, and it didn’t end up starting until well after 10:30. I didn’t mind that it was starting so late because I knew I could sleep-in the next morning, but it seemed crazy that it would start 2 and half hours late! And everybody seemed to know that it would start so late, as half the crowd didn’t show up until 10pm. When I asked why everybody was so late all I got was, “This is Tanzania. We’re not in a hurry. We’re on African time.” Good to know!

There were 12 contestants who competed in formalwear, swimwear, a design of their choice, and answered interview questions. Although most of it was in Swahili, my favorite DJ was one of the presenters and he happily translated the important parts into English. From the first round I picked number 8 as my favorite and I guess I have good taste because she won! Aside from winning a car, refrigerator, and television, she will go on to compete in the Miss Tanzania pageant later in the year. I hope she wins!

*The title of this post was inspired by a Maasai named KinyeKinye who I met today. While I was having some tea at the Triple A restaurant I was surrounded by a group of about 8 Maasai. The Maasai are one of the most well known tribes in East Africa because of the bright red cloth they wear. Apparently the Maasai I met today were Tanzanite brokers who must be doing quite well because they had a really nice car! And although their bright red "shukas" looked cozy and warm, I caught most of them wearing pants and jackets underneath. Oh those Maasai...

Friday, June 6, 2008

Off to Arusha

Thursday, June 5th

I got up early this morning and set off for Arusha. Last summer I spent almost all of my time in Arusha so I was really excited to be going back. When I pulled up at MobilityCare everybody was sitting outside enjoying their morning tea break. It reminded me of so many times I had spent with them, sitting outside on our breaks talking about everything under the sun.

Hugs all around a lot of jambos later, we went inside to get to work. Last year it took a few days of getting to know each other better before any real work began—interesting difference between the working styles of each culture. So I was surprised when we pretty much got right to work today. If this is a sign of things to come, this is going to be a really productive summer!

Daniel wheeled out the prototype small-business wheelchair that we had finished up in January and we all crowded around. We pulled out the drawers and played with the table, checking to see if we wanted to make any changes. We all decided that the table was performing well, but the drawers needed to be tweaked a little. Lucas, who as the affectionate nickname Mr. Excellent, had a really good idea to take the drawers and desk to town to a woodworker who would be able to make them more faster and better than we would be able to at MobilityCare. We took everything apart and loaded it into the car, not wanting to waste any time.

We went to three different stores looking for a special plastic that we wanted to make the desk out of so that it would be waterproof, but nobody had what we were looking for. So we decided to stick with wood for now and we can change to plastic later if we need to, after all this is an experiment. We went to another store to get 35mm diameter pipe to make the stand, and then to the fundi (in Swahili you can use the word fundi to describe anybody who makes something with their hands, so in this case we called the woodworker a fundi) to drop off the drawers and desk. There was a lot of back and forth in Swahili and I did my best to keep up, but it was kind of like watching a tennis match with the ball going back and forth really quickly! The fundi is going to call us tomorrow with an update, but he guessed that he would be done by Saturday and he gave us a great price. So I was happy!

With everything finished for the day it was time for a break. Last time I was in Arusha they had been busy building this enormously tall building that was covered in shiny blue glass. Word on the street was that this new hotel, called Naura Springs, was being funded by the President of Uganda, and when it was finished it would be one of the best hotels in town. So of course I wanted to check it out.

Plus, there is a huge conference going on in town this week called the Sullivan Summit, which has brought over 3,000 American business people—mostly those with African roots— together to try to solve some pressing problems. A bunch of famous people like Jesse Jackson and Chris Tucker were rumored to be there and I was hoping to catch a glimpse!

The Naura Springs Hotel is quite spectacular and it was so nice to sit outside on their patio, having a cold drink and doing some people watching. I swear I saw a famous basketball player. I couldn’t tell you his name but he was enormous. It was a really nice place to relax in the evening and I’m sure I’ll be back again soon.

It's amazing what you can do in a single day

Wednesday, June 4th

I don’t think I could be any more exhausted today, but boy do I feel accomplished! Yesterday Faustina gave me the names and phone numbers of the three wheelchair users who want to participate in my trial of the small-business wheelchair: Peter, Richard, and Hilda. I met up with Samson, who I luckily had tracked down the night before, to see when he would be available to visit these people. We need to start building each of their wheelchairs but we need to take individual measurements so each one fits correctly, which is why I needed Samson to come along.

I expected him to say that he would be free sometime next week but when I showed up at the hospital he was all ready to go, tape measure and notebook in hand! Joseph called Peter, Richard, and Hilda and all of them said they were around, so off we went. Moshi itself is a really small town, but these three people probably live in three completely opposite corners, each one off a crazy dirt road with potholes the size of bathtubs!

We went to see Peter first and at several points I thought I might be pitched from the car because it was so bumpy. I met Peter last year when I was working on the folding three-wheeler and it was so great to see him again! We caught up with Peter pushing himself up an especially steep part of the road to his house. It’s amazing to think that Peter pushes himself up and down that same road with the crazy potholes several times a week. I touched him on the arm when I said hi (well really when I said jambo) and he’s certainly got the muscles to prove it!

Peter gets by day to day by repairing radios and umbrellas. He’s really good at making simple repairs, but he just doesn’t get enough business right now. When I asked him why he said it was because he can’t go very far from home with his tools because he has nowhere to put them, and also because people don’t take him seriously because he doesn’t look like a real business. This made me even more excited to be working with Peter because I really believe that with a small-business wheelchair and some capital to purchase the necessary tools, he will really be able to boost his business. He already has the skills and the determination, he just needs a little help getting a jumpstart.

With the measurements to start making Peter’s new wheelchair and lots of details about his business, we set back down the crazy dirt road and went off in search of Richard. I had also met Richard last year and while I remember how much fun he was to work with, I definitely did not remember the ridiculous road to his house! I swear at one point we crossed a river (okay so it was really just a huge pothole that was filled with water, but still). I ran through the same questions with Richard as I had with Peter. Richard also has been trying to start a small business but has been frustrated that he does not have all the tools he needs and does not get recognized as a real business. He is really good at making and repairing shoes, and just needs a little help to get his business going. He has a partner that he plans to work with and he thinks this will help him cover more ground and attract more business.

While I was chatting with Richard a crowd of people in the village had gathered around to see what was going on. Joseph was translating everything because Richard doesn’t really speak English, and I think my new audience really enjoyed that! I wish I could have stayed and talked to Richard longer but there were still miles to go before I could sleep. He was sooooo excited about the project. In fact, I later found out that he had called KASI that morning to find out when I was coming to see him!

Next we went to find Hilda, and after fording the pothole river and cutting across town to another crazy dirt road, there she was. KASI was anxious to include at least one woman in this project and of course I had no objections to that! Hilda recently learned how to make batik fabric at a training session that KASI ran. She also does amazing embroidery and has her own sewing machine already. The problem is that she doesn’t have the capital to really start her business (familiar theme, huh?) Hilda will also be working with a partner, who can help her by going to town and collecting the different materials like cloth and dye. Then Hilda can take some samples and go around to people’s houses to see if they want to buy something. I talked to Faustina about this when I saw her later today, and she was really supportive. Apparently Hilda has a lot of friends who will definitely buy from her! She’ll need a lot more capital than Richard or Peter to get started, but the return should be much greater.

With measurements for the three wheelchairs and tons of notes about each business scribbled in my notebook we finally headed back to town. I stopped by KASI to apologize for being gone all day, and they couldn’t believe how much I had done! I had planned to cook dinner in my apartment tonight but my stove seems to have a short circuit. So I went out and got some milk at the shop across the street and enjoyed my off-brand corn flakes.

Let's make a website

Tuesday, June 3rd

Rise and shine! I got up early and made myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast. The peanut butter here is as real as it gets; I seriously think it’s just ground up peanuts and nothing else. And the bananas are delicious! Everything I ate was probably grown right in Moshi—talk about supporting your local farmers.

I met Faustina, KASI’s secretary, this morning and we began working on a website for them. They had been meaning to make a website for a long time now, but things had been really busy and they needed some motivation to get started. Last year Shirley Fung, another one of the MIT Public Service Center Fellows, developed a guide called “How to Make a Website at an Internet Café.” It’s a really neat document and has helped several people around Moshi to make their own websites. As per the guide’s suggestion, we decided to use GooglePages. It’s very simple to pick up and if you play around with the layouts and fonts, you can come up with something pretty professional looking!

We talked a lot about who the audience of the website would be and what information they would be looking to find. Faustina told me about some of KASI’s recent events and I had an idea to have a section called “News” on the homepage. The plan is for Faustina to update the site once a month with new stories about what’s going on. (Hopefully this will keep people coming back to the site!) We had another idea to do a “member of the month.” I spent a lot of time showing her how to use the program and of course we spent a lot of time chatting, so the site isn’t quite done yet. But I promise to post the link as soon as we finish. Stay tuned!

While we were working on the website I heard some drumming come from outside. I was so intrigued that I popped my head outside and found a whole ensemble of traditional dancers and drummers practicing for a performance. I thought I would just watch for a bit but after a few minutes they spotted me and I was dragged out onto the dance floor! Luckily there are no photos of me, but I’ll never forget my attempt at traditional Tanzanian dancing in the middle of a regular Tuesday afternoon.

I left KASI around five and set off to find Albert and Samson, two wheelchair technicians who work at KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre). They work with Abdullah who I probably talked a lot about last year. Unfortunately Abdullah is in South Africa right now for a training program on special wheelchair seating, but he should be back at the beginning of July.

For a small town finding these guys in Moshi was such an adventure! Both of them had new cell phone numbers so tracking those down was the start of the battle. I called Albert first and the person who picked up was only speaking Swahili, so Joseph talked to him and was told that the wheelchair workshop had closed. That was our first tip that we had the wrong number! One of Joseph’s friends said he had Samson’s new number so he gave it to us but it ended up being a different Samson, who of course had no idea what we were talking about. We finally found them at a bar outside the hospital and it was so great to see them! I didn’t stay long because it was already dark but we made plans to meet tomorrow morning.

First day at work

Monday, June 2nd

It was really quiet when I arrived last night, but Moshi came alive this morning! Everyone was hustling and bustling about, but I could barely keep my eyes open. Ahh jetlag. Nothing a little Tanzanian coffee can’t remedy.

Joseph and I went to a cute little restaurant called Central Garden to get breakfast and to discuss the plan for the summer. As some of you know, my project has grown exponentially over the past few weeks due to the awesome success of the project on GlobalGiving. I knew I would need help driving around to meet all my different community partners, and although I’m trying my best to learn Swahili, I definitely need help translating. Joseph and I met last summer when I was working in Arusha and we hit it off pretty quickly. He’ll be starting at the Moshi University College of Cooperative and Business Studies in September, so he’s free for the summer and seemed like the perfect person to help me with my project.

With a good plan and some much needed caffeine, we set off for KASI, the Kilimanjaro Association for the Spinally Injured. I was introduced to KASI last summer and I was blown away by the awesome work they were doing. I don’t have enough time to do them justice by fully explaining what they do, but I promise I will soon. Just trust me now that they are a spectacular group of people doing really great work.

Recently I had the awesome opportunity to fundraise for the project of my choice on a website called GlobalGiving. I decided to raise funds for KASI and if you haven’t seen my project page already then you should definitely go check it out now:

The project has been extremely successful and we managed to raise over $9,000 in just a few weeks. The project was part of a competition and because it raised the most money, GlobalGiving is awarding us an additional $3,500 in pursuit of our project. We have big plans ahead of us and I was so excited to get going!

Dr. Henry Nyamubi is the Executive Director of KASI and we had been e-mailing a lot over the past few weeks with much excitement. He has some really great ideas and I can't wait to see how everything works out. There is a lot more that I could write about today but Moshi is calling me and I want to get out and do some exploring. I promise I'll write more soon.

Back in Tanzania

Sunday, June 1st

I’m back! In Tanzania, that is. When I got to Amsterdam I managed to switch my seat to a window seat in the 8th row, so when my plane landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport I was one of the first people off. There had been a mix-up with the visa I got last January, but I explained what happened to the immigration agent and he waved me through without any problems. One of my bags came through quickly, and of course then my luck had to turn. I waited for at least 45 minutes scanning the tiny conveyer belt for my bright yellow duffel bag, which was nowhere to be found. I finally gave up and went to the “lost baggage” stand. I gave the woman my name upon which she promptly told me that my bag had been left in Amsterdam. At least they knew where it was! Being back in Tanzania, I was in too good a mood to let that bother me. So I crossed my fingers, gave her my number, and hoped my bag would show up on the next flight.

And off to Moshi I went. It was already dark when I arrived, but the area I’m staying in seems really nice, and if I’m not mistaken it’s within easy walking distance of the main bus stand. I hope I can sleep tonight because I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow.