Our wandering President
 
Updates from our President Peter Morrin on his annual trip to Africa
 

16 December 2022

Well, best laid plans…  It is now only 3 days until I depart Uganda and I am just getting to my first update.  As they say in Tanzania; Pole.

I arrived in Kilimanjaro almost a month ago.  I had a short stop over in Amsterdam where I met up with my grade school friend Brian Polk.  This has become a tradition, but this time we stayed in Amsterdam proper.  Had some great meals, got back to the Rijksmuseum, saw a very weird concert, and did some general walking around a very cool city.

I arrived late on a Friday night and decided to stay in Hai/Boma area.  For those who have been here, this is the turn off to Maji Moto, the hot springs.  We have been working closely with the Rotary club of Machame for a number of years, but this year we wanted to meet their colleagues at the Hai Rotary club which is “down the mountain and turn right”.  Ndosi and Timothy were my hosts from Hai and Ram and the good Dr. Kwayu were never far away.  We arrived one night at the pub which became the Downtown Office to find the good Doctor sitting in front of 14 beers.  He explained it was happy hour and he got “7 for 6”.  The 2022 slogan was born.

Timothy and Ndosi both run private “English Medium” primary schools.  For reasons buried in the past, Tanzania has kept the language of instruction in the government primary schools Swahili.  This would not necessarily be a bad thing, except they flip the language of instruction to English in secondary school.  The result is a huge drop out rate after grade 7.  Anyone who can possibly afford the tuition enrolls their children in private primary schools so they have learnt enough English by grade 7 to survive.  This systemic weakness is acknowledged by everyone, but it is so engrained that nobody seems willing to change it.

Nodosi has about 240 girls with about half of them boarding.  He provides scholarships for some of the local Maasi girls as Hai is on traditional Maasi land.  The school has many challenges including inadequate water, infrastructure repairs and the general poverty level in the surrounding area.  Ndosi and his staff are taking these challenges in stride and are trying to provide the best education they can for their students.

Timothy sold some family land he inherited and built what will certainly be one of the nicest primary schools in the country.  I would say he got 97% of the building and site correct the first time by investing in quality design and construction from the beginning.  From those in the business, this is very high praise.  It is even more difficult in Africa where capital is a challenge for everyone except the banks, mobile phone companies, breweries, and the ultra- rich.

Our “foster student”, Ilet, who is sponsored by my Rotary club through Timothy’s NGO, attends this school.  She is in kindergarten now and will start grade 1 in January.   You could not ask for a prettier, brighter, poster child for a foster program.  I am afraid her appearance at school does not reflect the realities at home, but we are looking forward to watching her grow over the years.

I met lots of interesting new people who I hope will be partners in our projects.  Mishek is a self-taught, organic farmer who has forgotten more about agriculture than most people ever learn.  His own compound is covered in green-houses (really shade houses) with seedlings of every imaginable crop growing.  He is a little obsessed (the bedroom of his Under-construction-house currently is one of his many compost piles).  This guy gets it.  I gave him some Rotary money without any strings and told him to let me know what he does with it.

To compliment Misheck, I met a 26 year old Biodynamic farmer, Oliver, trained in Egypt who was totally fed up with most people not listening to her good advice.  I think I remember feeling that way!  I am hoping to hire her on contract to go to Kilimanjaro, meet Misheck, Ndosi, Timothy, Ram and Peniel (another new partner) and give us her opinion.  She is not short of them, but again, knows what she is talking about.

Food security is an even bigger issue now than it has been in the past.  Drought conditions in the north eastern part of the continent plus the war in Ukraine have dramatically pushed up food prices.  Ndosi estimates that food is almost 50% of the cost of maintaining a student in boarding school.  This only pertains to food “quantity” and does not even touch on the issue of “quality”.  Great opportunity remains in this area to improve the lives of the general population.  Hopefully some of our new partners will be the mechanism that will allow this assistance to flow to the people who most need it.

A similar theme is the rising cost of energy.  This is seen in petrol and diesel prices, electricity, and bags of locally made charcoal.  The firewood I see collected by the women along the roads comprises smaller and fewer pieces than I recall from the past.  New energy solutions are desperately needed from both a quality of life and environmental perspective.  On the positive side, the pay back term for solar energy projects is dropping every year.  This is great, provided one has the initial capital to invest to make the future savings.

Routine maintenance continues to be a challenge.  At one project our partners were complaining that there was not enough water from the solar pump we installed 4 years ago, so they had switched over to the electrical grid (at a cost of 300,000 TZS per month).  In the two days that I was there, we were able to pull up the pump, find two holes in the pump body that were causing the water to short-circuit, patch the holes, and return the pump to full operation.  This was a good day, but all I could think of was what I could have done with all those wasted schillings.

As always these trip are full of ups and downs.  As a general rule the ups outweigh the downs by a long margin and my life is always richer for the experience.  I hope my partners feel the same.

All my best,

Peter

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18 December 2022

Well, there is nothing like watching a World Cup as the sun goes down on Lake Victoria with a cold Nile Special by one’s side.  I am currently in Entebbe Uganda at the Rosemary Courts Hotel, a stone’s throw from Aero Beach, where the “Purple People” music festival jammed the streets a few hours ago.  This is a hotel our friend Jimmy Sebulime, Mizungu Joe, and I hung out at in 2018 before flying out.

Unfortunately, they have filled in the pool.  I wish they had mentioned that before I got changed into my bathing suit and put on the sun tan lotion.  Well. it could be worse, the World Cup is on Satellite and the fridge is working.

My last transmission ended in Machame/Hai and Kilimanjaro.  I wish all my friends there, new and old, a joyous Christmas and the best for the new year.   I flew from Kilimanjaro airport to Mwanza on a very civilized ATR turbo prop.  This is the French competition to the Dash 8 and it has never let me down in Africa.  The flight is only about 2 hours (as compared to 18 hours of “African Massage” on the bus).  I am not as tough as my Tanzanian friends who do this journey regularly.  Unfortunately. the flight was delayed by 1 hour which meant I wasn’t going to make the ferry to the island that day.  We changed our program and I decided to stay in Mwanza for the weekend to re-acquaint myself with the local industrial district where we get supplies for the projects.

Mwanza is the second biggest city in Tanzania at about 1 M people, but it is very spread out.  There is significant affluence separation between the Indian merchant class and the local Tanzanians and this is palpable in the streets.  While I don’t condone it, I can understand the sentiment that Idi Amin tapped into when he expelled the Indians from Uganda in the early 70’s.   Interestingly, these are a resilient people, as they once again dominate the commercial sector in East Africa.

I was met in Mwanza by my trusted boda-boda driver from 2017 who took me around on his motorcycle.  I know my father is cringing, but as my family will attest, it is much better that Raphael is driving than I.  We explored the City and actually had lunch at the Las Vegas Bar.  I just can’t shake that place.

On Monday I was on the ferry to Ukerewe and met up with my long-time partner Bartolomeo Misana.  Other than looking four years wiser, he hasn’t changed, although the last 3 years have been difficult here.  The people are so resilient, that there is nowhere near as much complaining as at home, but the Covid years were very difficult here.

Bartolomeo and I have been working on his program since 2016 to eradicate poverty through the tree-legged-stool of Chickens-millet-micro-finance.  With the best of intentions we probably committed every error of community development.  I am pleased that with me away, he has finally gotten our chicken program to a sustainable state from a financial perspective.  This is fantastic (and essential), but we have realized that we are not serving the most disadvantaged in the community which was our original intention.  This is obviously a lesson, and we are trying to turn the boat back to the poorest people in the community without losing the benefits we have gained.

Batolomeo invited his wife and daughter to come and meet me on Ukerewe which was akin to leaving Yorkville and going waaaaay north of 7.  Both Mama Misana and Fide (his daughter) were very gracious under the “camping conditions” of Bartolomeo’s existence on Ukerewe.  We did have a bon fire that would make both Guy Fox and the Bushmen of the Kalihare smile.  Mama Misana and I were cooking fresh Tilapia on the grill and doing French toast in the morning.  I promised Marty’s Maple syrup next year.

One of Bartolomeo’s big successes is connecting with the village of Murutanga.  This is a long way from our office at Murutunguru, but this village is very well organized and have formed their own Community Based Organization.  Bartolomeo sells them mature chicks to them and they have a well defined program of needs/wants to advance the community.  The Secretary put together an excellent proposal/document for our consideration.  I will highlight that this is another example of strong female leadership from within the community.  Any CEO would have been proud of her presentation.

I really only had a week with my friend Bartolomeo and it was, as usual, too short.  He is one of the many who enrich my life during these journeys.

I meet up with my friend Shu the following Monday and we fly to Bukoba on the Western shore of Lake Victoria.  Stay tuned for the next installment.

Peter

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