Dr. Moshi teaching crochet to one of the orphans

Back in Moshi on July 8th, the teachers went to teach at the primary school while I went with Dr. Moshi and Sgt. Haynes to Msamaria (Samaritan) orphanage.  Schools were starting up again and the kids who had gone to visit their extended families were beginning to return.  I carried the hooks, books, and yarn that I had saved for them, looking forward to working with a smaller group of older kids.

Only one of the girls was there, but the matron and four boys were willing to join us.  They picked up the chains more easily than some of my American colleagues have, and we moved on to single crochet and double crochet.  By the end of two hours, I was teaching the matron and two of the older boys how to do granny squares.  Little Gilbert wasn’t too interested in learning crochet, but he thought my giant hook was cool. He also had some fun taking close-ups of the others’ faces and elbows with my camera and flirting with one of the young American volunteers.

Gilbert feigns interest in crochet

Next time I will:

  • Try to organise multiple sessions with the same group.  Some of these kids have gotten off to a good start.  Once they try on their own they can come back with questions and be ready for the next step.  The kids in Arusha have the benefit of having proficient crocheters among their teachers.  The Msamaria kids may need a couple more visits.
  • Bring patterns with stitch diagrams.  Thank goodness for designers like Robyn Chachula who are promoting the use of visual schematics for crochet.  I know I sometimes get lost in the text of crochet patterns.  I can’t imagine trying to use them as a new crocheter with English as my third language.
  • Bring kits with a specific project in mind.  I left a collection of books and individual patterns and random yarn, but it’s helpful for beginners to have everything they need in one neat little package.  Start with a hat or scarf and move up to sweaters and afghans.  Or start with a school project to make a patchwork afghan.
  • Bring more patterns for male fashion.  I’m a woman, so most of my patterns are for things I want to make for myself or for my sisters.  I’ve found some gifted crocheters among the boys, and I want to encourage them in the craft.  I’ll bring some books by The Crochet Dude and others who have designed for men.

The kindergarten at Sambasha

In May, Dr. Moshi sent me an email from Tanzania.  The UGA Service Learning class had visited a Maasai school in Sambasha (near Arusha).  It was an open wooden structure with a roof and a concrete floor.  That’s it.  The kids were sitting on the floor trying to write and learn.   Their situation moved Dr. Moshi and she decided to make it one of her many projects.

We collected money from our friends at Just Faith at the UGA Catholic Center, and the teachers in our GPA program  donated their own money with money they collected from friends.  Dr. Moshi inquired from local carpenters about the price, so she could announce in front of the local officials, teachers, students, and community members the number of desks we could expect to see next year (15-20 desks, transparency at all levels).

Me presenting the gift from Just Faith to Mama Hindu

I was watching one woman in particular while Dr. Moshi announced in Kiswahili the goals of Just Faith and GPA and the gift we were giving them.  Her face lit up and she clapped her hands in joy.  Her gratitude brought me to tears.  As President Nyerere said, development should be of people, not things, and education is key to the development of people.  People cannot make choices about their lives unless they know what their choices are.  Education is social justice.

Ululations from the local Maasai women

And I’m glad the donation was given publicly, so everybody knows what should be coming, and this mama who was so happy to receive our gift (and any mama, teacher and child) can get on the local officials’ cases if they drag their feet in getting the desks or don’t get their money’s worth.

Me with some of the students of Sambasha Kindergarten

Okala shows us how to farm algae

Algae farm on Jambiani beach

Dried algae at the Seaweed Center

Okala started his own non-governmental organization (NGO), Jamabeco. Totally home-grown with no foreign interest, his NGO focuses on marine conservation and education in Zanzibar. He doesn’t have a high school diploma, but he does have life-long experience with the ocean, ecological intuition, and the desire to preserve the habitat he loves and the people it supports.

One of Okala’s interests is mwani (seaweed) farming. In addition to its ecological awesomeness, algae is used in products ranging from ice cream to pharmaceuticals. People in Zanzibar have been using algae for ages, but have depleted much of the native populations. In the 90’s, a Danish group brought Eucheuma spinosum to Zanzibar in order to establish seaweed farming.

It’s hard work. Your day has to work around the tidal schedule, you’re working in hot sun, and much of it is spent bent over. Initially, the algae only brought 40 Tsh per dry kilogram (less than 3 cents). With multiple buyers, the price has increased to 450 Tsh per kilo, but that’s still only $0.30.

The Seaweed Center in Paje increases the return on seaweed farming by eliminating the middle man and processing the seaweed locally themselves. Dried seaweed (you should check out their solar dryer!) is ground to a powder and used to make soap. The soap also contains locally grown herbs and spices.

Local leaders like Okala and local industries like the Seaweed Center provide Zanzibari solutions to Zanzibari problems. Folks like me can provide expertise when needed (if you need a phycologist, give me a call!) and consume their products.

By the way, any porifera experts out there? Okala needs a sponge hook-up for his next venture.

Rainforest in Murangu

It gets drier somewhere in the middle

The coastline at Bagamoyo

When I told people I was going to Tanzania this summer, at least half of them remarked, “Wow, it’ll be hot.”  Really?!?!?!  Hotter than a Georgia summer?

While most places near the Equator are hot and jungle-y, east Africa tends to be much cooler and drier.  The plate tectonics that made the Great Rift Valley, the great lakes of east Africa, and Mt. Kilimanjaro have left Kenya and Tanzania high and dry (but not a desert, generally).  The high elevation in parts of these countries make the temperature nice and mild.  Mountains to the west also block the west African monsoons, leaving a drier, less humid climate compared to west Africa or South America.  Plus, June and July tend to be the cool season for most places in Tanzania.

Yes, I went to the Equator to escape the Georgia summer heat.

Topography dictates climate here.  There are rainforests in the highlands, arid regions in the central plateau, and hot, humid coastal regions.  By itself, Mt. Kilimanjaro has 5 major biomes as you climb up:  rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and the glaciated (for now, anyway) summit.

As we drove from Moshi to Dar es Salaam, the landscape changed quickly along the way.  Lush trees gave way to cactus-like Euphorbia and then again to coconut palms.

The socioeconomic status of the people changed, too.  Part of this change is politics, but a lot of it is the difference in biomes.  The mountain regions have lots of rain and good soil, so the population is much wealthier than that of the drier regions in the middle.  Even though delicious fruits come out of some of these dry places, much of it goes to waste because it either can’t be transported before it spoils (solar dryer!) or there’s no market transport them to (open up, world).  On the coast there are fishermen and lots of international trade (formerly ivory, gold, and slaves–a tale to be told in another post).

It’s not the Sahara, folks.  Tanzania is a country of biodiversity and cultural diversity.  Even in Zanzibar, I’ll be sitting more coolly than I would in Athens, GA.  Drinking coconut juice.

A young crocheter with zen-like focus

I like to plan ahead and I try to be prepared. For this trip, I got a netbook so I could blog, and I put Ubuntu (the Linux operating system) on it so it would be more secure and efficient. I wrestled a little with installing wireless drivers so I could use it with the hotel wireless. We arrive in Moshi, and the wireless is out. The guy who usually fixes the wireless is out of the country. Hakuna shida, I’ll use the cellular modem. The modem that doesn’t seem to like Ubuntu, by the way. Oops! I’d like to go online to see how I can split my drive and re-install Windows, but. . . .

I planned to teach crochet to about twelve orphaned children at Msamaria (Samaritan) in Moshi, Tanzania. My lovely friends donated enough hooks, books, and yarn for each kid to be able to make a hat or scarf. I have even discovered that some of my GPA participants are fellow hookers and could help me if the schedule allows.

When we arrived, I discovered that there’s another orphanage/school at the Center for Women and Children Development (CWCD) where I can teach crochet near Arusha. There’s way more than twelve girls, but I could split the yarn and loose patterns in two groups and the children could share. If a 50-person class can share one textbook, these kids could also share a few hooks and patterns.

We got to Moshi to find that most of the kids at Msamaria had gone home to relatives for the school break. No crochet class there. But then there’s Upendo, an orphanage in Moshi mostly for babies that also has about 6 older kids.

We got to Upendo to find that the kids were all either too young or too handicapped to safely crochet. Hakuna matata. I just consolidated the yarn and patterns together as before and cross my fingers for Arusha.

On the way to Arusha last Saturday, we decided that perhaps we should save some crochet stuff for the Msamaria girls after all. And once we got to Arusha, how about teaching 2nd graders?

I had just enough hooks for the lovely 2nd graders in Arusha. Dr. Moshi and I both learned some needlework around that age, but not in one hour. With the help of Sgt. Haynes, a couple of hook-savvy local teachers, and lots of enthusiasm on the part of the kids, we made some progress. My mini-stitchers worked very hard and were so proud of their little chains! I may even be recruiting new Crochet Dudes (look out, Drew)! We didn’t have time (or patience) to work up to granny squares, but Janet and some of the other teachers there can crochet very well, so I know the project will at least be sustainable. And the kids were SO excited about crochet. They begged to take their hooks and yarn home (they all live locally with foster families), but I might be coming back in a couple weeks to give the 7th graders a shot, so the hooks have to remain communal.

Just roll with it. Make a plan, but keep in mind that you’ll probably have to resort to Plan B (C, D, . . ., W).

Teaching the next generation of crocheters

Fingers fly as they sew up the mosquito nets

Last Wednesday we went to Arusha to visit A to Z, a local textile factory that makes Olyset mosquito nets.  30,000,000 nets per year.  So many things about this company impressed me, I’d like to share the top three.

  1. The Olyset nets are African made with Japanese technology.  Sumitomo Chemical is committed to the idea that business should benefit society.  Malaria is a large problem in Africa.  So is unemployment.  The nets are mostly bought by non-governmental organizations (NGO) and relief agencies that distribute the nets freely throughout malaria-proned regions.  The best way to not get sick with malaria is to not get bitten in the first place, and mosquito nets that contain insecticide are an easy and cost-effective method.  In addition, A to Z employs 7000 people locally, 90% of whom are women.  For a continent whose natural resources are generally exported abroad to be processed and then imported to be sold, home-grown manufacturing is a niche that needs to be developed.
  2. Sumitomo Chemical and A to Z take good care of their employees.  There is housing, daycare (!‬), a hair parlor, and a training center available.  The factory is looking for other ventures so that when net production decreases, the 7000 workers will still have a job.
  3. The manufacturing looked like a dance.  We saw the nets being made from pellet to palette, and the workers were highly trained, moving quickly and fluidly like a well-oiled machine.  I wish I had taken video–the first round of quality control was a ballet.

I walked away from this factory with hope.  Hope for the reduction of malaria in Africa, hope for the development of sustainable industry in Tanzania, and hope for a model of business that makes their workers a priority.

I bet Jan wishes Kiswahili could build this bridge.

Poleni sana! Sorry, everybody!  This post was supposed to go out last week, but we’ve had some wireless issues (the issue is that we had none).  Hakuna haraka katika Tanzania (no hurry in Tanzania).

It’s been about 9 years since I have spoken Kiswahili in a serious way.  I found a few Kenyans while I was at MIT, but didn’t want to impose on them.  When my adopted sister Wavinya returned to Kenya, I no longer had a Kiswahili phone buddy in the States.  In Georgia I’ve tried a little with Dr. Moshi and this guy from Lake Victoria who works on placental malaria, but I mostly just stutter.  Sometimes random people will say, “Speak some Swahili,” just to hear it, but it feels silly, talking to people I know can’t understand.

Now that we have arrived in Tanzani, the context is right, and it’s coming back to me.  My vocabulary is a little spotty.  I will often remember one word and then forget its opposite.  I remember front (mbele), but not back.  I remember right (kulia), but not left.   I remember expensive (ghali), but not cheap.  Some times I mix things up like next week and last week.

Even my spotty child-level Kiswahili is a huge advantage. Kiswahili builds bridges. It’s easier to communicate with kids and little old ladies, it shows respect for my host country, and it gives me a nice variety of ways to tell hawkers and conmen to buzz off.

Sisahau sana (I haven’t forgotten completely).  Nimefurahi sana kukumbuka kidogo (I’m happy to have remembered a little).

The penultimate picture of the donated yarn pyramid.

As we rest in the tranquil Amsterdam airport, I have to resist the temptation from the photo ops presented to me by my fellow travellers enjoying the lovely lounge chairs (seriously, they’re amazing).

I would like to give a shout out to all of my friends who donated hooks, books, and yarn to help me teach crochet to orphans in Moshi, Tanzania.  Allison, Amy, Celeste, Christina, Dee, Dreux, Joan, Main Street Yarns and Fibers, and Trisha–asanteni sana!  I can’t wait to spread the crochet love!

I had the naive hope of travelling with a modest amount of luggage.  Then I saw this extra-large space bag and realized I’d need to bust out the giant blue duffel that almost swallowed my brother-in-law when he took me to the airport to leave for the Peace Corps.  I raise my hook up high and salute those of you who helped me to fill my bag!

10 pounds of love


Statistics from the World Health Organization

The thirtieth anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS was on Sunday. As local reporters reflected on the history of AIDS in America, I remembered the fear and uncertainty of the cause, the stigma associated with AIDS as a “gay” disease, and the discrimination faced by Ryan White, a boy only two years older than myself. But there was a deafening silence in many of these reports. They focused only on the United States and failed to acknowledge the present state of HIV infection as a pandemic.

Ukimwi (AIDS) has decimated sub-Saharan African populations.  People in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s are being wiped out, leaving orphans to be cared for by elderly grandparents and leaving economies with holes where the most productive demographic should be.  Thesis after thesis could be written about the spread of HIV in East Africa.  I’d like to make only three points.

  • Most of the people infected with HIV in East Africa are women.  It is easier to transmit the virus from man to woman than from woman to man.  Whether her partner is her husband, a boyfriend, or someone imposing himself on her, it is very difficult for an African woman to ask him to wear a condom.  There is also a large number of children living with HIV who have contracted the virus from their mothers.  Looking at the graph, you can see that in America, most of the cases are men, but heterosexual infections are on the rise.
  • While the total number of HIV infections among these four countries appears to the same, keep in mind that the total population of the United States is about 10 times that of each of these East African countries.  HIV infection rates in the U.S. are about 0.4%.  In East Africa, they range from 2.7 – 4.2%.  If you consider only the adult population, then the infection rates are closer to 7%.  Botswana in Southern Africa has rates as high as 24.8%.
  • The number of people living with HIV is relatively steady.  With prevention, fewer people are becoming infected.  With health care and antiretroviral drugs, people can live longer, more productive lives.  HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

For more information, go to UNAIDS or the World Health Organization.

The bounty from Athens knitters and crocheters!

As a part of GPA Tanzania, we will be interacting with local schools, including an orphanage in Moshi.  Dr. Moshi (yes, I think the names are connected) gave me a challenge–teach some of the orphans to crochet.

I have taught very few newbies to crochet.  My dear friend asked me to teach her once, so I bought her a book and a hook and offered to help once she taught herself the basics.  She has since made a lovely baby blanket.  The tiny little newbie details are difficult for me to convey.  How do I hold a hook?  How do I hold the yarn?  Where the heck does this thing go?

But I firmly believe in the power of crochet.  It is an outlet for creative energy as well as the nervous fidgety energy some of us have when sitting still for too long.  It enables people to clothe their family and furnish their homes with their own creations.  It can provide a source of income.  I am inspired by the work Krochet Kids has done in Uganda–I don’t aspire to create a self-supporting women’s group selling items internationally, but I think their success story shows what crochet can do.

Language will be interesting.   I know that “to crochet” in Kiswahili is kushona.  So is “to knit,” “to sew,” and “to weave.”  There’s a bounty of names for “hook”–hangue, kingoe, kiopoo, kombo, kota, and kulabu.  I’m not sure which is appropriate (I hope it’s kiopoo; I like the way it sounds).  Never mind the vocabulary for yarn over, single crochet, slip stitch, etc.  Depending on their age, many of the kids will have some English.  But then there are the discrepancies between American and British crochet terminology when they start to read patterns.

I’m not sure about the availability of tools or yarn.  There’s tons of crocheters in Kenya, but I don’t think knitting and crocheting permeated the culture in Tanzania as much since the British were not as present. The local machine-knitters import their yarn from Kenya.  Hooks could be carved, but I won’t have time for that.  Through the generosity of the knitting and crocheting community in Athens, GA, I will have ample hooks and yarn to get the kids started. Asanteni sana, marafiki zangu!  Thank you so much, my friends!  I hope my suitcase is big enough!

I accept this challenge.  I once taught a 10-year-old Kenyan boy to play Uno Hearts with my minimal Kiswahili and his minimal English.  It just takes a sense of humor and some love.  I can’t wait to meet the kids and share my love for crochet.  We’ll all try our level best and we’ll have some yarn fun.