On Power Dynamics

Meetings are a good place to observe power dynamics, particularly since I don’t understand much of what’s being said.

This thought came to me while sitting outside Bukoba’s nicest hotel, waiting for World Vision Tanzania representatives. Sunday (my boss) and I had come to town for a meeting with them at 9:30am. However, when we arrived at the office, nobody was there – they had gone for a year-end meeting up at the Walk Guard hotel. I don’t know where the fault lay for the miscommunication, but we went up to the hotel to give them our reports, bringing us to sitting outside, waiting.

The word that came to mind was marginalized. Now, maybe that feeling was only partially accurate, since Sunday is a well-respected businessman and I am, well, white. But he doesn’t speak English and is computer illiterate, and I was dressed in sandals and carrying a backpack. The feeling was magnified when we were pulled in to the room during tea break. At every seat there was a laptop and a slide show was being projected onto a screen at the front. They had dismissed us before we even walked in the door, but Sunday tried his best to adhere to the formal process of greetings and introductions. Upon asking them to explain a call for proposals to me, the two men looked pityingly in his direction and said, “they just think that you have arrived with some money, but that’s not true is it”. And proceeded to tell Sunday that I was still learning and perhaps later I could be of some financial assistance. Out of politeness I did not say, “perhaps you could explain the grant to me and I could be of some assistance now”. We were shuttled off immediately and the two men rushed to their tea. We, of course, were not invited to share it.

A meeting I attended yesterday allowed me to get a different picture. It was a quarterly meeting of KALIDEA, a larger organisation on the same model as KAVIPE. Some of our CBO’s also belong to KALIDEA, and Mkinga, the livestock officer, spends much of his time on their animals. It was an honour to be invited, I soon learned. Let me set the stage: me and Joseph (another VSO) at the head table along with the Muleba District government vet, and three Board members of KALIDEA. The rest of the room was filled with Division representatives and extension officers. I was the only woman in the room and the youngest person by at least 20 years. The meeting went on for four hours while representatives read aloud every word of their quarterly reports, and discussed pressing issues like stolen livestock and insubordinate splinter groups. The meeting finished with the government vet reaming out Mkinga publicly for insufficient rabies control in the area (!!).

Although the meeting was extremely formal, and a rather shocking representation of the old boys’ club, we managed to make some concessions. When I introduced myself (in English with Joseph translating – this was no time for bumbling along in Kiswahili… I am called Margaret, I come from Canada, my work is a livestock advisor… *shudder*) I smiled, explained exactly what I was doing here and for how long, and said, “I admit, I am quite young,” and received a gratifying, and somewhat embarrassed guffaw from the men. In turn, the Chair greeted me, his last sentence being “and you can help us out with gender!”, prompting an equally humble laugh from me. We had managed to clear the two elephants in the room, which is more than I can say for the World Vision fiasco. From this meeting, I hope I gained some respect. I certainly gained many an invitation to visit other Divisions and to meet the players in the government ag offices: this good. I exist.

Now comes my admission that I am more comfortable in a room full of older, well-educated male farmers and extension officers than I am in a meeting of KAVIPE stakeholders; poorer, the baseline of the population, less educated. My worldview differs from both groups, but the latter is removed by another degree. So my challenge evolves: how do I engage the farmers that really need to be heard? The ones who have little power, and as such, are so much harder to communicate with? How can I avoid marginalizing them as Sunday and I were in Bukoba? How do I help make them exist?

When I went to the equivalent KAVIPE meeting a few weeks ago, the attendees were at least of mixed gender; the age thing is another can of beans altogether, as hierarchal cultures can be somewhat unreceptive to youth. I was expected to give flowery greetings, make light of my marital status and whether I had any children, and summarize every village and type of farm I had visited thus far – all in Kiswahili. The reports handed in were all handwritten, not typed, and the presence of our Chair, Sunday, did not elicit the same deference as did KALIDEA’s. Toward the end of the meeting, one of the farmers stood up and began to rant to the audience about the need for a change of attitude, the need for hard work, the need to take opportunities like VSO volunteers and run with them. The need for innovation and movement forward before the entire place stagnates.

So my relative discomfort retreats. If people like that are part of KAVIPE, the stakeholders are accessible. Instead of wishing I was speaking English and theorizing about improvements to the local systems with government employees, I can latch on to the people who create grassroots momentum.

I am currently writing a proposal for a workshop to do a rough organisational assessment of KAVIPE with some of the key stakeholders. I hope to learn how to communicate and identify with them more than the old boys’ club. KAVIPE has access to the people who hold the key to change around here, I think. But I will make nice with the government boys too. I will be needing their support, it doesn’t hurt to debate theory from time to time, and it doesn’t hurt to show a young female face in the midst of their institutionalized ways.

*I have a video of this that I will share when I can upload larger files!

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The Man Who Feeds His Cow Everything

“Here, take this passion fruit. I can’t get the cow to eat it.”

Many of my days are spent traveling around Kamachumu Division, tagging along with one of the KAVIPE board members while we check up on the loaned dairy cows. We set out on a pikipiki (motorbike), or on foot, and trek through the most confusing networks of tiny roads, among the banana trees. Today, I went to Bulembo (boo-lay-m-bo) with Steven.

We saw more cows this morning than we do most days. We saw both the best and the worst I’ve seen so far. The worst was a family with two cows, who had complained they weren’t getting pregnant. This is a common complaint, although I can rarely figure out whether or not the cows have actually been bred. Usually, when I ask that question, we get pulled into a rant about how badly the farmers need access to AI (artificial insemination). But that is a debate for another day.

These two unpregnant cows were pacing franticly in their rickety pens, causing liquid manure to fly everywhere. Meanwhile, a few feet away, a woman and two children were within flying-shit-flecks reach, hulling beans! I got splattered standing next to them. Both pens had empty feed troughs, whose wooden bottoms were falling out, and no feed was produced even when we asked. Suffice it to say that both cows were extremely skinny. As to my question, had they been bred, I really hope they hadn’t wasted their money taking them to a bull, since generally in order for conception to occur, the animal must be fed. In this case, we advised to clean the pens, add bedding, fix the troughs and FEED THE COWS! We will return and check within the next two weeks that the issues have been addressed. To blame? Lack of education on proper care, lack of money, lack of time… but the first is the major issue, that I hope to help change.

I contrast now with the last farmer we visited. He had clearly been waiting for us (word travels quickly when visitors are around!) and when we pulled up he leapt, as only an old man can, from his porch and started to show us all the different feedstuffs his cow was eating: grass, bean hulls, avocado leaves, a green avocado (I doubt she’ll eat it, but he said she does…?!), young corn plants, and a coarse grass I’ve seen before. To top it off? Fresh, clean water and 5 inches of dry grass as bedding. I told the old man I wanted to bring him in to train the other farmers. It’s not really fair to compare this retired man with all the other families we saw this morning, but it’s also difficult to avoid. In some ways, I guess it’s the same anywhere: some people are passionate about cows and some aren’t. Difference is, at home, the people who aren’t passionate about cows can afford to buy milk from the grocery store, and don’t keep cows. Maybe having children to care for and no help also decreases your passion, about anything.

I was glad to finish the day smiling, however, when the old man ran into the house and emerged with a single passion fruit in his outstretched hand. I’m used to receiving gifts, but this one was more of a cast-off: “I have many, many,” he said, gesturing to the gardens surrounding the house, “but I just can’t get the cow to eat them! So here, I guess I can spare this one for you.”

Oh yes, and please let me know if you’ve heard that avocados are poisonous to cows.

KAVIPE

It’s long past time to introduce my workplace. KAVIPE has welcomed me with open arms and exceeded my every expectation. As with anywhere, it’s the people that make KAVIPE wonderful. My coworkers, the Board, are all volunteers. I can say with certainty that they appear at the office more often than many a paid worker in Africa.

                                 

KAVIPE’s mission is to promote agricultural development in the region. They work throughout Kamachumu Division, in 18 villages and with many more Community Based Organisations (CBO’s). The biggest ongoing project is the provision of dairy cows to members. Spread throughout the Division, there are 138 Friesian cows (Holsteins, in North American terms, but these girls are much smaller like the European variety), on loan to suitable KAVIPE members. For a moderate price, a member gets a heifer and training to keep a dairy cow. They must have an appropriate facility, which entails a partially-roofed enclosure, a little crush gate and a feed trough.

Female calves are property of KAVIPE and are again distributed to members. The idea is that families can supplement their diets and add income from the milk, and this has been somewhat successful. As you can imagine, however, the cultural adjustment from keeping Zebu cattle with a hired herdsman for traditional free-grazing, to keeping Friesians on zero-graze, is huge. In a zero-graze system, the grass is cut and brought to the cow. I have yet to encounter a cow producing more than 5-6 litres per day. My first training priority: nutrition.

Other projects include dairy goats and poultry (also on loan), small-scale irrigation, provision of certified vegetable seeds, and community animal health care. The first week I was here, everyone was under the impression I was a vet. Due to the fact that my Kiswahili is only slightly worse than KAVIPE’s cumulative English, I was unable to explain that M.Sc. does not equal D.V.M. This led to awkward situations, for example a CBO meeting in which Wilson cried “and that is why they’re so happy to have you… you’re a DOCTOR!” followed by a visit to a sick calf where I tried to look intelligent while saying “ahhhhh yes, East Coast Fever….” I was pretty happy when some guy showed up with antibiotics because I was terrified they were about to hand me a needle and syringe.

After that, I got my fellow VSO, James (from Uganda, he also works in Kamachumu), to call the Chairman of KAVIPE and explain the situation. The Chairman, Mr. Sunday Buberwa, apologized profusely to me, as is his usual reaction to the slightest hiccup. He is always worried about my wellbeing!

Back to KAVIPE. The organisation was put in place by World Vision upon the phase-out of their 15 year presence in Kamachumu Division. Also established were a Community Care Coalition – Safina, dealing with vulnerable people (people living with HIV, orphans, etc.), and a credit entity, or SACCOS (Savings and Credit Cooperative Society) for lending money to members. World Vision left very little capacity in terms of procuring funding, starting new projects, or even maintaining what was there. An example is the on-site processing facility with a grinder and oil press for peanuts, sunflower seeds, blenders for making fruit juices, etc., none of which are operational. It’s the typical story, after the funding agency pulls out, things grind to a stop…. I think KAVIPE has done very well, considering. They meet regularly, do frequent inspections on loaned animals, and most importantly, recognize the need for more capacity. They strived to acquire someone (me!) to get the organisation energized, to build the knowledge base, and, I pray, to get them some funding.

I couldn’t ask for more. Motivation to work is not a problem when you have a team of willing and enthusiastic people surrounding you.

Take a Dip!

This morning we visited Mr. Mkinga, the Livestock Extension Officer, at the bi-monthly acaricide dip. Sunday and I took the piki, and as usual I had no idea where we were going (language barrier… again). As we traveled, we began to pass herds of cattle going in the same direction. We crested a hill and in the valley before us were hundreds of the local Zebu cattle:

When we tracked down Mkinga, he filled us in on the proceedings. Waving a Burdizzo (a type of bloodless cattle castrator that crushes the cords), he explained that the cattle are treated for ticks by swimming through the acaricide dip, and he is available for castration. Ticks carry three of the major diseases in the area; East Coast Fever, Anaplasmosis, and Heartwater. Mkinga estimated that about 10% of calves are lost to East Coast Fever. There was hardly any hesitation among the cattle to jump/slide/fall into the dip; they’re clearly used to the procedure.

                                                   

It’s the first time I’ve seen a Burdizzo used. They cast the bull, tied his hind legs, pulled them back, and then with four squeezes; squeeze squeeze – check – squeeze squeeze – check – repeat, Mkinga castrated the bull. They got him up and I could see his testicles shrinking up… ouch.

The dip was built in the 70’s by the government and is one of 5 in the division. The acaricide is completely replaced about once a year, and should be good for 10,000 immersions. After each session, they measure the dip level and fill it back up accordingly with water. This dilutes the existing dip and is intended to discourage “people who are good at evasion”, since herders will run their animals through outside of the official sessions, to save money. Immediately before the next dip, Mkinga and the dip committee top up the acaricide so it is at full strength for the paying clients. It costs 100 Tsh per animal, per dip (less than 10 cents). They do 800-900 cattle every time, and any sheep that come along. They even threw a tiny lamb in! Each animal is supposed to leave with one litre of acaricide, so after they go through the dip, they stand in the slanted drip pen, which allows the additional acaricide to run back into the dip. Little boys with sticks keep the cattle in the drip pen until the herdsman is ready for them.

Hiking At The “Famous” Ndolage Waterfall

This beautiful site is a mere 5 km away from Kamachumu, and a 5 minute stroll from my fellow VSO volunteers’ house. Djoke is a doctor working at the Ndolage hospital and Marc, her husband, is an artist collecting material for drawings and paintings. As you can see there is plenty of natural beauty to be depicted!

We climbed down a ladder to get to the bottom and then did some mildly intense rock-climbing back up the other side. It was a beautiful day with some clouds but no rain. We are so lucky to be placed in such a breath-taking location….

I hope to do more hiking and soon, mountain-biking, and running (since I’ve signed up for a half-marathon in February!). So by the time I have visitors, I will be able to show you around properly!

Welcome To My Home! (Karibu Nyumbani Yangu!)

This will be my abode for the next two years, and I’m pretty pleased with it! Tiny, it’s completely manageable in terms of cleaning. It’s also quite secure; my front door opens onto a locked compound shared with another volunteer. We have a security guard at night. I have power nearly all of the time, and running water occasionally. When the water being on lines up with me being at home (mostly, it’s turned on when I’m at work), I can have hot showers! Hot being the optimum word: there is no intermediate temperature so I alternate between scalding and freezing, mimicking moderation. I was provided with most dishes I need, curtains, blankets, and cute little doormats made of cloth scraps. Since there is still no running water at all in the kitchen, they set me up with large buckets under the sink, which I fill in the bathroom and use for washing hands and dishes. My cooker (stove and oven) tries to electrocute me, but at least it heats things. Laundry takes forever to dry, similar to home when it won’t stop raining. The difference? No dryer.

Compared to some of my fellow volunteers, I am living in the lap of luxury. They have various problems, like no running water, no electricity, nasty toilets, or no house at all! Last but not least: my internet connection is reasonably good – we’re on top of a plateau resulting in excellent network coverage!