I’ve finished my project and made my way back to the US.   I didn’t realize I had as many blog readers as I had, so my apologies for not posting more often in the late stages of the project.

On a personal level, I already miss the friends that I made at FINCA and in the community.

On the project itself, I hope the work that I did will make a difference at FINCA.   Jackson, Sabuni, Severine and I came up with over 30 recommendations that ranged from designing new forms, changing processes, writing new policies, designing new reports, suggesting new technologies, and more.

One of my favorite times was a visit to one of the village banks in Dar Es Salaam, and we happened to have a great photographer with us to take some shots.



I managed to get a few questions in before the kids distracted me.  This has become my favorite photo from the trip, and is a great note to end the blog on.




Just one more…

Ok, I can’t resist just one more posting about the trash cleanup.  I finally got some video on Sunday night, and I made this.   My favorite spots in this are Joseph finding the razor blade at about the 30 second point, the boy with the superman cape, and right after him the girl who reminds me of my daughter Allie who looks really disgusted with it, and the little boy at the very end who wants to join us and gets a glove from my supplies.  This street doesn’t look that bad, but we’ve been working on it for four nights prior and have removed 6+ bags of big stuff already.  This is the last sweep for the little stuff.

[UPDATE – Youtube blocked it with my favorite song, so I had to dub in a youtube freebie.  It meant more to me with Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down” but it’s a no-go.]

Battle Sack and Loser Ball

I spent part of Sunday evening out on the streets with the boys teaching them a game that my scout troop plays back home.   Back in Troop 152 in Cary, they call it Battle Sack, and it uses a hackey-sack beanbag ball.   The boys stand in a circle, and if you can bounce the hackey on your knee twice and then catch it, you can throw it at your friends.   If you hit them, they’re out.   If they catch it, you’re out.   If you can’t bounce it twice and catch it, then you have to pass it to the next guy.   I didn’t have a hackey sack, but I have a Credit Suisse stress ball that made the trip with me.  I don’t think the kids here spoke but a few words of English, but you’d be amazed what you can get across even without a common language.   I texted my son Nick back in Raleigh and rousted him out of bed at 8:30 am his time to give me the rules, then took it out to the boys to relay it.   I even got one of the other dads to play.   Thanks Nick – couldn’t have done it without you.

Why “Loser Ball?”  The back story on the stress ball is it’s the “Loser Ball” from a lean six sigma training class back in Raleigh.   One of my friends in the class, Erin, was on the losing end of one of our team quiz challenges, and when they handed out a CS stress ball as the second prize, she refused to take the “loser ball” as she called it, with some colorful expletives under her breath.  As I was on the winning side of the quiz, and being the good sport that I am, I took it to taunt her with it, and have had it at my desk for quite a while.   So Erin – here’s your “loser ball” at its new home on the streets of Dar Es Salaam in chaotic game of Battle Sack.  I won’t bring it to any more training classes.






Cleanup Results from the Weekend – Saturday

Saturday morning, I left early to get a big box of disposable gloves (the Friday army went through my entire stock).  I also bought a weatherproof trashcan with a flip lid and gave it to the businessman that has the most trash around his place.  There are 3 convenience stores on the street, wood structures that are each about 10 feet wide and 5 feet deep, with flip front doors that open out towards the street.   They’re about the size of a big playhouse.   At this one in particular, there’s a lot of trash around it as everyone seems to unwrap whatever is in hand and just drop it next to his store.  He seemed grateful and bewildered, but took it and set it outside his shop.  then I took off again with my bags and gloves and headed out on trash duty.  This time, some of the men from the neighborhood joined me, and they in turn recruited some boys.   We cleaned for about an hour before the heat wilted us all, and with 6 more bags of trash we made it about 50 more feet.   There’s so much roadside trash, I’m beginning to the think the most effective tool would be a rake.

I did use a shovel at times, burying the dead birds that had been zapped on the electric fences surrounding the compounds.   I kept the boys that were helping me from touching them, then came back to bury the ones we found.   These are jet black, raven-like birds with menacing beaks, and they are super smart birds.    I think they are called Black Indian Crows, and are considered an invasive species.

They scavenge around anyone that is eating, and they watch your eyes and what’s in your hands.   If you make eye contact, they hop away.   If you pick something up that isn’t food, they notice immediately and hop/fly away thinking you might try to throw it at them, but if it’s food, they seem to know and will wait.   They’re really well tuned to human behavior.   Anyway, it was one of those birds that I was burying.   I had to find a spot down the street that I could actually break the ground with a shovel, and I retrieved the carcass and started walking it down.   (Yes dear, with gloves and the shovel)  At that point, dozens of these black birds came around above me on the wires, on the fences, and on the ground, all following me and cawing.   It was quite unnerving, but I had a noisy, creepy crow-covered funeral procession and we buried their comrade together.   Shortly after I tapped the dirt, they all dispersed.

Later, I sat down with the boys on the curb and we all had a cold drink, and based on the swarms, I got the idea to make some fly traps with the boys.   I’d read about a couple of homemade fly traps that you could make from water bottles, so I gathered some supplies and we sat around and made 5 fly traps.   I had quite a crowd at that point, include a few moms that were curious.   One mentioned that she wished it would work for mosquitos, but understood that this is for the flies.   She knew that they would spread disease and could cause gastro-intestinal issues, and was grateful I think to have something to try.  We built several even with the bands of rain rolling through, and the boys carried them off in the slums to try them at home.

UPDATE – It’s Sunday morning, and I’m not going out for trash till this evening, but I did bump into one of the boys carrying one of our traps.   Just guessing on the count, but  I think it had 50 or so flies trapped in it overnight.   He was quite proud of it and was carrying it around to show the others.   I may be making more tonight if the boys want to make more.

What more could you want from a blog than stories of trash, flies, and dead crows?

Cleanup Results from the Weekend – Friday

I headed out after work took with me about 20 pairs of disposable medical gloves and a bag of trashbags.  Fabienne had a stack of the gloves that she brought from home but hadn’t used, so she donated them to my project. I thought if the men came they could use those gloves.   I was on my own at first, but after about the first 30 minutes or so I was shadowed by a little boy of I’d guess 9 or 10 years old.   He wouldn’t talk to me, but he watched for a while.   He just kind of stayed in my peripheral vision, but he didn’t run off like most of the other boys.  After about 15 minutes I offered him a pair gloves and asked if he wanted to help, and he nodded and took them and started to pick up trash with me.   Then one of his friends came by, and he was fascinated with his friend’s gloves, pretty soon he wanted a pair, and I had 2 helpers.   Then 3, then 7, then I think I eventually had an army of 15 little boys swarming around me all picking up trash.    They would swarm around as I picked up trash, often getting underneath me trying to pick up the trash before I could get it.   They weren’t terribly thorough, but they made up for it in eagerness and volume of hands.   I think we covered about 50 yards before we ran out of light, and we were quite the sight. As the light ran out, one of the men that was running late getting home from work arrived, so I used him as an interpreter and offered to buy a soda for all the boys at the nearby soda stand.  I never told them that I would pay them because I wanted to do it without getting paid, but I wanted to reward them too because they all helped.  Pretty soon we had a line of shoving and jostling boys all handed out their sodas, then they ran off as a group dancing and spinning, some keeping the gloves because they didn’t want to throw them away.  They scattered into the alleys, but I would imagine I’ll see them again so I’ll have to be prepared and get more gloves for the next cleanup.  It was really special, but unfortunately I didn’t have a camera so I didn’t get any pictures.

When I got back, I took a shower, then went and got dinner.   On the way back, the power was out in the neighborhood.   I stopped and talked to a family cooking outside their shed and got to know them.  The affluent in the neighborhood all live behind 8-10 foot walls with giant gates.   They peek out and slam their gates, but rarely speak.  They race through the neighborhood in SUVs and sedans, but have never spoken to me.   The less affluent are always out, and always friendly.   They sit by their houses and greet everyone, and often wave you over to share what they have.  The family I sat with was a family of 6 or 7 – I lost count –  with the “big mama” as the matriarch, surrounded by 5 girls of various ages and a toddler boy.   I think the oldest girl was in her twenties, the youngest boy was around 2.  I have a hard time judging age because I think the poor nutrition causes people to look younger than they really are, or maybe it’s just a characteristic of the people, or my own eyesight.  Anyway, one of the other neighbors had an older son, and he was out hanging around with them.   He spoke english pretty well, and he was a good translator.   I tried to get them to not do it, but they fixed me a plate and I it was better than any restaurant food I’ve had.   I couldn’t finish it as I had already had one meal, but they were very sweet to offer, and so sincere in wanting me to try African food.   The boy wanted to talk about basketball and football, and lots of other stuff, and I stayed there until the power came back on, then came back to the apartment and crashed.

Around My Neighborhood

I know that I don’t talk about my work at FINCA much, but I do that intentionally because I don’t want to violate their confidentiality.   Instead, I blog mostly about life in Dar Es  Salaam.  Fabienne suggested that I blog about one of my side projects.   I think I’ve mentioned in my blog before the amount of trash and litter on the streets is hard to look at.   I took some shots this morning on my way to work to give you a view of my neighborhood.   This first one is the street we live on:


The tall building at the end of the street in the far background is where I live.  It’s not just in our neighborhood – I’ve read that Forbes ranked Dar as the 12th dirtiest city in the world.  In some areas  of the city, it’s estimated that 70% of the daily trash doesn’t leave the city.   It’s sometimes picked through and recycled, other times burned in the yard.  In many cases, it seems to be just dropped or dumped in open space.  Rather than just complain about it, I started a project a few nights ago where every night after work I clean up a small section.   We do have a private trash company that takes the garbage out from our apartment, so I’m taking advantage of that.   It’s  taken me about 6 hours so far to clear about 200 feet.  I get geared up in gloves and trash bags and head out nightly after work.  I haven’t reached this part yet of the street yet, but I wanted to get a “before” photo so I could have the satisfaction of an “after.”

At the end of my third night clean-up, I had a short conversation with an older gentleman who stopped me and thanked me for doing it, then later that same evening a group of 3 men stopped me on the way to dinner after dark (and a shower) and told me “We support you tomorrow.  This is where we live, and we will support.”   Their English was way better than my Swahili, but what I hope they’re saying is that tonight they’re going to come out and help.   This evening I’m going to try to find a store that sells some better gloves (I’m wearing those ugly yellow kitchen gloves that work but you sweat like crazy in them)  I’ll post an update next week on our progress, and I hope they show up as I’d like this to be sustainable, not just a one-time thing..

The trash isn’t just an eyesore.   It makes it into the road side drainage ditches, then clogs them up.   Combine that with houses  that empty their waste directly into the ditch, and you get this:


Here I think it’s about 6 inches deep, but you can’t see the bottom as it’s  a black, sludgy mixture.   I don’t touch this trash in case you’re wondering.   The kids walk walking to school in my neighborhood by the same ditches::


I followed it down the street and around the corner, and a few blocks away it reaches this culvert:


It’s probably 2 feet deep here in sludge, with only a few inches on the far side, so what I think has happened is all that street-side garbage has clogged it.  The smell will knock you out if you get too close.  I suspect this may be one of the reasons we have a lot of mosquitos, and with that comes  the higher risk of malaria.   The adults don’t seem bothered with the malaria risk, but I think it can kill the kids.  I’m taking this  project on as well, but in this case I’m going to hire a professional if it’s affordable.   The same men from the neighborhood that offered their support have agreed to help me find a “fundi” (worker) who can clear it.  I’ll post an update on this as well if it works out.  I have a sinking feeling that I may have taken on more than I can do in this case, but I want to try.  I know I can’t fix it all, but perhaps I can leave this area a little better than when I got here.  Until next time.


Since I did a post on the tuk-tuks, I thought I’d do one as well on the daladalas.  A daladala is a minibus or small passenger van.   Daladalas are privately owned (I think) and cover the bus routes all over Dar Es Salaam.  The public mass transit system is under construction, so this serves  as the bus transit system.   I’ve read there are thousands of these buses across 250 or so different routes criss-crossing Dar Es Salaam.  The buses are crowded, have no air conditioning (although the windows are usually open), no seat belts, and in various states of disrepair.   Many seem to have been repurposed from other Asian countries, so you’ll often see Japanese lettering for example on the inside of the buses.  For the ones that follow a set route, each daladala has painted on the front the two end points of the route, plus a “via (road)” in the middle.  So as it’s approaching, you’ll see that painted on the front like this one on the Mbezi-Kivukoni route (sorry, can’t make out the “Via” in the middle):


On the side near the door, you can see a small notation with fare in TSh.  Typically it’s in the 250-500 range.  The top number is the adult fare, the bottom number is the child fare. On the city routes, this doesn’t change based on how many stops you stay on the bus, but on the rural routes the longer the distance, the higher the fare. It’s helpful to have the coins to pay exact change as the drivers don’t seem eager to make change, particularly for a large bill.  Bus stops are sometimes marked, sometimes not.   It doesn’t take long to spot them though because there are so many daladalas and so many crowds of people waiting on them.   When you find one on your route, you watch for its approach and stick out your arm and wave it up and down like a whale tail to indicate you’re interested.  Even if you don’t wave, they’ll often stop, usually with the fare collector hanging out the door doing a twisting hand motion to prompt for riders.

Climb on board quickly, and depending where they are on the route and the crowds, you may not find a seat.  The bus will start moving as soon as (or before) your back foot leaves the ground, so hold on.  If you have much in the way of baggage, my advice would be don’t do a daladala at all as it’s just too difficult, but that would probably come with experience .   Often there are 1 or 2 seats per side with an aisle down the middle.   There will be 2-3 standing per row in that aisle.   So a bus for 16-30 can seem to hold 50+.   Just when you think they can’t possibly add any more, the driver will slow and they’ll shove more in.   The guy doing the loading will eventually make his way back and ask for the fare by sticking out his hand and maybe jingling some coins.  If it’s a long haul route, he may ask for your destination.   Don’t expect the driver or the door man to speak English, but you could be surprised.  There are no tickets.   One time, I was on a particularly long ride, and the guy took my money but instead of change wrote something illegible on a piece of paper, handed it back and turned away.   From watching the other passengers, I figured out that the expectation was that I would hand him that when I got off and he would make change at that point.  On the rural routes, you’ll find that you share seats with people, their baggage (luggage, sacks of grain, boxes of goods, etc), and their chickens and goats.   I have seen the chickens, but not experienced the goats yet.

These guys make their money on moving passengers, so they are very aggressive drivers.   I haven’t been in an accident, but I’ve seen 5 roadside accidents with daladalas in the 4 weeks that I’ve been year, but only one serious (overturned on its side in the country).   All of the others have been city fender benders, including one that t-boned a tuk-tuk right in front of our car, but hopefully the driver in that tuk-tuk wasn’t hurt.  We saw the accident, then about 15 seconds later the driver stumbled out and fell over and was dragged away by the arm into the crowd that instantly surrounded him.   I tell myself he just got a concussion because it didn’t look like the bus was going very fast, but bus on tuk-tuk can’t feel good.

Anyway, back to the driving – they lurch forward quickly, and just as quickly will stop 300-500m later for the next pickup.   This makes for slow going, but with the traffic in Dar I’m not sure you lose much time.   It has a much bigger impact on the rural routes when you catch the local daladala and stop at every tiny village.   I found it interesting to watch from the window, but the charm wears off after several hours of it with the dust and diesel.  If it’s a long route, my advice is skip the daladala and look for the “Express” busses at the official bus terminals.

If you have questions about it, let me know in the comments.

Global Citizen