Sunday, 26 August 2007

Kim's final week of training!

My partner organization, Total Landcare (TLC) works in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Last week, field coordinators from the Tanzania office were invited to participate in a full week of training held at the head office in Lilongwe.

The training program was composed of a combination of in class presentations, field visits, and practical exercises, and served to introduce TLC’s programs, project objectives, and criteria for site selection, and increase the knowledge and skill of staff for better management of improved agricultural practices and management of the natural resource base. It was very helpful for me!

Malawi is a country which is highly dependent on agriculture. The majority of the population is involved in farming, but in recent years, crop yields have been declining. Sixty percent of smallholder farmers live under the poverty line. Soil fertility has been diminishing and losses of top soil are very high. Deforestation is a very serious problem, with 54% of forest cover being lost between 1972-1995. To address these problems, two of TLC’s main focus areas, and the focus of our training this past week, are best bet practices for small scale irrigation and sustainable agriculture through the use of agroforestry principles.

TLC promotes the use of 3 different irrigation practices: treadle pump, stream diversion, and drip irrigation. We focussed on the first two options due to cost restrictions associated the third.

Treadle pumps are used to draw water from a shallow well or river to a high point on the field where it is then directed by gravity through a series of channels to planting basins. The pump itself is operated by a single person, while a second one directs the water in the field.

Photo 1: Farmer using treadle pump

Photo 2: Flooding the field

Photo 3: A treadle pump irrigation field

Stream diversion involves diverting water from a stream by gravity using a hand dug canal to direct water to the fields. This technique can only be used in hilly areas, as it requires a change in elevation to convey the water.

Photo 4: stream diversion irrigation system


Nurseries are set up in villages to produce seedlings for use in a variety of agroforestry techniques. The nurseries provide the seedlings protection from pests and animals, rain and sun, and temperature extremes until they are ready for planting.

Photo 5: Tree nursery

Agroforestry involves the planting of trees within an agricultural setting; a variety of tree planting techniques are promoted, some focused on improving soil fertility, others focused on the production of wood and other products. TLC promotes both the planting of tree seedlings and the improved use and management of natural forests and trees. Tree planting occurs around the homestead, along property and field boundaries, and in woodlots/orchards. The improved management of natural trees promotes natural regeneration of trees, retention of natural trees on farmland, and the management of natural woodlands.

Photo 6: Planting of trees on field boundaries

Photo 7: Agroforestry practices result in women spending less time collecting firewood, giving them more time to complete other tasks

Photo 8: Alley cropping of trees within a field

During the field visits, I had my first experiences visiting rural Malawian villages. The people we met were very welcoming, and very proud of their work. We had the opportunity to speak to many of the farmers about their experiences, and they were happy to oblige.

Photo 9: A farmer (on the left) telling us about his farming practices while Glynwel (on the right), a project coordinator, translates.

Photo 10: A group of children and women who sang and danced while we visited

Photo 11: A pair of farmers and me

Photo 12: Group shot!

I’m going to be heading out to stay in a village for a little while starting on Monday. I will have limited internet access until I return to the city. When I return to Lilongwe I will find a place to live, and finally settle in to life here, something I am very much looking forward to.

Until then!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Quick update from Lilongwe

While my grand entrance into the country didn’t exactly go as smoothly as one would have hoped, things since then have been going well!

I wrote this post a few days ago, but have had limited time online recently. I've been up to a fair bit since composing this, so hopefully I'll have a new post shortly!

My first week in Lilongwe was been spent becoming familiarized with the city and starting work. Heather and I have moved hostels, and are now staying at St. Peter’s guesthouse, which is part of St. Peter’s Parish. I’m writing this entry on Sunday morning, so I hear the voices of the congregation singing hymns in the church 100 yards away.

Photo 1: St. Peter’s Guesthouse

In general, I have found people in Lilongwe to be less aggressive and more warm than they were in Lusaka. This difference is most clear to me when comparing my experiences in the 2 cities’ main markets.

In Lusaka’s central market, I would find myself feeling rather on edge. The market was an intense, crowded place. While most of the time all was well (I really did enjoy the market) at times we would attract hordes of men who would follow us around, wanting to talk. They were generally harmless. There is novelty associated with talking and interacting with “Muzungus” it seems, to a degree that is a bit alarming at first. It is hard to not take the attention the wrong way at first. Sometimes people would just want to shake our hands and say hello; other times, we’d be surrounded, and people would try to get to close for comfort. Heather luckily avoided getting a big ol’ kiss from a guy. Needless to say, it got pretty uncomfortable at times!

In Lilongwe’s central market, which is still a large (though smaller than Lusaka’s), bustling, crowded place, I haven’t encountered the same degree of forcefulness here. People run up to say hello, or call out from their stalls, but we’ve had none of the near mobs that would develop in Lusaka. Wandering the streets of the city, we are still frequently greeted and stopped to chat, but the people are far less aggressive about it.

Photo 2: The main market in Lilongwe

While I find Lilongwe to be a friendly, pleasant place that I feel completely comfortable wandering around in during the day, the evenings, however, are a whole other story. It is ill advisable to walk alone after dark, and it gets dark here early. I get off work at 5, and it starts to get dark in a hurry around 6pm. The minibuses stop running around that time, so once night falls your only option for transportation are taxis, which are expensive – as much or even more than back in Canada. A short taxi ride can easily eat up much of my daily living allowance of around $15 CDN. As a result, Heather and I have been at a bit of a loss as to what to do with ourselves during the evenings.

I have started work now at Total Landcare. I’ve only had a couple of days of actual work so far, so I’m still just getting myself familiarized with everything. I will be spending all of this week in training with people from TLC’s Tanzania office. After that, I’m going to be heading out for a village stay. In essence, I will be heading out to live in a rural village that TLC does work in. I will stay with a family, and during my time there will try to gain a greater understanding of the realities faced by the major beneficiaries of TLC’s programs. I look forward to the experience! After that time, I will be returning to Lilongwe to resume work at the head office.

Until next time! I shall post again soon!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Finally in Lilongwe!

The power just went out.

I write this, my first official blog entry from Malawi, on my bunk at the hostel I’m currently staying at. The power typically goes out once or twice a day for a couple hours, generally at particularly inconvenient times, such as the early evening. The door has been left ajar to provide some dim light for my two British dorm-mates to pack in. Insects of various sorts dart back and forth at my computer screen, attracted by the light.

Heather and I have finally arrived in Lilongwe. The trek in from Lusaka is not a straightforward one. The journey takes anywhere from 12 – 16 hours, and involves a bus, 2 taxis, and a minibus.

We left our Lusaka hostel at 5:30 am and made our way to the nearby bus terminal. As we emerged from our cab we were faced by a chaotic scene with men trying to bring us to the buses they were recruiting for, our desired destination a seemingly unimportant detail. We managed to find Dave who directed us to our desired coach bus and got the tickets.

The first part of the journey was an 8 hour bus ride – assuming no breakdowns of course. I had been feeling a little off, health wise (nothing serious!), for the previous couple of days. While I wasn’t bad off, an 8-hour bus ride when feeling queasy and generally ill is not an appealing concept. I started feeling worse and worse, and spent the first few hours of the trip feeling like death. At about the 5-hour mark, I miraculously started feeling a-okay, making the rest of the trip pretty bearable.

Our final destination of the coach ride was Chipata. When we got off we were confronted with another slightly chaotic scene, this time a bus stop filled with men offering currency exchange services and taxi rides. We hoped on a shared taxi to the Malawi/Zambia border. We squeezed 6 people, plus the driver in the taxi, and Dave, Heather and I all had our sizable daypacks on our laps. It was cozy.

We passed through immigration in Zambia and customs in Malawi with no problems. Finally, at long last, Heather and I had arrived in our home for the next year. I whispered to her excitedly: “Guess what! We’re in Malawi!” and skipped a few steps happily. Unfortunately, my first moments in Malawi didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope.

Finally having arrived in Malawi, it was now time for another shared cab ride. As we approached the cab, I noticed how full the trunk already was. I voiced my concerns about our stuff fitting in there, but Dave assured me “they always find a way.”

As the cab driver strapped the bags in, I remained sceptical about my bag actually making it through the 15 minute journey. Nevertheless, we squeezed into the overfilled taxi, and as I sat uncomfortably with Heather and my daypack sharing my lap, I soon forgot about the state of peril I left my pack in.

When we arrived at the border town, I hopped out and checked the trunk.

Dave’s pack? Check.

Heather’s pack? Check.

My pack? Oh, dear . . .

My mind started to race: WHERE IS MY BAG??? I looked around frantically to see if it had been set aside anywhere. I tried to remain calm. I announced that “My bag is gone!” and someone calmly replied that it had simply fallen out and that the cab driver was about to return to get it. Leaving our stuff with Heather, Dave and I hopped in the cab to speed back in an effort to find my pack.

I remained calmer about the situation than I would have expected. I reasoned to myself that anything I really needed was in my daypack anyway . . . right?

We sped back to the border, the cab driver occasionally pulling over to ask pedestrians if they’d seen the bag. No one had. Dave tried to be reassuring and said that someone probably found it and was just waiting for someone to return to fetch it. We had nearly returned to the border when a couple guys on a bicycle started wildly waving us down – I turned back and saw the guy on the back of the bicycle had my pack on his shoulders – I could practically hear angels singing. We gave them some kwatcha (the local currency) for their help, and sped back to rejoin Heather.

My pack is now looking a little worse for wear – I guess that’s what happens when a pack gets ejected from taxicab at what must have been 70+ kph. All in all though, it held up reasonably well. There are several tears and rips, one of the handles is nearly falling off, and a clip broke. I’ll bring it to a tailor in town to get patched up and it’ll be as good as new. I was worried about the contents, imagining that I’d open it up to find exploded containers of sunblock and shattered bottles on bug spray. At the hostel I did a thorough investigation, and the only fatality I’ve identified is my soap dish.

Back in town, we ended up in a bit of an argument with our taxi driver. He did not seem to agree that we shouldn’t have to pay him for his services, due to the damage caused to my bag as a result of his shoddy strapping. Dave did all the talking. A bit of a crowd developed, and I was feeling a tad uncomfortable, though I wasn’t sure what side they were on. When the guy started insisting that we deal with this at the police station, Dave gave in and gave him a portion of the fare.

Next stage of the journey was minibus. To clarify, minibuses are basically large vans with bench seats into which as many people as can possibly fit (the Canadian and Malawian perceptions of “fitting” are dramatically different) are squeezed. In Malawi, these are used both within cities and for intercity travel. There are no schedules; the busses simply leave when they are full – extremely full.

I don’t now how many people were in the minibus we took to Lilongwe, though in hindsight I should have counted. Suffice it to say, there were more people in that thing than I would have thought physically possible. I didn’t exactly have the most comfortable spot for the hour or so ride to Lilongwe. I sat on an unpadded fold down seat with no back. I had my heavy daypack on my lap, and the conductor practically sitting on that. There was a chicken by my feet, a baby pressed up against my back, and some kind of piping wedged against my leg. I could barely move my arms, and could not move my legs. I could only move my arms enough to prop myself up awkwardly to avoid sliding off the seat entirely (I was half hanging off of it as it was). While minibuses are not known to be the most comfortable mode of transport, I had a particularly unappealing seat.

It was around 6 in the evening by the time we reached Lilongwe, so we actually made reasonable time. We caught a cab to the hostel, which is just outside of town. I didn’t think the car was going to make it, I really thought it was going to rattle into pieces en route. When I opened the door upon arrival, the interior of it fell off with a thud. Oops!

At the hostel we were greeted by a few of the Junior Fellows (short term volunteers with EWB that go overseas for 4 months, typically during the summer months) who were staying there on a short term basis. We grabbed dinner (the first meal we’d had all day), chatted a bit, and then went to bed. It was an exhausting day.

My first full day in Lilongwe was spent exploring the city. Dave brought Heather and I for a tour of the rather small city. Exploring by foot, minibus, and taxi, we actually saw quite a large part of the city. I already feel more at ease here than I did in Lusaka. It has more of a small town feel, and the level of hustle and bustle is lower. We checked out the “old town” where my NGO is located, and where much of the shopping and market areas are found.

Next we headed into the city centre, which is a short minibus ride away. Between the old town and the city centre is a wildlife and nature reserve, which splits the city. The city centre is small, and where many office buildings are located. We had lunch at a great restaurant with a very attentive manager that assured us that his goal was to “exceed expectations,” and at the end of the meal came to check on us to check and make sure that our expectations had indeed been exceeded.

After lunch we grabbed a cab to Kawale, a residential area that Dave suggested would be one we might consider finding a place to live in. It was a nice area, with lots of kinds running around calling out to us “how are you? How are you?”

We visited the family a couple of past volunteers stayed at. We were welcomed in by the Gogos (grandparents) who welcomed us into their home, showed us photos, and talked our ears off. Dave later received a phone call from the grandpa who wanted to make sure that we knew we could stay there for free anytime we wanted to.

That pretty much sums up my Malawi experience up to this point. I’ll report back again soon!


Some Photos

My 5 weeks of training seem to have flown by in a blur. I shall not bore you with the details, but here are some photos of our goings-on’s for the past several weeks . . .

Photo #1: “Question and Answer” session with George Roter and Parker Mitchell, EWB’s Co-CEOs, back at our training house.

Photo #2: EWB OVS Summer ‘07

Photo #3: My farewell dinner at my parent’s place a mere few hours before departure. My dad made his specialty: vegetarian lasagne. It was deeeeelish! Featured in the photo from left to right are Erin Jones, Mike Weaver, Grandma, Christa Olie, Me, and Laura Banducci. If you’re wondering where my boyfriend Mike Maier was, he left earlier that morning for a wedding in Mexico.

Photo #4: Doing yoga (a theme for my group) in a public space in Amsterdam during our several hour long stop over.

Photo #5: Many many hours later, we finally touched down in Lusaka, Zambia.

Photo #6: Me chatting with some ladies during a scavenger hunt in an area outside of central Lusaka.

Photo #7: A session on integration with Jenn Dysart (an OVS based out Monzi, Zambia) and beautiful “Mutinta” (her boyfriend Slady).

Photo #8: Dave teaching us how to cook like a Zambian!

Photo #9: Dave running a session on the front porch of a dorm in our Lusaka Hostel

Photo #10: Spectacle!! Motorbike lessons in a busy school yard in Lusaka. The photo does not adequately capture the sheer number of children running around and kicking footballs with reckless abandon, which little regard to the fact that there were 2 motorbikes speeding around.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

We have arrived!

After many consecutive hours in transit, in a journey that took us (Team Southern Africa Summer '07, consisting of Heather, Thulasy, Nina and myself)from Toronto to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Harare, we have arrived in Lusaka, Zambia.

Our days here have been filled with additional learning sessions on the region, development practice, and practical exercises. The first major activity was a scavenger hunt in an outlying town - it was a great way to get our feet wet!

I'm currently at an internet cafe next to our hostel which has a bit of a finicky keyboard and mouse combo, so I'll add a more substantial post later.

I should be heading to Malawi sometime this weekend, so I look forward to reporting back from there soon!

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Quick Update!

Just a quick update - finished up our learning sessions yesterday. Had a Farewell BBQ last night, and now I'm shipping out to Africa in a few short hours.

First stop is Lusaka, Zambia, where myself and the rest of Team Southern Africa will have a few days of training, before Heather and I take a bus to Lilongwe.

Hopefully I'll be able to make my first post from Africa shortly!