Last night, I had a dream that I was crammed on a dalla dalla (a small, colorful and overcrowded bus that is the cheapest form of transportation). We were driving down the Great North Road to the city from Msalato Theological School. Among all of the normal small wooden shacks selling various items from fabrics to sodas, I saw a highways sign signaling that there was a Target on the next turnoff. I felt like a child passing Disney World. Then the dream ended.
Of course, there are no highway signs and there are definitely no Targets here. To have every item that one could possibly need, under one air conditioned roof... it sounds like a fantasy. But I was just there three weeks ago, scouring the endless shelves for things to bring on my journey. Here, I have to go to about three different places just for my groceries. The market has vendors for rice, beans and fresh fruits and vegetables. I once made the mistake of wandering to the back where the butcher is located. Flies and flesh galore, if I were to produce a low-budget horror film here, I definitely found my location. Besides the market, there are small groceries on each street that have things like eggs, peanut butter and hot sauce. After scooping up those objects, I then have to go to a separate bakery for bread. It makes grocery shopping an adventure. As I flow from store to store, I pass stationary shops, mattress vendors, dress makers and hardware stores, which definitely do not have the vast collection of paint colors that I am used to at Lowes.
Since everything is spread out, and half the material comforts I am used to are not available, it is a place where creativity flourishes in the form of resourceful thinking.
On Monday, I took on the task of repainting the welcoming sign for Msalato School of Theology. When I first volunteered, I pictured taking the wooden sign down from is high position and peacefully working on it in the shade, painting the letters perfectly by freehand. However, the sign was metal, and welded to its precariously high position, so plans changed. We leaned a sketchy ladder against the vertical posts and I brought the paint up with me. It is very difficult to be exact when your entire body is shaking and one hand is holding a paintbrush while the other is holding the paint canister. After about an hour, Karen, an American English teacher from Chicago whose personality is as bold as the hats she makes, called for one of her students that she convinced me would do a great job.
Adrian came trotting up, ready to replace me. He climbed up the ladder, nervous at first, which selfishly gave me some relief, since I am not used to chickening out. I needed the reassurance that the job was hard. But, within minutes of Adrian being up there, he had fashioned a pouch for the paint can to hang around his neck out of a plastic bag and one of his shoe laces. A problem I struggled with for an entire hour, Adrian expertly vanquished within moments of noticing. He also whipped out a ruler and sponge that he brought, and not only completed the sign but tidied up my work. He was an OCD angel sent to us from above. And his clever creation was the inspiration for this blog.
I left Msalato with a new appreciation for people who can get a difficult job done with a little innovation. And here, that has been presented to me in all sorts of ways.
I have been visiting villages with the Food Security team. Their main project is establishing Conservative Agriculture among the people. The main crop has been corn, which is not indigenous to the area and therefore dies in the long droughts. So the Food Security team is implementing a multiple step system that will span for five years to educate farmers about various practices that will help families harvest enough food, hopefully more than enough, to eat. The overarching ideas include better crop selection by using millet, which is a more drought resistant crop. Apparently corn makes better tasting ugali, a traditional Tanzanian dish, but ya know, lower quality ugali is better than no ugali. The team is also implementing hippy agriculture practices that I am very fond of from my agricultural education back home like no-till, cover crops, and field rotation. These practices are not only better for the environment, but also better for food production in such a dry climate. This grassroots initiative has already shown tremendous success everywhere it's been implemented and in Gawaye, a village about an hour from the heart of Dodoma, one man was able to sell enough of his surplus and received loans from his neighbor's surplus harvests to start an electronics business.
So this morning, when my mosquito net tragically fell down from its hook while I was trying to make my bed, the thought of defeat only flashed in my mind before I picked up my broom, fashioned a hook with a nail and some duct tape, and was able to hang the net back up after only 10 minutes of wielding my weapon. There is no defeat in Africa, only another set of problems that creativity can overcome.