WGA Civil Engineer | King Barista | Hyena Whisperer
Another week in Moshi just wouldn't be complete without at least two broken-down vehicles, a couple of nights with no power or water and, of course, a bat-encounter...
Written by: Joel Brown
WGA Structural Engineer, Master Plumber, Bat Hunter
Day 4 – Thursday 25 October
It poured with rain all night and is still going now. And once again, paradise has lost power, which means no hot water… sponge bath it is (what a beautiful sight to imagine)!! Today we scoured town for these special toilets which Michael had researched. It took us a while but we finally found them. They are gravity fed and kind of work like a porta-loo so they empty on their own. Much better than a hole in the ground! Michael and I then tackled our first manual labour task for the trip, fixing the sink at Team Vista HQ. We had a plan, the tools, the material and a shitload of testosterone… we got this!! After an hour or so and many failed attempts, we were searching available URLs for Brown-O’Flaherty Plumbing Services. We will monitor the sink for a few weeks but we are overly confident that it will last forever. Later in the day on the drive back to our meeting point, a tyre blew. To be honest, with the conditions of the roads and maintenance history of the car, I am surprised this didn’t happen sooner. Thankfully we were walking distance to our destination and since Michael and I had already earnt our man tickets for the day, we left Ally to sort this one. Our night was pretty chilled and we turned in early enough. As I was getting into bed I saw something run across the floor… it was decision time, do I get up and see what it was or do I ignore it and hope whatever it is, it doesn’t eat me in the night. I got up and checked it out and it was a cockroach the size of my hand!!! I armed myself with a shoe and went hunting. Then all of a sudden, it started flying around the room. Fuck this!!! I ran around the room waiting for it to finally land and then I pounced, whacking it with my shoe. I was tired at this point so I decided to go back to bed and hold the funeral/burial tomorrow morning.
Highlight of the day:
The best part of the day was seeing the 65kg of stationery that we sent from Perth, arrive at Team Vista HQ. Caroline and the co-ordinators here were so happy and grateful. Huge shout-outs to Connie for organising the whole thing and Luke for letting us spend the money to get it all. Items that we would deem basic, like pencils, rulers and erasers, are so hard to come by here and are super expensive. I’m sure the kids will be stoked to see their new school supplies.
Lowlight of the day:
It was time to take some measurements of the existing “toilets” at the school we are fixing. Michael had been doing the heavy lifting on this project so I thought I better take this bullet and do the measuring. Michael warned me about where I was steeping. There is a 10mm layer of pee over the entire floor so there is really nowhere good to put your feet. Little did I know my foot was mm’s away from a giant turd that I somehow didn’t see. Thankfully I avoided the brown pile. Measuring the hole was the worst though… the smell of shit was strong and the fumes coming from the hole was near unbearable. Let’s hope the power is back on at the house so I can scrub my entire body!!
Day 5 – Friday 26 October
So I woke up, picked some flowers, wrote down some nice words and proceeded to organise the ceremony for the cockroach. I went to collect the squished bug but it was gone… where could it be? I still haven’t found it but I figure one of two things could have happened. Either it wasn’t dead and is plotting its revenge, or something bigger came in and ate it… neither are good scenarios.
I looked out the window at the Ferrari (its actually an old land rover that has more problems than Jarrad – the passenger door doesn’t open from the inside, only the driver can put the windows down, it leaks inside and it has been raining all week) and it had a flat tyre. Thankfully we organised to get picked up from the house so it was now Richard’s turn to earn his man cards for the day and sort the flat. Michael, Caroline, Ally and I made a trip out to the Team Vista farm. To get there we had to go down about 5km of dirt road which was now under a foot of water. We got to a point and couldn’t drive any further so we got out and walked. It was like walking on ice, everyone was slipping all over the place and worried we would latch onto the barbed wire fencing if we did fall. Don’t worry guys, we made it!! We sussed out the fence around the farm and figured out how to fix it and chatted to the lady running it to find out what other maintenance she needed. On the way home from the farm we shredded another tyre… that’s 3 tyres in less than 24 hours!!! We nursed the car to a mechanic and got a quick fix so we could keep getting stuff done. We met with Child Protection Services about organising some seminars for all the kids as sexual and physical abuse has been a recent issue here, so we want to educate the kids and make sure they know what to do if they are approached by strangers. It’s sad that it has come to this but everyone involved is committed to helping and trying to stamp it out as soon as possible.
We went to go get takeaway for dinner while leaving Caroline and Imani at home. It was pretty uneventful until Richard received a phone call from Caroline… the bat was back!!! Clearly we didn’t plug the fire place very well and the bat was flying around the bedroom with Caroline and Imani stuck in bed luckily with the mosquito net down for protection. It kept flying into the net, presumably trying to eat Imani. When we got home, we found the bat holed up in the ensuite bathroom. We opened a window, closed the door and prayed it would leave on its on accord. A couple hours I thought I better redeem myself for my poor bat hunting skills the other night. I slowly went to open the door, Michael and Richard behind me for backup. I got the door open a crack and then Richard knocked his hat off and it fell right next to me. I lost it and ran away thinking the bat was after me. Luckily the other two carried on and made sure the bat had seen itself out (which we think it did). The bat saga was again over. I handed back one of my ‘man cards’ and we all hope to never see the bat again!!
Highlight of the day:
There were not too many highlights to choose from today. Some might say that seeing me shit myself at Richard’s hat was a highlight… but the writer firmly disagrees!! The best part of the day was that Michael and I finally won a game each of Last Card (a card game we have been playing in our spare time). We went many nights without winning so even though it may seem like a small feat, we were pretty happy with our achievements.
Lowlight of the day:
At the farm we spoke extensively with the lady who is running it. Well it was supposed to be her husband running the farm but evidently he had some issues going on and she was doing the bulk of the work. She told us that a couple days earlier he had beaten her, grabbed a few of his belongings and left. It was sad to hear the abuse that she had been subjected to on a regular basis. She was a strong woman and wanted to stay and run the farm herself. The silver lining in all of this is that she will now receive the salary for working at the farm directly and the community has rallied around her and banished her husband so we are confident that she is safe and she now has a steady income to support herself which is seemingly rare in Tanzania, where the male is usually the breadwinner. We want to do as much as possible while we are here to set her up and make sure she has all the help she needs.
Day 6 – Saturday 27 October
Saturday is a rest day and that’s mostly what we did. We started in the morning by meeting a fundi (tradesperson) to get some input on how to fix the toilets and see if our plan would work. Thankfully he helped develop the idea a bit further and suggested hooking up the water supply directly to the mains so we didn’t have to install gutters and a rain water tank… good work fundi!! After this, we really just chilled out and took it easy for the rest of the day. Michael, Richard and I hit a couple of pubs later in the night but didn’t go “full Raf.”
Highlight of the day:
We played pool while at the pub. The winner stays on and you pay what equates to 30c to challenge them. We each had a few games and I think won at least one each. I angered a local because no one explained me the house rules so I was just playing how I knew. Eventually he cracked it and explained the game through broken English and charades. After this, he suddenly took the lead and was kicking my butt. He finally got to the black ball and bang, he sunk it!! But the white ball slowly rolled into the pocket afterwards. Take that angry man!! I claimed that win as my most rewarding victory.
Lowlight of the day:
There really was no lowlight for today… we are just winning at life!!
Written by: Joel Brown
WGA Structural Engineer
Day 1 – Monday 22 October
Today was arrival day for Caroline, Richard, Imani and myself. We landed at around 6pm and breezed through customs. That is where the simple life ended… Ally (Tanzania Co-ordinator) forgot to pick us up and left us stranded at the airport. It was fine, we took a taxi to the middle of no-where to meet him. Once we met up and loaded the Mosha’s 700kg of luggage into the car, we were on our way to paradise… or so we thought. We tried to start the car but even though it was running fine literally seconds earlier, it decided it wouldn’t play ball. Thankfully our taxi driver had some jumper leads in the car… and by jumper leads I mean two frayed wires barely covered in any insulation. Because it was pouring rain, we decided a Take 5 wasn’t necessary… what could possibly go wrong? Eventually the car started and we were on our way to paradise!!! Turns out paradise is about 2km down the bumpiest dirt track which only Wongy (Alex Wong) could be proud of designing. Finally, once we bounced our way to the house, we realised that paradise was in the midst of a blackout. It was at this point that I started to think about changing my flights to return home early. Nevertheless, I bravely charged on and began to help unloading the 700kg of luggage which was all deemed necessary by the Moshas. Thankfully Richard’s mum had prepared us a lovely dinner (at her place where there was working electricity) and saved the day from complete disaster.
Highlight of the day:
Coming in a close second was the long haul flights we all just took (this gives you an idea of how highly I rated this day). But after much discussion, the Moshas and I decided that the highlight of the day was not having to put up with Michael yet!!
Lowlight of the day:
When I realised that Richard’s 16 year old brother had bigger biceps than me.
Day 2 – Tuesday 23 October
Michael arrived at about 6am in the morning… ‘I’m getting in only a few minutes after you’ he told us. Someone obviously didn’t take much notice when they taught the difference between am and pm in pre-primary. I was stoked because at least we had power now!! Today was a fairly basic day since we were all pretty tired and needed to stock up on general supplies and get our phones working. We took our first trip into town and got to see what Tanzania really looked like. Think unsealed roads, people walking everywhere (no matter the time of day), fresh fruit and small markets as far as you could see. Welcome to Moshi!! The people are all so friendly and greet you as if they are your life long friends. It is very easy to feel a part of the place!!
Highlight of the day:
Showering for the first time after about 48 hours.
Lowlight of the day:
Waiting approximately 13 hours (probably only 1.5 in reality) to get 4 sim cards setup. How hard can it be to get a prepaid sim card you ask? Talk to Richard who had to sign documents, provide 3 forms of ID and have identification photos taken for each of them. And don’t for one second think that they would expedite this system by filling out all the paperwork at one time… no, each form was started and finished individually. But hey, that credit lasted all of 6 minutes so it was worth it right?
Day 3 – Wednesday 24 October
Today was earmarked for a planning and organising day. In true Tanzanian fashion, we said we would meet the others at 9am and didn’t turn up until about 10am… we are learning very quickly that everyone is later than they say they will be (including us). By the time we finished discussing our plan for the day, the day was almost over. Luckily we had time to fit in a trip to both a secondary and primary school. It became evident very quickly that schooling is one of the most important things for children here, which is not quite what I expected given everyone is so chilled and relaxed. You get kicked out of school if you don’t pass certain exams (thankfully my university didn’t do that)!!! Our first main project while we are here is to fix up the toilets at the primary school and boy do these need fixing up. The kids literally just poop through a hole in the floor and there is shit everywhere. Because of this I decided it would be best to let Michael take the lead on this project and he took to it like a duck to water, coming up with a great plan to install safe toilets and running water into the toilet block. Despite what Nathan and Damien say, I think he is becoming a great civil engineer.
Let’s take a trip back in time to last night when we were all sitting in the lounge room chatting. Michael was sitting near the fireplace (this house must be the only place in East Africa to have a fire place) and we just saw a flash of black. No one knew what this was and we brushed it off without another thought. Well tonight we discovered what it was… Once again we were sitting in the lounge room and then all of a sudden a bat flies over our heads and circles the room before darting into the back of the house. Caroline took Imani to their bedroom whilst us “men” were left to deal with the bat. Richard and Michael were hunting the bat whilst I cowered in the corner with a pillow for a weapon. It was a long 15 minutes of the bat hunting us, but thankfully it decided it had traumatised us enough and flew back up the chimney. We then proceeded to block up the chimney to make sure it couldn’t return. But is this the end of the bat saga?...
Highlight of the day:
The highlight of the day had to be seeing all the kids at the primary school today. They just flocked towards us and wanted high fives and hugs. They were all chanting “Muzungu, Muzungu.” Muzungu means white person. At first Michael started lecturing the children about how racist this was until we realised that this was just their way of life. Who would have thought that you could acknowledge someone’s colour without it being racist or suggesting they are inferior in some way.
Lowlight of the day:
Although I am calling this lowlight of the day, it is not because it was a bad experience, it is just because this was the first time on the trip that it really hit home the level of poverty in some areas of the country and tugged on the heart strings. We visited a lady’s house, Mrs Ramadhani . She is a sweet little old lady who takes in children off the street and feeds them. All this while living in a small ‘shack’ approximately 5m x 5m, with one small bedroom for several people to sleep in, a lounge room and a cooking area. She has so little and is well passed working age but yet she still finds the time and money to take care of several children who she has no relation to. Team Vista have been supporting Mrs Ramadhani for 9 years now, since she used to work for them as a cook. She now has Type 2 diabetes and Team Vista cover her medical expenses which are approximately $100 per month in medication. This sense of responsibility and community was inspiring and the world would be a better place with many more Mrs Ramadhanis.
5 MINUTE READ - check it out now! See exactly where your donations go. Amazing work and lives changed in Kaloleni (Tanzania)
Amazing Volunteer Video - The best insight into Kaloleni and the work that Team Vista is doing. Many thanks to Ash Watson!
This amazing video has been created by Team Vista volunteer - Ash Watson. She worked extremely hard with Team Vista, helping out with many different projects, putting her heart and soul into everything she did. The pictures and short video clips that she took really do provide an incredible insight into the Kaloleni region and all of the work that Team Vista is continuing to do.
If you have ever climbed Mt Kilimanjaro or are considering climbing in the future, then please read Dean's diary entries from his 5 memorable days away conquering the 'Roof of Africa'.
Many thanks to Dean for letting us share his journey and to Tanzanian Trails (www.tanzanian-trails.com) for making the trip possible.
Day 1 Kili -
First to arrive at Machame Gate (1800m) but as per the Tanzanian way things didn't go according to plan. A miscommunication meant we didn't have the money to pay for the park fees so we were waiting for many hours to get registered and pay. Funds eventually got transferred and we were on our way however were the last to leave. It was 11km to our first base camp (Machame camp). Starting last out of all the groups wasn't too much of a worry as we set a good pace early on and eventually started overtaking people who left before us. The total time up to the camp was probably around 5 hours which included a stop halfway for lunch for about 15 minutes. Camp was all set up when we arrived (which is the job of the porters. Had a hot chocolate and popcorn when I arrived and that was followed by dinner which was a stew and a piece of chicken. Overall the body is feeling good, however I pulled my hip flexor on contiki and could definitely feel that during the walk. An early sleep is on the cards and because my guide Nixon is happy with my pace we get a bit of an extra sleep in tomorrow and won't be leaving until 8:30am. Went to the toilet just before bed and the stars above me are probably the most incredible I have ever seen. I wish my phone could capture what I am looking at but I guess it's one of those moments you just have to take in.
Day 2 Kili -
One of the first to set off today was only going to be 5km total, however, it was gonna be around 4 - 5 hours which meant the incline was a lot more than yesterday. The weather was great as we were above the cloud line and there was nothing but blue sky. This allowed for some amazing views along with the fact we were making our way to 3750m above sea level. We finally arrived at Shira Cave Camp around 12:30 in the afternoon. They have so far fed me like a king and just keep bringing me food at each stop. Had a nap after lunch and then went about another 200m up to acclimatise a bit more before heading back down to base camp. Already some people/groups are having to make their way back down as they are too unwell for the climb. It's all a mental battle so far! Hamara Kama Simba (strong like a lion)
Day 3 Kili -
Toughest day yet. Strong headaches and a bit of an upset stomach meant the climb today was rough. We walked 7km to lava tower where we had lunch and we rested there for around 20 minutes. That sat 4600m above sea level which is the highest we have been so far. From there we finished the rest of the day with a 3km trek to our 3rd base camp, Baranco. Baranco only sits 3900m above sea level which is why we went to lava tower first to acclimatise. I have finally taken an altitude tablet in hope it will set me back to normal. Motivation is low, headache is still here, no appetite whatsoever and am already in bed at 6:30pm. Tomorrow is a new day and I hope I'll be ready to climb!
Day 4 Kili -
Woke up feeling much better! Body is still feeling a little off but overall ready for the day today! Just have to keep reminding myself why I took this trip and what it means to me. I just want to get as far as possible up this mountain! Left Baranco camp and the first challenge was not so much walking, but rock climbing up part of the mountain. We climbed the first part and then the incline got less, so it was more of a hike. That part stood at 4200m before we kept making our way to our lunch stop which was Karanga camp. This stop for some is a night stop where they set up camp. However for us we stopped for around an hour, had lunch and then continued on to our final base camp. This walk was only around 2 and a half hours from our lunch stop. We finally made it to the final base camp - Barafu Camp. This stands 4673m above sea level and is our final stop before we trek to the top of Kilimanjaro! We leave at midnight tonight to begin our climb up to Uhuru Peak which is the top of Kilimanjaro. If all goes well we may even reach the top and head all the way back down to the bottom and finish the mountain a day earlier. Only 5km/1200m/7 hours until the top.
Day 5 Kili -
Technically still day 4 as its 11:40pm, however have had a few hours sleep and we are going to be heading up to the top of the mountain soon. Have to try and push through these last hours to get to the top. It's definitely in the negatives outside and I have 2 thick layers, 2 lower body thermals, weather proof pants, upper body thermal, 2 long sleeve shirts, jumper and then weather proof jacket on, neck warmer, gloves and a beanie too. My phone needs to stay inside a sock so it doesn't freeze. Soon I will start the final climb. Began nicely, we were one of the last to leave the camp however we gained ground very quickly, everyone was really feeling it and myself included. The next 6 hours were the toughest of my life! I can't begin to explain the emotions I went through as I left Barafu Camp (4673m) all the way until Uhuru Peak (5895m). In freezing conditions which were definitely below negative from the start of the climb I knew it was going to be tough. Just how tough is an experience you can only feel. Nausea, headaches, body aches, tiredness and 0 motivation. It was all about putting your left foot forward and then your right foot and thinking about anything else than what your body is saying. After 5 excruciating hours we were one of the first to reach Stella Point which sits 5756m above sea level. A quick photo stop and the head already felt clearer knowing we only had about 200m above sea level to go which Nixon told me would take around an hour. One more hour. That's all I heard. We got our stuff and continued on passing just one more group. I powered through as I could see the top where the sign was. About 20m before the sign I stopped and started vomiting for about 2 minutes straight. Energy was definitely low, however just had to endure 20m more and be the first up at the peak. I did just that, I became the first group to reach Uhuru Peak (the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and the top of Africa). Nothing can describe the feeling I went through and the feeling I am still going through after completing that. Not only was it the hardest experience of my life, it was certainly the most rewarding! On the descent we passed a few groups who were definitely struggling. Some needing oxygen masks, some crying, some head down and not making any sort of sound other than heavy breathing. One Asian bloke came up to me and was crying. My guide told him it's not far to go, you are almost there. He asked me if he could have a hug and of course I said yes. I can't exactly remember what I said as the whole climb is a bit of a blur, but after that he was more motivated than ever and I knew he would make it to the top. The journey down to the fourth base camp only took around 2 hours as it was all downhill and all quite steep. After a short rest and a feed we started to pack and make our descent to the bottom today rather than tomorrow making it a 5 day journey instead of the usual 6. After a 45 day Contiki, to say I climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is hilarious to think, and to think I did it in a day less just makes it so much more sweet.
Looking back on my month in Moshi I feel like it has flown by, but at the same time, I feel so comfortable and at home in the day-to-day life that I can’t believe it’s only been four weeks. I have learnt a lot about the workings of an NGO, the reality of the challenges faced in these projects and the dynamics of volunteering in a different county.
Working with Team Vista has been an incredible opportunity. The people behind it are extremely hard working and generous, juggling tasks from the most basic day-to-day activities (getting the children good food and a working refrigerator) to large-scale projects (coordinating setting up new businesses in the community and managing legal cases). All these projects require constant attention to keep the momentum going, especially in a country like Tanzania where things don’t work quite like home. After seeing Team Vista run on the ground, I was surprised by the problems that were faced which were generally unexpected and not what I predicted.
Supplying aid is rarely as simple as recognizing that “a community needing a well” and an engineer coming over and using their knowledge to install one and walking away, problem solved. There are many facets to the issues the communities face and infinite ways to “offer help” as we aim to do. Some such factors which can complicate things are cultural sensitivities, religion, corruption, government or police involvement and associated issues, things rarely running on time, issues with sourcing materials, coordination of people and other external factors etc. Initially, an issue need to be identified, which can be a challenge in itself. Finding the solution is then usually an iterative process with sometimes many, and sometimes frustrating, roadblocks that you just don’t expect.
We aimed to connect a community with fresh water while we here, having eager and able-bodied volunteers to do all the digging and installation. We thought getting the local water management body to come and survey the existing system would take a day or two so we could begin work, but unexplained delays meant we didn’t hear back from them. It becomes difficult to plan efficient execution of projects and generally you constantly need to think and adapt. I didn’t expect the application of available resources to be an issue, but you really need to be proactive in the projects to get them off the ground.
During my time here, I have also gained insight into the dynamics of volunteering in a developing country. Moshi is home to countless NGO’s and aid organizations with funds and volunteers wanting to make a difference. It is admirable to see but also flagged a warning to research and understand how these agencies work. Some companies have made a business in itself of facilitating volun-tourism that can result in misspent resources. This was a disappointing reminder that it is really important to understand where your donations etc are going, as not all agencies are as honest and transparent as Team Vista.
It was extremely rewarding to be a part of a group working on such an array of projects here; building a caretakers hut, helping at the local school, taking the boys from the Team Vista orphanage on outings, renovating and decorating the girls empowerment room at the high school, marketing the hotel and associated enterprises, gathering ideas for future projects etc.
Personally, I was most proud of leaving Moshi with a Days for Girls group based out of Haria Hotel. Days for Girls is an international charity who distribute reusable sanitary kits to developing countries, where the girls miss out on school and work unnecessarily, and not to mention the embarrassment and discomfort which goes with that. Girls in the Kaloleni dump, or the slum like area of Moshi, for example, currently use leaves and other miscellaneous objects leaving them stuck at home or sick with infections. The deaf sewing group (Tatu Rafiki meaning “three friends”) supported by Team Vista, produce excellent quality products and work out of Haria Hotel. During my time in Moshi, I worked with them to make the Days for Girls kits. These can now be produced, sold and distributed locally, providing income for the group and a basic necessity for girls in the community.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here working on all projects. I take away an appreciation for what goes into taking resources donated in our society and turning them into something beneficial in a developing country, which can mean so much. Furthermore the amazing adventures in Tanzania and the people I’ve met. I count myself very lucky to have such an opportunity.
We got to see two exciting projects this week. The first project highlighted the striking contrast between Tanzania and Australia’s way of operating in the first. The second project was a completely unexpected series of events and discoveries that unfolded from a simple invitation to a party.
The first project was at the Team Vista block of land at Newlands, a new and growing area on the outskirts of Moshi (as the name suggests). The block had one harvest of maize last year and has since stood empty. Team Vista’s plan for the block is to build a caretaker’s hut with a small classroom facility, a fence to border the block from the random roads that spring up though paths of least resistance, and a workshop, made from shipping containers where youth can undertake vocational training programs for various trades. The rest of the land would be planted with crops and fruit trees, along with a compost toilet and water well.
“So how far is it to Moshi?”
“Well it depends who’s driving…”
And so began our 6 week adventure in Moshi, Tanzania. After 36 hours in transit, including a healthy dose of turbulence, unexplained delays, beautiful airport sunrises and surprisingly good quality breakfasts in Johannesburg, we groggily entered Moshi about 9pm Saturday night (in 40 minutes, definitely on the shorter end of the travel times thanks our speedy driver).
Our group is made up of Caroline (Team Vista director, our guide to Moshi and our contact for everything we’ll do here), myself (helping with Team Vista through a scholarship with W&G), mpenzi Sam (working with both Team Vista and KWEICO providing legal aid), Olivia (teaching English with Team Vista as part of her gap year) and Thomas (volunteering with Team Vista and connecting Engineers Without Borders). We are based at the Haria Hotel in the centre of Moshi, which Team Vista recently took over in December 2014. The hotel is the perfect base with awesome staff, a charming rooftop restaurant and bar and postcard views of Mount Kilimanjaro
Team Vista Blog
Here you will find the latest information about events, fundraising, trips to Tanzania and more.