May 31, 2016

a love hate relationship

this is the shopping site for any western brands.  everyone has a love hate relationship [mostly hate] with them because it's the only place in Moshi to get things that a westerner might want or need.  every trip is painful and avoided for as long as possible.  usually in the US if i go to make a purchase i have a simple process.  i know what i need, i go directly to the place in the store where they stock that product, i proceed to the checkout to pay and leave.  

that is not possible here.  in the US we complain when the shops are out of eggs or milk because of a snowstorm and it might take a day or two to get the supply chain back on schedule.  i laugh at that now.  at this store the supply chain is so terrible you never know what products will be in stock.  every trip requires a scanning of every shelf to see what products are there.  everything is expensive as it is mostly imported items.  once, i a moment of weakness i paid $4USD for a can of Campbell soup.

one week they might have white girl shampoo and then next week none.  yes, that is what we call it.  Africans do not use the same hair care products so there is a very limited supply of shampoos and conditioners that westerners would use on their hair.  lack of these products lead to a look that i refer to the  as the 'aid worker without a shower in a week'.  i digress to only explain why it is necessary to shop here.

after scanning each shelf with the focus of a scientist on the edge of a new discovery you fill your basket with the stuff you hoard in case you might not see it for another three months.  i was buying some liquid hand soap and this actually happened.

him:  can we please buy the good smelling soap?
her:  no, you have to have the antibacterial soap.
him:  cringes as i grab the last coconut soap on the shelf.
me:  moves quickly on as i smile smugly knowing i have the last bottle.

oh, bonus, on the way out they check your receipt against what is in your bag, treating everyone like the shoplifter they aren't.

i've dealt with them as a vendor as since we've tried to get them to stock product for years.  it's a nightmare company to deal with.

there's one alternative.  a small shop called Aleems where they consistently stock product and even take delivery of special items from the bakery i like in Usa River.  Aleems deserves it's own post as every trip is like a pilgrimage.  otherwise, it's a 1.5 hour drive to the next closest 'supermarket'

so, next time you casually throw your favorite brand of soap or pasta sauce into your shopping basket think of me and the painful process of shopping here and understand that's what makes america great.  

May 26, 2016

off to nairobi

the managing director who is also the cofounder, and chairman of the board has been asking me to get up to Nairobi to visit [where he works].  so off i go to Nairobi.  on the flight from Jaro [Kilimanjaro Airport] to Nairobi the pilot did a 360 around kili so that would be the highlight of my day, perhaps even my trip so far. it was awesome. seeing it from above makes it feel like a huge accomplishment. we climbed that bitch!

white around the crater is remaining glaciers - the other white stuff is clouds!
security is massive everywhere in Nairobi.  to get into any shopping center or high end hotel, the car, including the trunk and glove compartment are searched and sometimes you are required to get out of the car as well.  this is the response to the horrific shooting at the mall in 2013.  i chatted with a security analyst at an American Chamber of Commerce event today who said the terrorist threat has been nullified here.  haha.  met the U.S. embassy guys.  the Kenyan Minister of Tourism spoke and accused America of destroying Kenya's tourism trade with irresponsible travel advisories. ballsy I thought when addressing an American group.  There are ongoing attacks against white westerners and christians [mostly in the north away from the wildlife parks] so yeah, i'd keep the advisories in place.

i meet with the Kenyan agent who quit about a week after i arrived Tanzania and listened to 'ways the company could improve' it's products and agent relationships.  all of which were valid points and just outlines the amount of work that needs to be done.

May 24, 2016

i never get tired of seeing 'her'

the rainy season is ending and the clouds are parting to reveal mount kilimanjaro more and more often.  it's an awesome and breath taking moment when you happen to look up and see this magnificent mountain above Moshi.

May 17, 2016

where are you?

so what exactly am i doing in Tanzania?  why would i move across the world to join this company?  sure i'd been sent the full investor presentation on the company.  i remember sitting on the beach in Naples with my sister [the accountant] reviewing the projections for growth and being more than skeptical that such exponential growth would be possible.  i'd been talking to organizations in central america so that's where i thought i would end up but then this company came up on my radar because of my past association with the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado.  

Natural Extracts Industries works with over 1200 smallholder farmers [usually less than 3 acres] in Tanzania to subsidize the planting, train on cultivation and harvesting of vanilla.  For five years they have patiently waited as the vines matured and the vanilla was ready for harvesting.  

now the factory has been opened to produce vanilla extract as well as extracts from other raw materials found in Tanzania.  the brand is called The Epicurious Hedgehog and currently we are producing vanilla, orange, cinnamon, cacao and coffee extracts.  

there's a ton of work to be done to increase our sales and bring more farmers on board to meet the global demand.  it is in some ways nice to once again have a company with a well received brand and demand higher than what you can produce but with that comes some additional problems.

my offices are not fancy.  there are four desks available and there are between 6 - 8 employees, volunteers and consultants that cycle through each day.  the internet works about 50% of the time.  we have solar backup if the electricity goes out but that only powers 25% of the office so there is a system of daisy chained extension cords that reach the rest of the factory.  i had to request a filtered water station so that i didn't have to carry drinking water to/from the office every day.  as to the toilets, let's just say i've developed amazing bladder control.  seriously, i can go a full work day without a visit to the 'facilities'.

the staff here is mostly very good.  there are few bad hires but usually they go away quickly.  unlike Myanmar, i find there are well educated, hard working, very capable people here so i feel confident of building a good preforming team in my time here.

still, if you don't know me well, you may be asking why i'm here.  after my time in Asia i had to make a decision.  return to the US and take a job working for a corporation that valued profit over people and make a bunch of money or i could find companies looking to provide sustainable business solutions in developing countries where i could transfer skills needed to build solid sales, marketing and distribution networks.  that is the decision i made at the beginning of this year and 30 days later i had accepted the position in Tanzania.

none of this has been easy but i do believe it is important.

May 10, 2016

game drive

with a crazy couple of weeks coming up and having had no breaks since i arrived i took a weekend to get out and enjoy the wildlife.  with a few other women went out to the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, they are right next to each other and are probably the highest rated wildlife viewing areas in East Africa [also on the top 5 most expensive parks in the world]. 

it's surreal and i've been lucky to do this once before.  the second time it is just as amazing to experience these animals as they live and roam.

we only had one day in each park but it seemed around every bend there was another group of animals and another story being played out. we watched water buffalo stare down and chase away lions.  we saw lions hunting and zebra herds that stretched for miles along a trail.  dawn is the most exciting time as the nocturnal animals settle down and the rest of the animals start to wake up and head to the watering hole.

May 3, 2016

just a poem someone stuck on the wall

Someone taped this to the wall of the office a long time ago.  It's a bit yellowed and I'm not sure if it is really something penned by Mother Teresa.  I do look at it every day as a reminder of how the world should be instead of how it is.