Partner Profile: Bibi Kidee

In the last Partner Profile I told you about Amina, one of the more quiet members of the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Bibi Kidee.

Bibi Kidee is a character and a half, and when you’re with her there is never a dull moment. Bibi is the Swahili word for grandmother, and I believe she is the oldest woman in our group if you judge by age alone. Yet she is also one of the most spry, active, and playful members. Bibi Kidee LOVES to dance, and if there is music playing (which there often is) she will be dancing to it. And usually she brings other people on the “dance floor” with her. She is quite a jokester, and always has something clever to say. She loves to make people laugh, and does a very good job of it too.

In addition to being fun and funny, she is sweet and protective. When I have been sick she always comes by to check on me, and has even brought me food. And as far as being protective goes, there have been multiple occasions where she refuses marriage proposals on my behalf, always loudly proclaiming “She is doing work first! She will get married later! Go away she doesn’t want you!” Not only does it deflect the unwanted advances, she does it in a way that makes everyone laugh.

At first I was very intimidated by Bibi Kidee. She is a ball of energy and has no trouble coming to my door and yelling my Kisambaa (the local language) name until I answer the door, then unexpectedly taking me to a party or wedding. While this was overwhelming at first, I appreciate it and her so very much. I love that she has given me more opportunities to be involved in the community, and that she introduces me to a new family member of hers almost every day. Although she is probably close to 70 and I am 25, I can honestly say she keeps me young. Her energy is amazing, and I know the group as a whole is better for it.

#thestruggleisreal: Legitimately.

This week has been one of the most physically taxing weeks I have ever experienced, and I haven’t even been doing the hard stuff! If you read the last blog post, you will know that we just got some brand new, very heavy beehives. These awesome new hives will be joining our other hives in the forest on the side of a small mountain. Unlike our other hives, these sit on the ground as opposed to hanging in trees. Since these standing hives are going to sit on a steep slope, we were concerned that if it rained, the ground around the hives would erode and the hives would suffer. To keep this from happening, we decided the best option would be to build a concrete slab for the hives to sit on. We found a location that would be great for the bees, cleared a small space for the hives, and utilized the 2Seeds Network by bringing in Kwakiliga Partner Raymond, a very skilled construction craftsman. While Raymond and his team are doing the actual construction work, it is the job of the Kmoto Partners to get the building materials to the site. This is far, far easier said than done.

While the location we chose is a great environment for the bees to live and work undisturbed, it is also very hard to reach. The forest where we keep the hives is at the top of a small mountain, and the forested area is also the steepest area. In addition to being steep it is a rocky walk, filled with brambles and lots of opportunities to fall. Well, lots of opportunities for a clumsy person such as myself. At the base of the forest sits the Honey House, and also the home of Partner/Group Chairman Mzee Melenge. It is impossible to reach Mzee Melenge’s house via car or truck. With a great amount of effort you can get there by motorcycle, but the easiest way is to go by foot from Kijungumoto. The walk from the village to his house is roughly 45 minutes, and then it takes another 20 minutes to reach the new hive site. That is, if you are carrying nothing.

To build this simple concrete floor, only a few things are needed: cement, sand, very large rocks, and water. More specifically, 770 pounds of dry cement mix, 1 truck of sand, 1 truck of large rocks, and an average of 500 liters of water per construction day. None of these items are light, and all of them have to be carried by hand and head.

My Partners are champions, there is no question about it. Fortunately we were able to pay a motorcycle driver to take the cement to Mzee Melenge’s house, but then we had to carry it up to the site. Since we could not get trucks up the mountain the sand, more than 100 large buckets worth, had to be carried from the village all the way to the site. Fortunately, we got some help from local youths. We also had a stroke of fortune with the large rocks. Due to the terrain, we were able to find the size and kind of rocks we needed up on the mountain. So, although it was still a lot of work to get the rocks to the site, we did not have to carry them from the village. All these things were challenging, but the water has been the biggest challenge by far.

As you may recall from a past blog post, water is a big problem for the village. For Mzee Melenge, it is especially troublesome. Since he lives on the mountain, there are no water taps available to him. He and his family get their water from a communal well, at the base of the mountain. So to get water they have to climb up a mountain with buckets of water on their head. Most buckets range from 10-20 liters, which means they weigh 22-44 pounds each. And I have seen some women put as many as 3 buckets on their head, it is amazing. So getting 500 liters, 1,100 pounds of water to the construction site is WORK. I’m talking multiple trips, starting at 7am and usually finishing about 2 in the afternoon. And my Partners have been doing this all week. Champions.

In all this, I have some good news: the floor was finished today! However, the work is not yet done. Now that the floor is finished, water has to be put on the cement every day for a week to make sure it cures properly. While we do not need quite as much water as we did for construction, every day for the next 7 days my Partners will be carrying nearly 500 pounds of water up the mountain. And then, once that is complete, we have to carry the 56 very heavy pieces that make up our new beehives.

012

The new hive floor in progress

Now, if I said I have heard no complaints during all of this that would be quite untrue. However, no one has quit, or given up, or let their weariness get in the way of completing the task at hand. This is very hard physical work, but everyone agrees that it is worth it. They are tired and drained and ready for this part of the work to be over, but they have not given up. I think most everyone’s sentiments are summed up in the words of Mama Eliza: “Right now, we are eating lemons. But when we completely finish, we will eat oranges”.

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing… and Working

Since I arrived, we have been working on something that has yet to come to fruition: building and using a solar dryer. The idea behind the solar dryer is to dry leafy greens to sell in Dar es Salaam and local markets, and the reasoning behind these locations is very different.

First, let’s talk about the Dar es Salaam (Dar) market. Dar is the largest city in Tanzania, and it is exclusively where we sell our honey. There is a large ex-patriot population in parts of Dar, and the honey and other 2Seeds Network products sell well in that market. In this population there are many people who love leafy greens but have trouble getting them, since they spoil quickly and are difficult to transport to Dar. By marketing dried leafy greens to the ex-patriot community, we would effectively fill a niche not being filled by other businesses—and reap the profit. These leafy greens can be rehydrated or eaten like kale chips, and the plan is to include recipe suggestions with each bag sold.

While we want to sell in Dar because of the financial opportunity it presents, our purpose for selling the dried greens locally is very different. In this part of Tanzania, there is a time of year literally called the hungry time. Once the rainy season is over and all the crops are harvested, new crops (mostly maize to make the local staple ugali) are planted. However, it will take months for the crops to be ready to harvest again. During this time, people ration their food supply. Additionally, it is very hot and dry, so it is difficult to grow any vegetables. If we dry leafy greens, we can sell them to local people during the hungry time. This will provide people with much needed nutrients that would likely not be otherwise available. Although we do not expect to earn much money from local sales, it will benefit the community at large.

So that is our plan for the solar dryer! The problem is, we have been trying to get it up and running for months. At first we wanted to get the gardens in good working condition before we started on a brand new endeavor, but once that was taken care of we have hit a pretty big snag. Since December, we have been waiting for one specific part of the solar dryer that is only available at one place in Dar, not any other place we have looked in Tanzania or Kenya. The waiting can be frustrating, but at the same time we do not want to build an inferior solar dryer so we are being patient. Hopefully the part comes in and we can install the solar dryer before I leave in mid-March!

As for the solar dryer location, we are going to house it on a piece of property owned by one of the Partners. This property is in the village, and pretty much equal distance for most everyone. This central location will make it easier for everyone to bring and dry their greens! Currently, we are building a platform for the solar dryer to sit on, as well as a small building that will serve as a workspace for drying activities. This building is very small, just a 9 foot by 6 foot room, but it will be great for preparing the greens for drying and then packaging them once they are done. Once we get the final part of the solar dryer, we will be able to put this new aspect of the business into action. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer!

Hey guess what! We got more beehives!

The last time we talked about honey, I was telling you about our biggest harvest yet and how we planned to continue increasing production. One way we are increasing production is by increasing the number of hives! A craftsman in Korogwe built 8 new hives that are the Warre design, which means they are standing hives as opposed to the kind you hang in trees (like the design of our other hives). The new hives look like houses, and even have a roof on top! Each hive has 5 “stories”, or boxes where the bees will build their honeycombs. These hives are supposed to be easier to harvest and produce more honey, which means these new hives will effectively double production capacity! Check out these pictures of the hives arriving!

008

This is the truck with the hives arriving! It took almost 4 hours for them to get here, but all arrived safe and sound. 

018 (2)

Carefully unloading the precious cargo!

Now, these hives are great, but they are also HEAVY. I don’t know how much they weigh, but I have trouble lifting just one of the parts. And unfortunately, there was no way for a vehicle to get from the road to the hive location. This means that we had to carry 56 pieces (5 boxes + 1 roof + 1 stand per hive)  of heavy and bulky material for about a mile uphill. And since we live in Tanzania, the normal way to carry things is on your head:

Since my Partners are amazing and stronger than I will ever be, they were able to complete the task. But let me tell you, it was not easy. It took about 4 hours and countless trips. I only carried the lightest pieces, the roof and the hive stands, and I was struggling. We put all the pieces in the Honey House for safe keeping until we are ready to move them to the new hive location. So we aren’t even done moving the hives, and the walk from the Honey House to the new hive site is shorter, but far more difficult. Even though it is going to be physically exhausting, I know we can do it. Everyone agrees that this is extremely hard, but will be worth it in the end.

We Harvested Honey Again! Did It Go Well?

Answer: Yes! Definitely yes, but there is room for improvement. I am so excited to let you know we had our biggest honey harvest ever! After everything was cleaned and packaged, we had 50 kilograms of high value honey ready to sell in Dar es Salaam—this is a 30% increase from our previous harvest, which was our largest harvest until now. Hopefully this means we will keep breaking our record and producing more top quality honey!

030

In addition to showing off our freshly packaged harvest, Bakari is demonstrating the tasty quality of our honey! (Eating the extra is always a perk)

So as I said, there is room for improvement. This is because although we had our biggest harvest yet (yay again!), we were only able to harvest 40% of our hives. Theoretically, our harvest should have been more than double what we got. As you may recall, we currently have 15 beehives. Of those 15 hives, 13 are occupied (though we have every reason to believe the 2 empty ones will have bees any time now). Two of these 13 hives gained occupants in the last couple of months, so those hives were not strong enough to harvest honey. Additionally, one of our hives fell down at the beginning of December due to an uncharacteristically heavy rainstorm. This means that of our 15 hives, 10 were viable for harvesting. By the time we harvested, 4 of those hives were empty because the bees had already eaten the honey. This means we harvested honey from just 6 hives.

While this is unfortunate, it is also a good learning opportunity. Honey is very delicate, and it is hard to know the absolute best time to harvest. If you harvest too early, the honey is not nearly as good because it did not cure long enough in the hive. If you wait too long, the bees eat the honey and you are left with nothing. To help combat this issue, I am working with Mzee Melenge and Kidura to create a hive monitoring and evaluation strategy. Kidura has gone to special beekeeping training and knows the best time to harvest, and Mzee Melenge is the group Bwana Nyuki, or person in charge of beekeeping activities. This plan is essentially going to be a written record of when someone goes to check the hive, if there is honey, if the honey is ready, how much was harvested, things of that nature. This tool will be useful to identify the best time to harvest, but also monitor hive trends over time. With this in place, we are sure to continue increasing production.

Do you know what would also increase production? Adding more hives…

 

Work in the Garden Part 3: Feeding the Food

In the past couple of blog posts, I have talked about getting our home gardens ready for planting. We fixed fences and fought termites, put in strong doors, and implemented a water management plan. The next step is enriching the soil.

The soil in this region is generally pretty good for growing, but to enrich it even further we are using organic fertilizer, aka manure. Many of my Partners own goats (and a couple have cows), and this readily available manure is great for the gardens. The Partners with livestock shared their manure with Partners who do not, and pretty soon everyone had enough fertilizer to cover their gardens. This fertilizer was then mixed with the soil, and is ready to grow some large, healthy, delicious vegetables.

Another way we are ensuring the health and quality of the soil is through crop rotation. If you are not familiar with crop rotation, here is a basic rundown:

All vegetables are divided into four main families: roots (carrots, onions, garlic, etc.), fruits (tomatoes, okra, eggplant, etc.), leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, etc.), and legumes (beans, lentils, peas, etc.). To keep the soil healthy, crop rotation calls for rotating these families. For instance, if you plant a field of cucumbers and harvest them, you should not immediately plant peppers because they are both in the fruit family. Each family takes different nutrients from the soil, so planting the same family back to back like that would deplete the soil. Ideally, you should plant a leafy green, fruit, root, legume, and then leafy green again, which is where the rotation part comes in. Unlike the other families, legumes are actually grown specifically to enrich the soil. Nutrients such as nitrogen are replenished by the legumes, and if you harvest the legumes and use them as green fertilizer (by crushing the beans and leaves and mixing them back into the soil) it is even better for soil health.

001.JPG

This is the poster I made to explain our crop rotation plan to everyone. The middle part spins to demonstrate rotating for each growing season.

For us, each garden is divided into 4 sections and everyone is going to be growing 1 root, 1 fruit, a small variety of leafy greens (I’ll explain why in a moment), and 1 legume. For the root and fruit, we are growing onions and okra to sell in local markets. The Partners have experience growing both of these vegetables, and not only do they grow well, they sell well. Onions are a staple in local cuisine, and okra is a HUGE local favorite. Onions especially sell for high prices year-round, and when Partners have grown and sold okra in the past it has sold very quickly. For the legume, we are growing cow peas, which are readily available. As we will be using the peas as fertilizer, we simply wanted something that would be good for soil health. The leafy greens are a special situation.

Instead of growing 1 kind of leafy green, each garden is going to be growing 2 or 3. The reason for this is we are going to dry these greens using a solar dryer before selling them (for more information about our solar drying plans, stay tuned to a future blog post!). Leafy greens take up only a small amount of space, so we are able to grow a larger variety without sacrificing crop volume. As solar drying is a new endeavor, we want to grow a variety of leafy greens to see which dry best. Also, this gives us an opportunity to make a leafy green mix, which can be more appealing to potential buyers.

So, this is where we are with the gardens. The fences are sturdy, the water is there, the soil is enriched, and the gardens are divided for crop rotation. Right now, each Partner is busy making garden beds. Planting seeds is not far behind.

Partner Profile: Amina

Amina headshot

Say hi to Amina!

It is time for another Partner Profile! It is with great pleasure I introduce you to my Partner, Amina. Amina is one of the more quiet members of the group, but she is also incredibly sweet, hardworking, and hospitable. Amina is a very active member of the 2Seeds Network, and is very devoted to her garden and tasks with the bees.

While the vast majority of group members are active, Amina is one of the most reliable. If you need her for anything, you can count on her being there. There have even been instances where she could not come to scheduled work days, but would make sure her portion of tasks were complete. There was once a time when we were bringing water to the bees on the same day one of her children was getting married, so she came to do her part the morning of the ceremony. This kind of dedication is unparalleled.

She is also very smart, and enjoys the business training we have been having. Each Partner has a book where they keep personal financial records, including all expenses and money coming in. She does a great job keeping her books, and there have been a few instances where she has come to me to discuss how to categorize certain expenses, in order to have the most accurate account possible. Since she is quiet in group settings her sharp mind is sometimes overlooked, but her insight has been helpful for the group as a whole.

In addition to being smart and dedicated, Amina is incredibly kind and generous. In Tanzanian culture hospitality is very important, and she is one of the most hospitable people I have met here. Essentially, of all the hospitable people in an incredibly hospitable country, she takes the cake. If you go to her house, you should make sure you have an empty stomach because she will love to fill it to the brim. Also, she is a very good cook so it is totally worth it.

Her family is very important to her, and she is a wonderful mother and grandmother. Her children are at the heart of everything she does, and she always wants to give them the best life she can. She cares for them when they are sick, makes sure they go to school, takes care of the farm so they have food to eat, and is still able to find time to have warm conversations with them and everyone around her. Her sweetness and hard work are an inspiration.

104.JPG

Amina wanted me to make sure I got a picture of her with some of her kids and grand-kids. Aren’t they a lovely bunch?