Posted by: 1200households | February 16, 2010

Bike Tour!

The biking tour turned out to be well worth the $35 price tag. The tour took us off the beaten tourist path and into the areas of Dar we would have never ventured on our own.

The day began in front the Millenium Towers where we met Mejah the guide. Mejah is a one of a kind person combining charisma, intelligence, and concern in a refreshing mix of character. After signing our life away, we hit the road. Within the first couple of meters I was glad we were on mountain bikes as we sloshed through mud puddle laden dirt roads. The first stop was a street lined with countless second hand shops where vendors sell designer clothes salvaged from the used clothing for sale at the regular markets. We are talking Gucci, Prada, you name it… you can find it there and for pretty cheap as well. Our next stop was a coffee making operation. We learned all about how to make Turkish style coffee and even helped grind some of the beans and stir the pot of boiling sugar and peanuts that later becomes a hard candy complimenting the coffee.

The cultural exploration continued with a visit to a typical Swahili house. The house had a long corridor and three rooms on each side, each belonging to a different family. Yes, six families under one roof! While they generally live in peace, we learned that the saying on the fabric Khangas which were originally encouraging proverbs when the tradition came to the mainland from Zanzibar, today often tout insults. These khangas are sometimes worn in such a way as to direct the sentiment towards another lady in the house! Talk about silent insults. Concluding our visit, we sampled a rice flour breakfast “pastry” as well as a chapatti that we watched being made. All along I have wanted to know how chapati was made! Now I do…

We also visited a town on the river whose bridge required porting our bicycles across, followed by a stop at a traditional healer’s house. We examined her herb garden and learned the traditional cure for all sorts of ailments… We then made our way to one of the smelliest, crowded, and dirty markets we had ever been too! The fruit was decomposing as it sat in the sun. The raw fish was swarming with so many flies, it made breathing a hazard to your health! We learned that crushed, dried okra is often used to make a special paste that is eaten with ugali (a corn meal base) during times when other foods are not available.

We contrasted this bustling market with one we visited earlier which was a ghost market. It was big, airy, clean and deserted. The market was built as a project without the input of the local people and they have done anything but embrace its existence. We stopped by several ghetto movie theaters (their name for them, not something I just made up). These little one room shacks with no windows show movies on a regular sized TV non-stop throughout the day. None of the showings seemed to be particularly appealing, but there was definitely a large crowd in the one where we stopped. It was strange to see so many people sitting on rows of benches like at a baseball game watching a movie on a normal sized screen… I guess entertainment is entertainment no matter what you can afford.

After five hours with our fearless guide and a nice 20 minute ride back to the place where we started, we stopped for lunch and reflected on the adventure. We learned so many new facts. We saw all sorts of back alley places. It was incredible to see how Mejah interacted with all the people when we stopped. He was genuinely interested in talking with them and listened carefully to their concerns. His passion for improving lives of the poorest is evident and his company AfriRoots invests a lot in the communities where they work.

In summary, this bike tour was an eye opening, heart stopping, and gut wrenching look at Dar behind the scenes.

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Posted by: 1200households | February 14, 2010

Weekend fun in Dar es Salaam.

After a week of seeming setbacks, the most logical thing to do was to get out of town for a while to give us a fresh perspective and appreciation for the quality of life we enjoy in Bagamoyo.

Saturday night Isaac and Sara headed into Dar to spend a little time hanging out with some of the enumerators. Most of the enumerators are about the same age as the Stanford team and so meeting up for dinner and drinks at the Kawe Club seemed like a great way to continue to build friendships and get to know them better. It was a blast. From the $2 a bag cashews to the spicy fish served whole with the bones, there was never a dull moment. We got to learn more about their lives, their hopes and aspirations as well as the challenges they have faced. It was a fascinating conversation peppered with popular east African music rifts floating in the air mixed with the sound of waves lapping on the beach.

Sunday there were two itineraries up for grabs. On the one hand, Isaac and Sara decided to pursue an early morning mountain biking tour of Dar es Salaam while Mia, Michael and Angela opted for the later start and visiting the Mwenge Arts and Crafts Market where Isaac and Sara met them later.

The arts and craft market was a bit over powering at first. Every vendor wanted you to come into their shop. This was understandable. However, it seemed that all the shops were selling the same thing and after looking at 25 different carved elephants it became a little less than exciting. It was also frustrating because anytime you asked for a price they asked you how much you wanted to pay. Or if they told you a price, the next thing they asked for was your price… Needless to say, the favorite American past time of window shopping is unheard of. Most of the group walked away having bought something. Whether it was as small as a postcard, as beautiful as a Masai necklace, or as colorful as a hand sewn purse of African fabrics, each purchase was unique and hard fought.

Following the energy draining shopping trip we headed off to find some food. We expertly negotiated a taxi and were on our way. Problem. Over halfway to our destination, the slipway, we decide we would rather go to the Italian restaurant Saverios. What ensued was a comic conversation between 5 Stanford students and 1 taxi driver… conveying our desired change in plans was surprisingly easier then anticipated and we were off. After a couple of back tracks we found the place and were elated by the prospect of brick oven pizza (Mia especially, who had had to endure sitting in front of the restaurant stuck in traffic for over an hour one day… the smell of pizza teasing her the whole time.).

Before the pizza came, Mia modeled for us her new Masai necklace. We think she should wear it to class back at Stanford…

Mia the Masai

Posted by: 1200households | February 14, 2010

Three anecdotes to make you grin :)

Vacuum pump problems – The process the lab uses to run water samples employs a vacuum pump to suck the water through a filter. On Thursday, while Mia attempted to fix one of the pumps, another helpful person in the lab turned it on. The outcome of this faux pas was Mia getting sprayed with water in such a way that it made it look like she had wet her pants. She was amusingly unembarrassed by the whole thing and couldn’t help but laugh.

Menu victories – We make up a menu for dinner each week. We keep things pretty simple, but sometime we like to change things up. This week we ventured to request pasta, not generally regarded as a Tanzanian strong point in the culinary arts… However, with a little guidance on boiling time, we ended up with a delicious bowl of rigatoni. We also tried to mix things up by rotating fruits in the fruit salad. This sounds like it would be a simple request, but the past has shown us that is not always the case. At times the cook seems to regard the menu only as guidelines. It doesn’t help that the person doing the menu is not great in Swahili and therefore the cook thinks she has just made a mistake when she requests something different. However, after a short talk with the cook, things were cleared up and we are now set with a variety of dinners unparalleled in the short history of the Case Blanca. Victory!

Casa Blanca Cinema – White walls are not incredibly appealing, they are however quite useful if you have a projector and want to watch a movie. The Casa Blanca has on many occasions been turned into a theater of sorts to enjoy a range of entertainment from the Arrested Development TV series to the James Bond 007’s adventure film Casino Royale. Things got even better this past Friday when the crew decided to watch a movie and discovered they could use Sara’s headphone cable to play the sound through the projector which is infinitely louder than anyone’s computer speakers. Being able to hear has been the biggest challenge to our media experiences. In any case, you’re welcome to join us for a flick any Friday! Maggie might even make you some delicious popcorn ;)

The common room set up for movie night... or the Casa Blanca Cinema as we like to call it.

Posted by: 1200households | February 14, 2010

Still no IRB.

Truth be told, Monday morning was not ideal. The Sunday off had left one too many things unattended to and as the enumerators drove off to start their day, there was collective sigh of relief and feeling of unbelief that something so simple as the morning send off could have been so complicated. The coolers took way longer than usual to load. There was no easy meeting place and as we tried to give directions we were constantly interrupted by people milling around the Ifakara building. While the bags and most of the equipment was ready to go, the camera batteries were not. We had forgotten to charge them with the PDAs and as a result Isaac had to run out and buy some disposable ones to get us through the day.

Coolers ready to be loaded onto the roof of the 4x4s.

The battery incident was the last straw in the fight to get an equipment cabinet ready to go. We had been working on securing something for over a week! Thankfully Monday would be the last day we struggled with the equipment. By Tuesday, the cabinet arrived and the handyman was able to drill the holes in the back so we could wire it up to suit our needs. Being able to leave the equipment at work was a huge burden off of our shoulders. Having PDAs all over the Casa Blanca was not only a security concern, but also made any sort of work-life separation impossible. While Isaac lamented not having his GPS equipment at close proximity at all times, most of the group was delighted that at least on organizing the survey side of the study, things were coming together. The lab we would soon find out would be a whole other battle.

Not wanting to bore you with details or unknowingly step on some sensitive toes, I will summarize the outcomes of a weeks worth of confusing meetings (None of which I, Sara the author of this post, was present at. Therefore I will avoid pretending to know much about anything that actually happened…). So what is the outcome? The lab which took so long to establish in its current location is being moved. Yes, moved; moved to another building about a three minute walk from the original facility. When all said and done, the new facility will be fine. The challenge is acquiring the right equipment and physically making the move.

So where is the hidden blessing in this little fiasco of logistics? Turns out the IRB board, the people we are waiting for approval from to start surveying households, still hasn’t met and so we continue to work on the community water sampling. While moving the lab is a huge pain at present, moving the lab once data collection has started would be virtually impossible without stopping work for several days. Not to mention having to take a day or two to pre-test the new set-up. So if the move had to happen, granted that we weren’t just shown to the right facility the first time, at least it is happening now and not delaying the project. Your prayers and encouragement to the lab team during this move would be much appreciated!

With no approval for the household surveys, the enumerators are left to community water sampling for another week. This is great because the sources need to be documented and having 8 teams working instead of one is a huge way to bolster efforts. This is also not great because we just spent the last two weeks training them in how to do household surveys and while they got to practice with two pre-tests, we fear that too much time way from using these skills will mean having to refresh a lot of knowledge before launching.

Not surprisingly, this is the longest delay a project has ever experienced in all of Jenna’s experience with this sort of research. The team knew going into this quarter that the challenges of field work can be both surprising and overwhelming. Thankfully, we have a robust group who continues to make sweet lemonade from even the sourest of situations. In the extra time we have been able to train the data person more quickly and thoroughly than normal time would have allowed. The field manager is getting a taste of the daily requirements of the job and we can help make improvements without jeopardizing real data collection. We were able to get the equipment cabinet set-up to meet very high organizational standards. The lab staff is continuing to adjust… the community water booklet is coming together and the enumerators are getting to know each other better.

Given the IRB delay and Amy’s upcoming departure on February 12th, I, Sara, was granted my 5-day vacation for the week of February 8-12th. I promise to fill you in on my adventures when I get back. Meanwhile, the blog post will have to come from another source for that week since I won’t have a clue of what to write about…

Posted by: 1200households | February 14, 2010

Back to the Lazy Lagoon… this time as invited guests.

After our first only mildly successful attempt to enjoy a relaxing day on a paradise island, we were determined to return. The draw of the lazy lagoon was too enticing.  This time however, we knew the right way to arrive.  Maggie contacted the owners we met last time when they kindly kicked us off their island and arranged for a day trip that included all the sun we could soak up, all the exploring we could handle, and a gourmet lunch.  While the price was a bit steep, we were able to manage.  A couple of people we getting over not feeling so great on Friday and Saturday (stomach issues), but everyone felt better by Sunday and made the trip.  It was truly an adventure with ups and downs characteristic of only our luck!

The crew left at about 10:15am in two taxis headed to the fishing college where the boat from the resort would come to pick us up.  Apparently we didn’t quite communicate properly about the timing because as we pulled up we saw the white haul and blue awning of the boat that was to be our ticket to paradise 400m out at sea jetting its way to the island.  We had literally missed the boat.  But fear not.  After about 30 minutes it was back and we were loading up.  And yes, this boat was much more sea-worthy than the last one.

Walking through the tidal flats to get to the boat!

The much better looking boat this week...

Not long after arriving, Maggie and Amy decided to go for a long swim along the island coast as a workout.  They both knew the current was strong, but it was only after Amy finished and Maggie kept swimming that she realized just how strong it was and that she had been going with the current for most of the way out…  Knowing she couldn’t swim the whole way back around the island Maggie swam to shore planning to walk back.  However, the sharp coral and howling monkey sounds did little her ease her mind or her situation and she half-jokingly began to think this would be her end.  Adding insult to injury, as Amy walked out to meet Maggie, in some sense trying to save her, Amy herself let out an exclamation of pain as she unknowing put her foot down on a sea urchin!  No, this is not made up… Thankfully sea urchin spines are not poisonous and aside from the pain which subsides after a couple of hours, there is precious little one can do but wait for the spines to come out on their own.  Turns out sea urchin spines are made of calcium carbonate and will after some time dissolve themselves if your body does not expel them first.  Interesting.  Suffice it to say we were happy that both Amy and Maggie made it back in one piece from their swimming adventure, if not with more than what they had bargained for.

Amy and Maggie play around before going for the now infamous swim.

While these two were out for their fateful swim, the others chose to explore the tide pools on the island’s East Coast.  Here Michael, Angela, Sara and Isaac explored the rocks and found sea stars, colorful fish, and seaweed swaying in the warm water trapped in the crevasses between the rocks at low tide.  Sara was taking pictures and Isaac had wandered around to another area when they heard Michael and Angela calling for everyone to come and see something cool.  Arriving on the scene skeptical of what was so important to require their immediate attention, they were greeted with inky black water in which an eel had just killed a squid.  We watched with fascinated disgust as the eel rolled and twisted consuming every last slimy, spongy particle left over of what used to be a happy squid.  It was like National Geographic, but in real life.  Here is some footage…  This event did teach us one other useful bit of information, besides the truth of nature’s cruelty.  All of the white, oblong, semi-transparent, and pliable objects we see scattered along the beach are not shells, food remains, or styrafoam; they are squid skeletons as that was only thing left floating on the water when the eel was done with its mid-day meal of calamari.  Who would have thought eels had such refined taste.

The exciting morning yielded to a relaxing afternoon.  Sara went for a swim in the salt water pool while Amy and Mia both lounged and read.  Lunch was served and the three course meal combined with the ambience of the resort and the sweet sea breeze made us feel like for just a moment we were not poor graduate students, but celebrities enjoying the best that paradise has to offer.

We stayed as long as we could, but at 4pm we bid farewell to the Lazy Lagoon knowing that all too soon we would again embrace the hectic pace of work waiting for us Monday morning.

Here’s a slideshow of more pictures!

Posted by: 1200households | February 14, 2010

New curtains for the Casa Blanca!

(Disclaimer: This post was written weeks ago, but we kept forgetting to take the pictures which are essential to the essence of this entry… It’s still relevant.)

After the very sketchy window intrusions episode we had been covering our windows with makeshift curtains from old sheets and pieces of cloth.  This was inconvenient as the sheets reached to the floor and Mia was sure they were preventing us from getting the proper breeze to keep cool at night.  (It is pretty stinking hot some nights…)  Moreover, help up with knots or wedged into cracks, their security effectiveness was doubtful.

After hearing the unacceptable proposal to send the caretaker to buy polyester curtains at the market, Sara volunteered her crafting talents to procure for the Casa Blanca curtains of quality and beauty unrivaled in all of Bagamoyo.

Seasoned in shopping for African fabrics after her time in Burkina Faso, Sara and Isaac struck out on Monday to find some suitable options at the market.  Not 100% sure that the plan would work they only bought materials enough for two rooms.  The plan was to try them out on those two rooms and then go from there.  As it turns out the width of the fabric from the market is the exact height of the windows in the Casa Blanca.  Moreover, the fabrics are sold in pieces that are approximately 350cm in length which is perfect for fitting three windows in the Casa Blanca.  It was like it was meant to be.  Sara cut and ironed the curtains and set out to hang them up.  Lacking a hammer she had to make do with the blunt end of a hacksaw and a pair of pliers from Isaac.

The first attempts were a success and later in the week Sara ventured back to the market to buy the rest of required fabric to outfit Amy’s room, Maggie’s room and Michael and Angela’s room.  In addition, she found some better hanging hardware… hooks!  She finished hanging the new curtains by Saturday and everyone agrees that they have added a new air of hominess and a bit more color to the Casa Blanca ;)

Curtain Collage... (clockwise from top left: Finished product , in production, Isaac's room done, finished product, and before in Mia and Sara's room...)

Posted by: 1200households | February 14, 2010

Unintended Dry Spell

We apologize for the dry spell of no posts over the past two weeks, but today is your lucky day because all the back logged adventures are now available for your reading pleasure! Take your time in reading them :) Enjoy…

Posted by: 1200households | January 31, 2010

Is it Friday yet?

Pre-test #2 on Wednesday was exhausting. That night the enumerators got to go home and recover, but the Stanford team had to prepare for the next day of training. After being out in the hot sun in the field for 8 hours or burning the mid-night oil at the lab, the one collective wish was that the next day would magically be Saturday. But it wasn’t. Without Jenna here, we had to rally our stamina and push through on our own. Only later would we find out that Jenna has some challenges of her own as she was on her way out from Dar es Salaam.

Like Monday, Thursday was review day. In the morning Sara led a reflection and discussion of pre-test #2. All too often we go through life tackling one thing after the other never taking a moment to pause and reflect on our past performance. The goal of the exercise was to get the enumerators to really think about their experience in the field. The problem is reflection requires critical thinking about yourself and that can be like pulling teeth for some people. The key was allowing ample time and presenting each reflection topic one at a time to maintain focus. First, the enumerators reflected on questions in the survey that the respondents had trouble with. This information will help us refine the survey. Next they thought about a success they had. Later when we shared these it would prove be a very encouraging exercise! Finally, they wrote about a challenge they faced. After thinking about these things individually we got into circle and discussed. The beauty of the discussion was that they had already thought through the important issues to share. It was really neat to see the enumerators going back and forth discussing certain questions. Even more amazing was the fact that in sharing the tough questions and challenges we saw that a lot of the groups faced the same issues.

In a perfect world, the survey would already be launched or we would be launching ASAP. However, we are still waiting for some final permissions and as such we have to delay the launch. No matter, work must continue and instead of interviewing households, the enumerators will be sampling community water points. As a part of the project we need to document and sample all of the water points in the community where we will be interviewing households. This includes borewells, shallow wells, pumps, taps, ect… anywhere a respondent might be getting their drinking water. Documenting these sources requires collecting GPS point data, filling out a short survey about each water source, taking a picture of it, and taking a sample. Since we can’t start the household survey, the plan was to start community water sampling on Friday.

To this end, following the pre-test debriefing Michael ran a great digital camera workshop. He expertly walked the enumerators through the steps of working the cameras. They were thoroughly entertained by his active teaching style and Michael now has about 30 pictures of himself from the enumerators practicing taking pictures of him as he lead the session. The last thing before lunch was a refresher by Amy about community water sampling. During the afternoon the enumerators practiced community water sampling and also completed the usual data review, this time in teams instead of individually. As expected things sped up quite a bit; one because of an easier format and two because there were fewer mistakes!

On Friday we started community water sampling as planned. This time the enumerators and the Ifakara study coordinator were on their own. We feared the prospect of panicked phone calls every 15minutes, but were impressed and elated by the silence and triumphant return of the team at 5pm. Each enumerator team had sampled the 4 sources as planned and documented even more! Major victory :)

While the enumerator teams were out in the field, the Stanford crew stayed behind to train one of the enumerators who will shift into the role of data processing instead of interviewing. We have also been working on setting up a workspace for the project and coordinating how to complete the behind the scenes tasks of preparing the materials for the teams each day.

All in all, it was a long week, but a successful week. Week three… put it on the board as done.

Posted by: 1200households | January 31, 2010

Pre-Test #2

The Stanford team woke up on Wednesday in unbelief that it was already Wednesday and the second pre-test day!  The plan was to leave the house at 7:15 which turned into more like 7:30 by the time the car rolled out from the Casa Blanca.  All was well in the end and we arrived at ADEM to greet the enumerators who were ready to go with bags of snacks to sustain them throughout the grueling day ahead of them.

All of the enumerators plus Maggie and Amy piled into a daladala (a mini-bus) and headed off for the village.  The rest of the Stanford crew waited for the Ifakara driver and were relieved that they did after learning later that the daladala had gotten lost and ended up driving in circles around the bush for about 20 minutes before finally arriving at the community center.  Here’s a little clip from the second crew’s trip…


The second village was not as wealthy as the village in pre-test #1 and the houses were much more spread out.  The biggest challenge of the day was the logistics of getting the enumerators to the correct households to interview.  For the first pre-test the enumerators were expected to do only two interviews.  Today they were expected to complete three.  However, only a handful of the groups would complete this task.  The interview itself was taking longer than expected in some cases.  The enumerators were learning that the respondent’s attitude makes a big difference in how long an interview takes.  If you have to discuss each question to get an answer they can expect to be there for at least two hours.

Maggie has promised to write a reflection on the pre-test #2 experience.  We anxiously await this contribution from her.  Feel free to prod her into writing it.  I’m sure she has some interesting observations to share!

At the end of the interview day the enumerators shared in a snack of soft drinks and glucose crackers provided by Ifakara.  Waiting for the cars to transport them back home they regaled each other with stories of the children’s antics, compared mangos given as presents, and sympathized over difficult respondents.

While the interview day was coming to an end the lab was working at full gear.  According to Mia, the A/C was broken in the lab causing the vacuum pumps to keep overheating.  Overheating pumps plus very turbid samples meant that the filtering step took a lot longer than expected.  The lab staff seemed a little overwhelmed by the volume of work to be completed and are only now starting to realize the magnitude of the daily workload that will be coming in when the survey officially launches.

In summary, the enumerators are gaining confidence.  We are learning more about what is feasible and the lab staff is getting better at all the cool stuff they get to do while wearing their impressive white lab coats and funny white lab shoes…

Posted by: 1200households | January 31, 2010

Debriefing Pre-test #1 and Bidding Adieu to Emily and Jenna

As I sit to recount the events of this past week, Monday seems so long ago…  Time has a funny way of never imparting a standard feeling of passage when in a foreign place and when working so hard!

We ended last week with a pre-test on Friday.  Review of the lessons learned consumed most of Monday morning.  Last Friday was the first time the survey and the enumerators were put to the test and there were a lot of things to improve for next time!  First and foremost we encouraged them to work together in their partner teams.  Only one enumerator is holding the PDA and asking the questions.  However, that does not mean the other one is off the hook.  Au contraire… the other enumerator needs to be anticipating what is coming next, preparing the materials and working to create a cooperative relationship with the respondent and her children.  The enumerators also need practice with hand sampling.  It just takes time and repetition to know how to properly take a hand wash sample.

While in the morning we gave a presentation about these points, in the afternoon we worked with each enumerator one-on-one to go through the data they collected and discuss any questions we might have about an unusual entry.  This “data review” will happen everyday.  People make mistakes all the time.  Entering 145 instead of 14.5 can happen to even the best enumerator.  But when we review the data and see a mid-upper arm measurement of 145, we know there is a problem and we talk with the enumerator to find out what happened.  While this data review took all afternoon, it will likely take less and less time as the enumerators become better and better at what they are doing.

Monday evening the team met for refreshments on the balcony of the Casa Blanca as a send off for both Emily and Jenna who were leaving on Tuesday.  It was hard to believe over two weeks had passed to quickly.  But alas the time had come and we shared one last meal of vegetable rice with these two wonderful team members whose presence and perseverance will be dearly missed.

Emily did pick up her painting before she left and she graciously posed for a photo with her masterpiece!

Emily's painting!

Tuesday consisted of more practice interviews and a GPS tutorial.  Since the pre-test Jenna, Amy and Maggie had been very busy making improvements to the survey.  While Emily cut out of town at 10am, Jenna stayed until mid-day.  Jenna’s time had been so occupied with working on the project she had no time to shop for gifts to bring back.  Knowing this, the team picked up a few pieces of beautiful colored fabric as a send off present for Jenna.  She was so excited to get them!  As she said good-bye to the enumerators, one in particular said he was going to cry to see her go.  Funny enough, as she left ADEM to walk to her hotel where the taxi would pick her up the enumerators asked in unbelief if she was walking to Dar!?  We explained she was just walking to the hotel…

Tuesday afternoon had an excitement of its own as the enumerators prepared for the second pre-test set for the following day, Wednesday.  This time, we would be without Jenna our fearless leader… how would things turn out?  You’ll have to read on to find out!

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