final musings

When I started blogging again this summer and found myself liking it much more than before I had kind of hoped to continue this blog throughout this year – but as the year gets underway and I find so little time to blog I am unsure how much I’ll actually get up.  So, for now, let me put up so final thoughts on the summer.

I started off the summer with four goals.  First, I wanted to back in southern Africa, but somewhere other than Zambia.  Second, I wanted to be working on a project that looked at small business development and the viability of that as a development tool.  Third, I wanted to be working with women and thinking about how I might be able to include working on gender in my idea for what to write for my SYPA (second year policy analysis – our thesis, of sorts).  Fourth, I was interested in program evaluation and thought it might be useful to hone my skills in surveying and statistical analysis.

It’s a little amazing to me how much I was able to accomplish all of those things this summer.  In listening to different classmates who had varied experiences I can’t help but be thankful to WAPPP and the funding they were able to offer and to Technoserve and the right project they had at the right time.

I loved the chance to get to explore new parts of southern Africa, a new organization, a new language, a new project and it also really helped me think concretely about what position/s I may want to be in after graduation.

Thanks for reading this and about my adventures all summer and I’ll do my best this fall to figure if/how to continue this strange adventure in my (very) public musings!


Back up North

I spent a couple more days this week up north. We flew up Monday morning and went out west of where we were before. The terrain got hillier and the mountains jutted into the sky. It was beautiful and a town that felt a bit like Mpika to me – though probably a bit sleepier. After two days there we went back to the intervention villages where we did the survey earlier.

This time I was doing two things.

First, I was trying to continue the work on gender that I did earlier – trying to get a better sense in all of these areas about what the “gender baseline” is for the qualitative survey. What are the gender dynamics? What roles do men and women play? What might change as employment for formal companies moves into these areas? It’s always hard for me to quite figure out what this means when I have so little time. I mean trying to get a sense of what women think their role is and their space in the village is when you kind of flit in and out doesn’t make much sense to me. It all made me appreciate my Peace Corps experience a bit more (which I’ll add some thoughts on at the end) because you were there long enough to just OBSERVE.

Second, I was working with two other TNS women (a full time employee and another VolCon) to do some initial work on a project that is looking to develop a model for women owned maize mills. We met with a couple women mill owners (and some men) and then also had conversations with villagers about their mill use – how often they go, how far they walk, what they pay, how much they carry with them. It was interesting to realize really how simple these mills really are. They basically only mill, they don’t sell anything else, they all charge moreorless the same price, people don’t have preferences of one mill over another except if it’s close and/or functioning… a pretty simple preference!

Anyway, it was interesting to be back out in the villages as always. Though, I really wish I could communicate better. I was finding it hard to concentrate and focus on the questions on the last day because there was really no one who spoke Portuguese even so there was a lot of dependence on our translator and a lot of him explaining things in length. By that point he had a pretty good sense what we were looking for and we didn’t need the back and forths as much. Though it also just made it hard to really CONNECT with people and really delve into the nuances.

A professor in college once said to me that he thought Peace Corps helped development workers gain empathy for the people they work with. This seemed true to me as the two other people I worked with just had a more limited view of the villages and the interactions between people and how relationships get set up. They, at the same time, have a much more practical experience in business and finance so I think we need each other! Anyway, it just struck me how much you just need to sit in one of these towns for a while if you’re going to come up with a successful model. You need to understand who is an entrepreneur and why they have or have not been successful. You need to understand community dynamics, and language, and the market.

Peace Corps is so well suited to a lot of that because you have time and space to process all of that and to understand the people’s challenges and motivations who you are working with because you’ve taken the time to really listen and watch them. I wish there was more of that kind of work in development – though there aren’t that many people who have the patience to sit and watch and not have running water and electricity!

To add to feeling excited about Peace Corps again I met my first Mozambican PCVs yesterday. They were flying down from the north for a conference here in the south! Definitely a luxury that didn’t exist in Zambia! Though also one that is pretty needed here. It’d probably take three days on a miserable (and unsafe) bus to get down to Maputo from the north.

All of those positives said about Peace Corps, as I watched these PCVs here I kind of was reminded about how ridiculous the whole endeavor is – that it would probably be a bit better if Peace Corps DID link volunteers up with organizations so that there was some end goal, and some continuity to their projects. It’s nice to have the independence to process your work and define your work, but you really get so little DONE. It’s a constant tension in my mind of which should win out – process or accomplishments.

This was kind of a scattered little entry – hope it makes some sense! I leave Maputo, crazily, on Sunday. Then I have a night in SA, a week back in Zambia, and then it’s home a week from Sunday! I can’t believe the summer is almost over and I will try to get a couple more concluding thoughts up here before I head back to school.  I may or may not continue this blog into the school year.  I’d kind of like the chance to write some more and process.  But I also feel like I should maybe be realistic in my head – I probably won’t have much time to force myself to write for fun!

Data Entry and Cleaning

I got back from White River to Tom, who spent the week (willingly I will add!) with the data enterers trying to get all the info from the surveys into excel spreadsheets.  There were a couple errors on our part and then many errors on the part of the data collectors and enterers that made this whole process take that week and the better part of the next week and a half to get done to our satisfaction.

First, we had told the data collectors to interview the women (the wife) in the house.  This was done because we wanted to track the genders but more importantly because women tend to know more about prices and how much items that the house needs to buy actually cost.  She also tends to have a good sense of the amount of money coming in – though clearly not an perfect sense because it’s possible that the couple hides things from each other.

Needless to say the data collectors did NOT interview women – which I discovered after noticing that the ages and education levels seemed inconsistent for the wife to be the one answering.  I believed, probably accurately, that the wife would usually be younger than the husband and we were saying consistently that the person answering was older.  This also does not, unfortunately, mean that they only interviewed the husbands because 1) women could be older sometimes and 2) sometimes we were seeing younger respondents.  Anyway, it meant that we were going to have a hard time disaggregating along gender lines and we were mad at ourselves for not asking a clear question “what gender are you?” and also for not asking if interviewing the wives would be difficult for the ennumerators… maybe saying it for the 101st time would have helped?  Either way, it means the data is still useful but that we can’t aggregate along gender.
Anyway, that, some formatting errors, and some data enterer errors meant that Tom and I spent the next week going through groups of 25-40 surveys (as many as I could view on my computer screen at one time) looking for mistakes and inconsistencies and then going back to the actual documents to check.  Many were data collector mistakes, many were data enterer mistakes, and some were our own formatting mistakes that led to confusion on everyone’s part.  We DO have them clean now and in a STATA file and will begin the analysis next week.  Once we have populations of the areas so that we can weight the data from the different sites appropriately and the patterns will mean more.  We’ll both be gone from Mozambique by the time we get our final stuff to TNS but luckily it’s stuff easily done from afar.

Capulana Dolls

One of the most interesting presentations for me at the workshop (though it had little to do with forestry!) was by a Mozambican woman who has spent a lot of time researching capulanas – the cloth that Mozambican women wear around their waists, on their heads, to carry babies and more – and has started to design dolls that are clothed in the traditional patterns and layers. The dolls were incredible – and I’m hoping to go see some of the ones she sells this week – and it was so much fun to see them in all these African colors and cloths. It seems like such a beautiful and creative way to memoralize a tradition and a culture. Suzert, the designer and researcher, has a dream, I think, to make a museum dedicated to the capulana, which would explain the history, the different regional patterns and traditions, how they’re worn, which are worn at which times etc. I think it would be fascinating to see that and to learn more about the history of the capulana. It didn’t have all that much to do with forestry – but I loved it!

White River Workshop

It’s been a while since I got a real update up here because it’s been a busy couple weeks.

I was in Nelspruit, in South Africa, two weeks ago for the opening workshop and launch of the agro-forestry project. The workshop included all sorts of stakeholders – forestry company managers, government officials, agriculture and environment experts, people who work with TNS or other NGOs affiliated with the project, someone from USDA (where the funding is coming from), a gender consultant, tourism people… you can start to sense how many components this project is aiming to touch and also how broad the objectives are right. I guess it helps to give a better sense of how much of a need there is to really get going.

The workshop had the goal of bringing of these stakeholders together to begin to communicate and also to start to share our different visions of what a successful forestry industry project would look like in 20 years. Now, TNS does not plan to be managing this project for 20 years – but in 20 years, what do we WANT these communities to look like? The facilitator pointed out that we started by saying “A successful forestry industry will be _____ in 2030” and when we finished we were saying “Poverty will be lessened and community development will be further along in 2030 by a successful forestry industry.” He commented that it was interesting that we started off with the forestry industry as the objective and ended with development as the objective and forestry the means. This seems to make perfect sense to me though I do think it was worthwhile to facilitate that process and show how all of our thinking shapes this project. Also it’s always worthwhile to be clear about what we all think development means!

Generally the workshop was interesting but also the mixture of Portuguese and English was definitely a challenge for me. There was simultaneous translation available but when we were all moving around it wasn’t really easy to get to a pair of headphones. Anyway, it just meant that there were many more people whose names I didn’t quite catch or their positions… Though it was still very interesting to both hear people’s perspectives and also watch the different ways people present them!

At the end of the week we spent the afternoon at Kruger Park. Since many of forestry areas will also be in parts of the country that are protected as National Parks the goal was for people to see how a successful park is run and managed and then also to have some time in the park with animals. It was amazing. We were more rushed than the times I was in parks in Zambia – but I added rhino (white, I think) and cheetah to my list! The cheetah were two young ones just standing in the middle of the road with a little traffic jam of vehicles behind them. It was pretty incredible. Every time I’m in one of these game parks I’m blown away again by how amazing it is to be around these wild animals.

a couple of mental images

Sorry it’s been so long since I put up an update – I’ll try to get a real one up shortly.  But until then, a couple images I have in my mind from the last three weeks.

1)  A woodshop outside Kruger National Park with a sign that said “Coffins Sold Here.”

2) A woman tending to her garden early as the sun got warm in the morning on Inhaca Island while talking on her cellphone.

3) A little American boy and a little Swazi boy on the ferry eyeing each other as they tried to figure out if they could share their toys with each for the next two hours of the ride.

4) Two cheetahs sauntering down the road in front of a traffic jam of safari vehicles at Kruger.  They must have been thinking “Why do these humans insist on driving down this road right now?”  Apparently there are 200 cheetahs in the park – so we calculated that we saw 1% of them that day.

5)  The smiles on the faces of two little boys as we gave them the chips we weren’t going to eat the the Maputo Fish Market.

6) A man selling a toy helicopter raising it above the bushes in front of a fancy beach front hotel.  We couldn’t see his hand so it looked like it was hovering!

pics from the north

pics from the villages and roads.  the pics from in the car on the paved road are national road 1 – which goes from maputo up to the tanzania border.  the pics from the car on the upaved, dirt road are national road 8 – which is the road out to the areas we’re working in and continues from nampula city out to the malawi border.

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