Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Investours Dar es Salaam

At the tail end of our trip awaiting a plane back to Amsterdam from Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, we had a thought provoking experience: Investours. A tourism concept developed in Harvard by some students, that allows visitors to Dar es Salaam (translated House of Peace) to experience the business world in the local small business sector of the country. A group of tourists about our size (between 4 and 8 people) pay Investours the tour cost, in our case  US $200. That money is then given as a loan to a qualifying business applicant interest free to be repaid within 3 months. When repaid the lending bank gets 30% and Investours gets 70% for their efforts. So here you have it in a nutshell.

We spent a day being driven around the poorer outskirts of Dar, as they call it in the local vernacular. Dar is not the prettiest town on earth, a sprawling shanty-town of 3.5 million youngsters. Tanzania has a population of 43 million people with a median age of 18 and an average life expectancy of 53 years. Of course you see old people, but the general feel is: a lot of youngsters on motorbikes or hanging from buses making the city a cacophony of sounds.

We were picked up around 10am from our liquor free Muslim hotel (although it did not stop us from imbibing and that would be another story) by Peter the only employee of Investours and driven in his minibus to the "office" on the outskirts of town. The office was a one room concrete shell with a connecting door space with the aligned community bank, also a one room space on a dirt paved road in the middle of corrugated roofed "shops and other offices" and open air markets.
The neighbor was a bridal center with a seemingly constant flow of business.
Peter gave us a slide show presentation explaining their mission in a very poor part of this world and introduced us to the two candidate profiles that we were to consider for the loan to be awarded at the end of the day.

In Tanzania36% live under the poverty line

We first visited a forty plus year old divorcee with a cripple daughter in her twenties on the stoop of her one room home. Inside one could hear the voices of little children. She and her daughter produced bed covers and pillows for local hotels. The word "hotel" is a misnomer for lodging places in these shanty towns, allowing guests for a few pennies a bed, as it was in Europe's medieval times. The woman embroidered and stitched the cloth on order. She needed to outsource the print outline on the material and the intricate stitching as she had no equipment to do that herself. This expense was cutting into her profit margin. The loan would allow her to buy a second hand Singer sewing machine that would eliminate the outsourcing of the picture stitching of animals and local scenes she had on her products. Her daughter made for  daily sales a number of little bags of plantain chips, which they fried in oil slightly salted and sold on the road side. We asked them many questions on her ability to use the potentially "new" Singer and gave them suggestions on maybe experimenting with different chip flavors.

From there we went to an other part of this sprawling shed city, but had first lunch in a local restaurant. You will enjoy the  pictures of the food we washed away with beer.

The second candidate we visited was a tailor. It seems to be cheaper to have your dress tailored to spec, than to go to a store and buy off the rack. Our tailor was a young man in his thirties, who wore a great suit he made himself, showing us he knew his trade. But a business man he was not. His place was a mess, without a name on the front door to advertise his trade, working in a dirty environment with rigged electrical wiring hanging suspended from the ceiling and a poster on the wall for the lady clients to make their selection from.

His loan request was to buy more rolls of cloth, so his lady clients would have more material to select from. He said that his selection was too limited, which resulted in clients bringing their own material, which cut into his profit margin. We found during the interview that $200 would only buy him 3 more bolts of cloth, as the distributor only sold their stock in those larger units. We also noticed that his professional pair of scissors had one tip missing (apparently broken off) and the pin that holds the two blades together had been re-welded clumsily, which resulted in a quarter inch spacing between the blades. After the group picture we left for our hotel to discuss our mission: who to award the loan to.

While enjoying our wine and beer we decided to award the loan to the lady entrepreneur. But to help out the tailor in improving his business environment, we donated money for paint to spruce up his shop  and provide signage for his business as well as buying him a new set of scissors so he could properly ply his trade. The total price of our "generosity" was a mere $70. We asked Peter to buy the tailor our gifts.
I think that it is appropriate to realize at the onset of a new year, while still in the season of musings, how wealthy all of us are, and privileged we are, to have been born in our respective countries.
A Happy 2013

Friday, December 21, 2012

safari pictures

 Here is the Safari blog many of you have waited for.
 There is no real good way to give you the essence of what we experienced during our safari. We saw so many things crammed into a mere 12 days that defy description: smells, flavors, sights and sounds of a nation dipped in poverty while also filled with beauty beyond belief.
 A country in which I personally spent quite some time writing my thesis more than fourty years ago. However in those days I never experienced the beauty of nature that one is bombarded with when touring, incapsulated in a National park, seemingly far away from a country filled with people who are struggling to provide a living for those they love.
 We were driving around amidst a beauty of pure Eden with almost no people, but filled with a spectecular array of wildlife roaming free, giving us the spectators a feeling of being lost in a vastness that I really can not put into words.
 Thus I have decided to limit my wordiness and let you in silence view a selection of our pictures.
We enjoyed 2 visits to villages: first a Masai village inside the Masai Mara in Kenya, later a fishing village on Lake Victoria in Tanzania. It is amazing that both of them were places where people live and work, as shown in the pictures, even in this day and age. 
The six of us were priviliged to visit these villages by ourselves with a local guide, allowing us to see their way of life without the varnish of tourism.
We also enjoyed a balloon trip which gave us the extra dimension of viewing the plains from above.
The breakfast following that balloon experience, under one of the very few trees in the Serengeti, was a once in a lifetime happening.
We lived in luxurious tent camps and lodges, we had our moments of being stuck in the mud and our picnics in the open field knowing that animals were all around of us.
We will talk about this for years to come
but for now
Enjoy the picture show.