Only two three weeks have passed since my last blog post but there are so many things happening that I would be able to write a complete blog post about every day. However, I will confine myself to the highlights. Highlights of important achievements and highlights of absurd situations (from our western point of view).
As said before, while my colleague Felicia is doing a great job in Kampala, I myself am based in the countryside, around Masaka town. After an initial phase of establishing contacts with rural groups my last two weeks have been filled with giving actual workshops. Armed with poster paper, colored markers, A4 printed pictures and if course a sachet of Yoba bacteria I’m ready to rumble. I might travel for several hours by ‘shared taxi’ (the 4 persons cars which manages to fit 10 people, and which might waits for 2 hours to fill up before it departs) and on the back of the omnipresent bodabodas (motorbikes) to reach my destination. If we agreed on 10 o’clock (sharp! they tell me), I might arrive at 11 and still find nobody. If possible, I try to arrange a classroom in the local school, where I can prepare myself and the blackboard, and wait till 12 or 13 o’clock for the people to show up and start the training.
Since the course takes two days, I have to sleep over if I’m in distant places. This can be either in a local guesthouse (most self-respecting villages have one) for 3 Euros per night or if I’m lucky I’m invited with a local family, which is more interesting. In both cases the toilet is a hole in the ground and the shower is a jerry can of water in your room which you carry to the ‘shower-room’ and poor over yourself. But in general it makes me feel satisfied to keep my dignity under the more challenging and labor intensive circumstances. To keep myself clean without shower, wash my clothes by hand, cook food fresh from the land with a bad knife, no cutting board and one stove. As a real food technologist I have already learned how to cook all the local dishes, and I love the food around here.
In my workshops I mostly find very attentive and interested listeners, young and old. Except for a certain village where the local tribe has a tradition of solely cattle farming, feeding completely on milk, and little education. The farmers were told to send their wives to my workshop. Slowly by slowly 15 very big ladies entered, of which none seemed to speak a word English (luckily I had come with somebody to translate me), some could not write their own name on the attendance list, and they did not show any interaction during the entire workshop. I was informed about the cause of the size of those ladies: when they are married, they are being hold inside for 6 months. During these 6 months only jerrycans and jerrycans of milk are brought to the hut until the women become so big that they have difficulties moving, which is supposed to be very beautiful. Those 6 months without any exercise for both body and mind might also explain their passive attitude. Still, it was fun to see how the woman became more lively when the male translator had left, how they started joking with me about my figure, even touching my belly and breasts and make me touch theirs, probably to say that they should have been soft like theirs.
On days that I’m not ‘in the field’ I sit in the one-room office of the ‘East Africa Dairy Development’ (EADD) project. Since my two EADD colleagues actually spend most of their time at their headquarters in Kampala, I greatly enjoy myself with John, the security guard. If I enter the office, he starts displaying boiled water, teabags and instant coffee on my desk. If he has something to eat (a sweet potato he saved from his dinner last night), he shares it. It means however also that I have to bring lunch for two, since I cannot just eat my own food, and John does not have his own lunch.
Again I can fill a full blog post about John and all the subjects we have funny conversations about and all the tricks he teaches me about local live, cooking, where to pick edible green leaves (kind of spinach) and how to get free or cheap phone minutes. On my turn I print puzzles for him (he has a boring job) or let him use my laptop when I go out for a moment. But let me outline one conversation I had with him, which is representative of how most (uneducated) Ugandans think about marrying and having kids. John told me he had two kids, but he wanted to ‘add another wife’ and ‘produce maybe around ten kids’. At first it was shocking for me to hear people talking about ‘producing kids’ but that is the normal and only term they have for it here, and by now I use the word myself. So I told John: ‘now what about just focusing on your two kids and give them good education. Two kids with good jobs can take better care of you then 10 uneducated and unemployed kids’. ‘No’ John replied me, ‘getting a job is a matter of having good friends, not of having good education. If I have 10 kids, there is a higher change some of them will have the good friends and get a job.’ ‘But John, when this one kid has to take care of all the others, little money is left for each. On top of that, the more kids everyone produces, the higher the unemployment rate in Uganda becomes.’ John was not convinced.
But let me conclude this blogpost with the two biggest successes that have been achieved in spreading the Yoba yoghurt bacteria in Masaka region. First of all there is Dovek, a group of 5 guys of around 25 years old, who after high school worked for a short period in a big yoghurt company, but then decided that they could also start their own business. Currently they are producing 600 l/week but they regularly faced some challenges and quality issues. The Yoba production process and the convenience of the Yoba bacteria packages was a great improvement to them, and now we happily work together to make their business prosper.
Secondly there is a small dairy cooperative, Kalungu, which does not possess a milk cooler, and therefore is only able to buy small quantities of milk from the surrounding farmers. Yoghurt production is a great opportunity for them to purchase more milk and process it into an added-value product. A small and greatly interactive workshop was being held with 8 very friendly, interested and hospitable cooperative members. The second day we visited 10 local small shops/kiosks in the village and all of them were willing put our product (which is packaged in sandwich bags, a common way to also package milk, cooking oil or homemade juices/soda’s) in their fridge and display our handmade promotion posters. The yoghurt was sold within no time, and the cooperative has ordered more bacteria cultures now to take off their own yoghurt business.
Let me stop this elaborate blog post here for now. Again, thank you very much for your interest in Yoba and my work as project leader. I will keep you updated about my activities.