Sunday, July 31, 2011
My time with the seed lab was over but not the work. USAID volunteers prepare a detailed trip report to document their experience and observations. Some of it could have been written during the weeks with the lab. However, as training outcomes and future recommendations are a large chunk, I waited to provide the most comprehensive information. This probably sounds arrogant, but the mixture of pride and relief at finishing that slog of writing (and realizing what we had been able to accomplish) felt almost akin to turning in my graduate school thesis.
The bumpy trip back to Beira was the first time I had really been on the roads late. It was easier to understand a news piece I had seen where a single highway accident had claimed the lives of 20 people. Chapas (the local transportation) are packed tightly, bicycles and pedestrians do not keep to the shoulder (people drive on the left), and lights on vehicles or streets are pretty rare. Apparently, the general lack of bicycles I had wondered about in Chimoio were a result of road checks discouraging them because of the amount of accidents they caused. And oh, yeah, we also passed a massive wildfire in the bush, which in the States, would have had camera crews swarming, did not even register a comment from my companions in the truck!
My last morning in Mozambique was spent finishing paperwork at the CNFA office in Beira. It was a quick trip to the bank to exchange Meticais for euros and off to the airport. No one in security questioned the bottle of water in my bag, but careful examination of the two bottles of piri-piri sauce was needed. It was probably strange for them to think that something as common as salt in Mozambique would be a souvenir.
Joburg was freezing again, even armed with my coat from the Chimoio market. I did get a nice surprise (and the supreme envy of my aero-engineer-by-training dad) when I got to board my first A380. There were two jet bridges to board the two floors, so those in first and business classes did not have to mix with the riff raff of steerage, er, I mean, economy. Inside it did not look too much different, except the overhead storage bins were impressively deep, and the sides of the plane were so concave that you got a fishbowl effect with the window. Unfortunately, these observations were not detailed enough for the grilling from my Dad, who even suggested I should have lifted a safety card from the seat pocket in front of me for a souvenir!
Friday, July 29, 2011
In its heyday, Gorongosa National Park was the premiere safari destination in Africa. Civil war and poaching caused devastating losses in the wildlife and left the 5000+ sq km (~ 2000 sq miles) riddled with landmines. In recent years, the Carr Foundation and the government - along with other partners, like USAID also - have been working to rebuild the infrastructure and repopulate the wildlife as Africa's largest restoration project.
The public camp was fully booked for several weeks, but luckily, I squeezed into a spot with Explore Gorongosa, the first private venture. I found out why when I arrived. National Geographic was shooting a follow-up on the park after their first film, Africa's Lost Eden (see the link below for the trailer).
While I didn't a glimpse of E.O., it was a great consolation to see some equally rare creatures! With the short time frame, our game drives were so lucky that I was seriously starting to doubt the guide's claims that some animals were difficult to find. Elephants there are particularly skittish since their interactions with humans have been through the violence of war or unrestricted hunting. We sat and watched elephants twice... even though the previous guests had gone almost a week looking for just one! Even the night viewing was good. A mother lioness and her three offspring were lounging with their bellies full at Casa dos On a walk, I got props for spotting a hefty Pel's Fishing Owl, apparently quite a feather in the cap for many serious birders. On my final drive, we came across a herd of buffalo, which even the guide hadn't seen since he had started working there.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
With most of the observations and customer interviews over, the real work began. The lab makes sure that farmers, processers, or retailers know that the seed sold in this region of Mozambique is what the label says it is. For example, the lab does testing to estimate how the seeds from a specific lot or field would germinate and produce healthy seedlings. Here are some of the things I did:
Made suggestions to improve the consistency and efficiency of their testing
Defined how each step should be done with the resources available - even down to how many times the equipment needed to be cleaned and with what
Checked that the testing adhered to - or at least, moved closer to - the international accreditation standards
Prepared documents so the lab could improve record-keeping
Organized a chain of command to monitor the steps, handle problems, and conduct internal audits
Conducted training for all the above
...and repeat. For pretty much every regular thing the lab does. Even mundane tasks like how you should handle soil. If it seems like a lot of paper shuffling, it's because the long-term goal of international accreditation requires a paper trail closer to Law & Order or CSI's chain of custody for forensic evidence.
It was a marathon of preparing training materials, working with the translator to get them into Portuguese, doing the actual training, and finishing any revisions. It didn't help that each morning, the rooster outside my room insisted that I get out of bed by 4:00 am. The training schedule became even more intense due to some final interviews with a customer and an unexpected tragedy.
A relative of the senior analyst died suddenly. Mozambicans really respect the time for mourning. Typically, a week of funeral leave is expected with up to a month or two off if the distance is far. Everyone who knows the deceased or even distant relatives go to offer their condolences. Funerals were not an uncommon site in Chimoio. I passed processions (a few open bed trucks with standing room only and a white cross at the head) for 4 different ones just going to and from the lab. It is telling that, hearing a relative of mine died recently at 51, the people in the lab considered it a ripe old age.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
My first full week I was observing the lab's practices, learning about their current protocols, and generally inventorying their current situation and resources. They have been very patient with my one-on-one interrogations, which could be nerve-wracking without knowing what to expect. Later in the week, we met with some of their customers (seed companies, retailers, and growers/producers) to interview them and get feedback about the lab's services.
The lab is actually located on the grounds of one of its customers. Originally part of SEMOC (Sementes de Moçambique, the only seed company in Mozambique before 1999), the lab now operates under the Ministry of Agriculture. The perks of being at the site were SEMOC letting us tour the processing/conditioning plant (I was told over a handful of seed, “Here, you can smell the insecticide [seed treatment]!”) and use of the canteen.
The lady in the semi-outdoor kitchen prepares a couple of options everyday. Notable dishes were Zambezi-style chicken in a peanut and coconut sauce and a whole, fried mackerel with a side of pinto bean-kale stew. Accompaniments are a huge pile of rice or giant lump of nsima, the southern African version of … grits! Yes, in various states of congealment, this is a major staple in the diet. According to the translator, Mozambicans prefer a more refined version compared to more “grit”-like Zimbabwean style. It seems to go pretty well with the piri-piri sauce and stays steaming hot, an added bonus when dining al fresco on a cool day.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Leaving the heat and humidity of Barcelona's summer, a southern hemisphere winter smacked me full in the face upon arrival in Johannesburg (South Africa) airport. At a nippy 34F/1C, other passengers in this way-station were bundled in blankets and an abundance of fleece. I watched a better prepared bulky woman shrink before my eyes as she shed layer after layer going through security. If you came ill-equipped, the airport had a high-end outdoor clothing and shoe company with stacks of floppy hats and zip-off trousers for those headed on safari. Other stores, like a butcher selling an assortment of bush meat jerky and a home decor shop where you could buy a real zebra skin rug, were easy reminders you were now really in Africa.