Still Zany After All These Years

Yesterday marked three years in Tanzany.

Worried that I’m beginning to lose my eye for the craziness around me. Routinely make pedestrians jump out of the way when I drive on the side of the road on the way to school in the morning. Dinner table conversation doesn’t even stop when the power goes out and the house is pitch black. Handling large quantities of cash no longer disturbs me. In fact, just by eyeballing it I can usually pull exactly TZS 100,000 (about $60) out of stack of bills.

In the past week, I actually had a serious debate with a friend about whether a three-day sailing trip up the coast, over to Zanzibar and back really constituted a sufficiently exotic experience to justify using holiday time for it.

I no longer find the Indian Ocean freakishly warm. Rather, the Pacific Ocean seems intolerably cold. How do people surf in that? I mean even with a wet suit…

As we pass three years, we’re not sure how much longer we will be here. The COPOTUS is about to leave the party in June. We would like to stay for another year, but will need to find some different work arrangements to make that possible because this place is expensive!

So, not sure how much longer this blog will go on, either because we leave or because the zaniness begins to seem normal. But as long as I keep noticing stuff like this, I’ll keep posting it.

Christmas Tree, The Fairway Hotel, Kampla Uganda

Christmas Tree, The Fairway Hotel, Kampla Uganda

What is Imarisha?

Below is the project description for the project Colleen is chief of party for.  You need to speak NGOish to understand it.

For the rest of us, let’s just say it’s trying to help improve the lives of people with AIDS and leave it at that.


Started in February 2011, the IMARISHA Project implemented by DAI is an ambitious five year USAID and PEPFAR-funded program that improves the overall effectiveness of existing and new economic strengthening activities undertaken by PEPFAR OVC and HBC implementing partners in Tanzania. Operating in seven regions — Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Dodoma, Mbeya, Iringa, Shinyanga and Mwanza — IMARISHA’s goal is to strengthen sustainable economic livelihoods programming, build stronger linkages and alliances, pilot new innovations, enhance the evidence base and work with the Government of Tanzania to improve their internal coordination and capacity across health and economic disciplines. 

 IMARISHA will also focus on demystifying economic strengthening terminology and concepts used in other areas of sustainable livelihoods to forge a common language between the health and economic strengthening communities, leading to more effective programming, more innovation, smarter partnerships, more appropriate services, and common set of indicators for impact measurement.


Not as Fun a Job as it Sounds

One of the quaint oddities of the development aid business is the industry’s dogmatic adherence to specific titles.  These titles are often essentially “terms of art” – meaningless to people outside the industry but very specific to people who are in it.

That’s why many of our friends who are not in the aid business have asked me what Colleen’s job is here.  It’s understandable – her job title is “Chief of Party.”  Sounds fun — kind of like a sorority social chair, right?

If only. 

The official goal of her project is to help the government of Tanzania strengthen the economic livelihoods of people with AIDS.  Colleen’s official role is to be the director of the project. 

Her real challenge is trying to get things done in an environment that is out to stop things from happening.  I’d describe her real role as 25% making sure that people do the things that they said they would do, 25% preventing people from stealing stuff, 25% HR manager, and 25% babysitter.

Her list of accomplishments thus far sounds like straightforward business start up tasks.  Since coming to Tanzany at the end of January, she found an office, got DAI incorporated in the country, hired staff, set up arrangements with some key vendors, created a work plan, and kept her client updated on the project’s progress.

Here are some of realities what it took to make that happen:

  •  A six-week “Battle of the Generator” to get a backup power source installed. Highlights included: approved subcontractors building a platform that was not to code (then getting them to fix it); the generator company sales guy pulling a bait and switch with unexpected “service fees” (then getting the management to remove them); and, the coup de gras, the generator company wiring the wrong floor of the building (then getting them to fix it).
  • Withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash from ATMs in $200 increments to for payroll, rent, vendors, etc. and then carrying that cash around town to pay people.
  • Finding recruits who negotiate compensation packages, accept positions, participate as guests at staff retreats and then back out the day before they are supposed to start.  And then starting all over again.
  • Dealing with a corporate bank that behaves as if they are doing you a favor by granting you a bank account, and then does not process signature approvals for anyone else to sign on the account.
  • Having a staff member die while she was on vacation to visit our new niece in California.  She spent several days sorting out the benefits with conflicting parties in Washington DC and Dar-es-Salaam.  (That’s a 10-hour time difference.)
  • Dealing with a rental car company that supplies cars with batteries that keep dying – four in three weeks!

I’m sure I’m forgetting other things, but those are the highlights.

So, the takeaway lesson I have learned from all this is that the next time someone wants you to be the head of some kind of “party,” make sure to ask a lot of questions about just what kind of party it is that you’ll be leading.  It’s probably not what you have in mind.