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An August Update

It’s been an eventful week around here.  I arrived back in Mpongwe Wednesday to lend support to all of the agents here that are involved with the prepaid vouchers.  I’ve been doing a little bit of re-training, lots of marketing, and talking to as many farmers as possible, to let them know about the vouchers.

My friend Cholwe holding the flyer I designed

Me: "smile!!!!!" Her: "But I don't like to smile for snaps!"

Everyone has been extremely receptive about the vouchers.  They love the idea of getting a discount on their maize seed if they purchase early.  So why is it Sunday, August 14 and we haven’t yet sold a voucher, after launching Thursday then?  Well the farmers have been selling their maize to the FRA but haven’t yet been paid.  This has been a large problem in the past, and is something they have to deal with year after year: waiting for payment.  This year though, is an election year, so they are hoping to be paid much sooner.  The government cannot pay out as late as they normally would because they want to be re-elected.  So, farmers are hoping to get paid this coming week.  Do you know what that means? Vouchers galore!

Rupiah Banda supporters parading through town

I have video too, so you can hear them sing! Unfortunately though, my internet is not good enough to upload it!

They love the vouchers!

Flyers and vouchers! Excited to sell!

The farmers love the vouchers because they are getting their maize seed at a reduced price.  The stockists love the vouchers because they are getting their commission spread out, rather than the bulk of it being in October and November.  MRI Seed loves the vouchers because it will make reconciliation time easier.

A group of farmers with the flyer and learning about the prepaid vouchers. They promise they will return once they have received their money from the FRA!

I’m only in Mpongwe until Wednesday of this week, and I’m really hoping that we sell our first voucher before then, because I would love to be there to witness it (and take photos!).  I’m going to go to the FRA shed where more farmers are selling their maize crop to talk to them and inform them of the voucher program.  I want to reach as many farmers as possible, because I really believe in the success of the prepaid vouchers.

The sun setting in Mpongwe

As far as life goes in Mpongwe, it’s pretty great.  I’ve been staying in a guesthouse which has been both nice and lonely.  It’s nice to have my own bathroom and shower, but after I arrive back in the evening I get a little lonely.  I’m used to being in Anna’s flat in Lusaka with a lot of people.  I love my own space though, so it’s pretty relaxing.  Except, yesterday I had A MOUSE come into my room!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Anyone who knows me even a little bit will know that I am ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of mice!! I’ve had a recurring nightmare about them for years now. Years!!!!!!!

This is how I keep the mouse yet... Towel on the outside, chitenge on the inside, followed by everything I can find that is slightly heavy in my room.

I have found a few tailors in Mpongwe, and they’ve been quite good (don’t tell my mom or dad, but I’ve had even more clothes made!).  One tailor I met even speaks French, so Saturday afternoon after all the shops closed and I was done work for the day I sat with him and we spoke to each other in French for a long while.  He is full of wisdom – and I must admit it’s pretty nice to be able to have a conversation with someone who isn’t hitting on me.

My French-speaking tailor and I

That brings me to my next topic: marriage proposals, lewd comments, and even more outrageous actions from men!  Two weeks ago was the National Agriculture Show in Lusaka.  In my last post you’ll see that I was looking forward to attending it.  Well, I didn’t.  Why?  Well, Stephanie, Spencer and I stepped off the minibus and immediately we were swarmed by men.  I stepped off last and a drunken man hugged me, and I had to push him off.  Then that same man grabbed Stephanie – Spencer witnessed this time and had to work to get the guy off.  Then he tried to take Spencer’s sunglasses off his face, and at the same time had his hands in Spencer’s pockets.  People were attempting to get in our bags and we were not feeling like it was very safe.  As Spencer had his arms stretched trying to keep this guy away, there was a man who came up to me, grabbed my chest, squeezed, and said “nice size!”   I was not only mortified and felt degraded, but I was extremely pissed off as well. Needless to say, we didn’t enter the show because we just did not feel safe.

As white women in Zambia, we always have men grabbing at our arms and hands and get ridiculous comments that depending on our moods either piss us off or make us laugh.  These comments (that are daily, I assure you) include, but are not limited to:

“Will you marry me?”

“Will you find me a white woman to marry?”

“Ahhh, I’ve always wanted to sleep with a white woman!”

“Will you be my girlfriend? I feel that a white woman would understand me and my needs better than the women here.”

“Take me to Canada with you! I want to be your husband.”  (To this one I always reply: “Only if you cook, clean, take care of the children, and do the laundry, because I don’t plan on taking on all those roles when I’m married!”)

They don’t even know me at all, but just because I am white they want to a) be my boyfriend, or b) be my husband.  They have this vision in their minds that all white people are fantastic, but in fact we aren’t, and sometimes we’re pretty shitty people.  They idealize white people.  I had girls playing with my hair one day, and one of them said “I wish I had your hair! I wish I had white girl’s hair, and then I would be pretty too.”  My heart broke.  They think they need to dress and look like us to be beautiful.  That’s definitely not the case.  Some of the most beautiful people I have seen in my life have been right here in Zambia.  I wish they would realize that they are beautiful, because they are.

Upon my return to Canada I’m looking forward to once again being anonymous and just blending in to the crowd.

Xo,
Raquel

Currently listening to: Fiery Crash – Andrew Bird

 

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Ready to Launch

The past few weeks have been fairly eventful.  After leaving Monze I have spent most of my time in Lusaka, working from the main office with the other people on the project, getting the prepaid vouchers ready to launch and working on some marketing.  Moving the pilot from Southern province to Copperbelt and Central provinces means that we had to find new radio stations, change the flyers a little bit, and find new agents to work with on the project.  The towns that were chosen for the pilot include Serenje, Mkushi (where Stephanie is located) and Kapiri in Central province, and Mpongwe (where I will be relocating) in Copperbelt province.

The flyers I made

We were able to begin training agents this week, which was an exciting milestone for the project.  I traveled to Mpongwe by bus, hitchhiking, and mini bus, and soon found a beautiful (and relatively inexpensive) to stay then began my trainings.  I first trained a store where they have already worked with Mobile Transactions, so the concept was not completely unknown to them.  They were very eager to learn about the prepaid vouchers, and are very excited to begin selling and marketing.  They know that by farmers getting a discount on their seed that they will be willing to purchase early.  The first training was a success!

The vouchers and system manual for training

The next day I trained two more agents.  The first one went extremely well, and it almost felt like I did not even have to be there.  I could have just handed the young man who works at the store my system manual I created and he would have been just fine.  He was keen and enthusiastic to begin selling vouchers using a website from his mobile phone.  He loved the idea.  He and his boss were both looking forward to begin to sell.  Later that day I did my last training for Mpongwe, and it was somewhat frustrating, which was to be expected after having two trainings that went so well.  After I left that training, knowing that I would go back next week to provide him with a second training, I stopped back into the first store I trained at.  I was so happy to see one of the employees sitting at a table with his mobile phone and the instructions I provided him with, practicing and writing notes.  It made me incredibly happy to see, and made me feel like the pilot would be very successful because when people are ready and willing to learn, they will also be looking forward to marketing the product.  Success!

The town of Mpongwe

Last weekend all of the southern Africa AVC (agricultural value chains) team met in Lusaka for two days of team meetings.  We did some planning for upcoming APS (African Programs Staff) and ProFellows.  We had a lot of fun spending time with each other, and when leaving the house we took a ride through Lusaka in the back of a Canter (truck) with all of our baggage and mattresses.

Team AVC in the Canter!

Mathias, Spencer and I! Winners of the July AVC Olympics!

Larissa, Elliot and I on the way out to dinner!

In the Canter riding through Lusaka

The balloon race! Part of the AVC July Olympics!

This weekend is the national agriculture show in Lusaka, so I’m looking forward to checking that out today!

Xo,
Raquel

Currently listening to: Regina Spektor – Machine

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

What’s inspiring you today?

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Art: My Dorothys

 

We put Dorothy first. But who is Dorothy?

Dorothy is our boss. She is the one to whom we ultimately report to, and she is the one with whom we partner and work beside. There is one stakeholder who must always come first: the people in the developing communities with whom and for whom we work. The name ‘Dorothy’ personifies the “stakeholder who must always come first.”

Dorothy represents a development worker that EWB met in our work overseas. We came to see her as a representative of the people with whom and for whom we work. She represents the poor women and men who struggle every day within a cycle of poverty and vulnerability to make positive change for themselves, their families, their communities and the world.

EWB understands the heterogeneity of developing communities, and does not try to represent this reality in the person of ‘Dorothy’. Dorothy is instead a reminder to us of those caught in a cycle of poverty. When we have to make a tough decision or plan, both in Canada and in Africa, we try to step back for a moment, and ask ourselves “What would Dorothy think? If we could explain the challenges and tradeoffs of our potential action or inaction, what would she want us to do?”

We feel that everyone involved in human development, and everyone passionate about helping to build a better world will be faced with tough decisions and trade-offs in their personal and professional lives. Keeping someone like “Dorothy” in mind helps keep us focused on the impact of our decisions.

source: http://wiki.ewb.ca/en/EWB%27s_Values_and_Beliefs

Art by: Raquel Vigueras

My Dorothy has a bright future and is my inspiration.

Xo,
Raquel

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

What’s inspiring you today?

Development work takes time.  When things feel like they’re moving too slowly I will remember this.

I’m going to start posting graphics that I create when I’m feeling uninspired in work or life with quotes that I find inspiring.

Xo,
Raquel

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

An Appreciation

After reading my dear friend Elliot’s blog, and more specifically his blog post titled A Scolding, dealing with his complications from his tailor, I thought it would be fitting to do a counter post on the tailors I found in Monze who I will miss dearly already!

Elliot had to deal with really poor customer service from his tailor in Petauke.  I, on the other hand, have had quite the opposite experience with my tailors.  Before moving away from Monze I had three dresses and one skirt made.  When I had the first dress made I brought the chitenge fabric in on Tuesday at 3pm.  They told me to return Wednesday at 12pm to try it on.  Wednesday I fell sick with dysentery (yuck) and was unable to gain the energy to go back to the tailor to see my brand new, made-to-fit, perfect dress.  Instead I went Thursday, when I was still sick, but much less sick, and they expressed a lot of concern for my well-being since I did not return the day before.  They had me try the dress on, and we discussed where alterations needed to be made, and they told me to return Friday at 2pm.  Overnight I became even more ill, then had to travel unexpectedly to Lusaka Friday morning.  I didn’t return to Monze for two and a half weeks!  When I did finally return to Monze on a Wednesday I went straight to the tailor to pick up my dress and pay them… I even gave them an extra 5,000 kwacha (about $1) since they had to wait so long for my payment.  The dress was perfect-fit.  No further alterations had to be made.

The next morning, Thursday, I returned with three more chitenge patterns and a request for a long, maxi dress, a short Jackie O type dress, and a high-waisted A-line skirt.  No problem, they told me, and I was to return Monday at 4pm to try them on.  Two dresses and a skirt, and they would have it ready for me already on Monday! So fast!

Well, Friday afternoon I received notice that I would need to leave Monze that coming Sunday.  After the initial shock of having to move so unexpectedly from the town I was growing to love so much, my next thought was “Oh shit! But I’m supposed to pick up my dresses Monday!” so off to the tailor I went, with my friend in Monze, and I told them my situation.  It was not a problem.  They had not yet started on my dresses, but they told me to return Saturday at 2pm.  They were very accommodating.

I went back to see them at 11am Saturday, just to see how things were coming along.  They were already finished, and everything was ready for me to try on.  I spent the next two hours with them as they altered everything to my taste and to my fit.  I left Saturday at 1pm with three new items of clothing in my hand, only two days after bringing in my fabric and my desired designs.

Now THAT is great customer service in Zambia!  Fast, amazing quality, and genuine interest in me and my well-being; I could only hope that people in Canada would be just as kind, considerate and accommodating as these ladies were.

Xo,
Raquel

Currently listening to: Floorplan — Tegan and Sara

 

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Big shock.

You would think I would be used to opacity and sudden turns of events by now, after starting out on the WatSan team in Malawi in February, then finding out in April that I would be going to Zambia as part of the AVC team instead.  These changes happen and need to happen, and I’ve learned to accept, even expect, it.

Today I got a phone call and a big surprise came:  I need to move out of Southern province on Sunday, go to Lusaka where I will have a meeting on Monday, and then move to Central province sometime during the week.  On the one hand, I’m really excited to see more of Zambia… I have already seen most of Southern province, I’ve seen Lusaka, and I’ve (unfortunately, if you read my last post) bussed through Eastern province a few times.  On the other hand, I’m feeling uneasy about having to integrate into a new family.  You see, I’ve already lived with three families in Zambia, and although I’ve had great experiences with the second and third, I had a really unnerving, uncomfortable and all around bad experience with the first family I lived with.  Having to move in with a fourth family now makes me a little frightened…  I’m probably overreacting, but my first experience has really stuck with me and makes me nervous when I think about it.  But – I’m sure this next family will be great!

As it is right now, most people purchase their maize seed once it begins to rain, and 90% of sales occur during the months of October and November.  What the voucher program I’m working on is trying to do, is give farmers incentive to purchase their seed earlier, between the months of July and September.  This benefits the farmer by giving them a discount, it secures their inputs for the upcoming agricultural season, leads to better planning which in turn brings them better planting and better yields.  The retailers are benefited by having a longer selling period which gives them larger sales and larger commissions.  The seed company benefits from not having to deal with the logistical nightmares that reconciliation brings.

Well, seed arrived to the depot in Monze on Wednesday.  Now, selling vouchers to buy seed early no longer makes sense because the stockists/retailers will already have seed in stock.  So off I go to the Central province of Zambia!

It’s bittersweet.

I will get to see another part of Zambia, that I likely would not have had the chance to see otherwise.  But, I’ve started to develop some really good personal relationships with people here.  I’m comfortable with my host family and I look forward to spending time with them every evening.  I’ve made good friends.  Friends that I will likely come back to visit some day (hey dre (my sister…) wanna travel Africa with me once I’m done university?) because I’ve developed some good bonds with them.  It will be tough to say goodbye.  I already made a fool of myself and cried when I told some of them that I have to move away from Monze on Sunday…

I’m ready though for whatever is thrown my way though!  I’ve already had to deal with a certain level of opacity with my placement details from the beginning and it can only get transparent from here! 🙂  Here I come Central province!  Here I come Steph!  Sorry USask chapter, your chapter learning will be limited to just a small chunk of Zambia and basically one business this year… 😉

So although I am sad to leave Monze, I have now processed the information and I’m looking forward to pick up wherever I move.  I want this project to be a success, and it just does not make sense in Monze anymore.

I'm going to miss this baby like you wouldn't believe! The way she smiles whenever she sees me warms my heart so much.

Time to learn how to speak some Bemba!

Xo,
Raquel

Currently listening to: Don’t Let Us Bring You Down — Bend Sinister

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Uncategorized