The Adventure

The Adventure: For ten weeks from June until the end of August, I will be working with Village Life Outreach Project in the surrounding villages of Shirati, Tanzania. VLOP works on health, education, and life enhancing initiatives for the people of the Rorya district of northern Tanzania. To check out all the great projects VLOP has, go to

From the end of September until the end of the year, I will be completing my final (Capstone) project for the Clinton School in Lima, Peru. I am working with Minga Peru, an NGO that works with women, children, and entire communities in the Peruvian Amazon to increase awareness of health issues, reduce violence, train women in leadership and health information, and build communities through the empowerment of women, income-generation projects, and establishing of municipal partnerships. For more information about Minga, go

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week 1 and the Wine Exposition

My first week in Lima is complete.  There's nothing too exciting about my day-to-day life so far.  The Minga office is about a 30 minute commute from my house: 5 minutes to the bus, 20 minutes on the bus, then another 5 minutes walking.  For curiosity's sake I walked on Thursday and Friday and it's about 50 minutes walking and great sightseeing.  Miraflores is basically the South Beach of Lima; very touristy, upscale, on the coast, and there are casinos EVERYWHERE.  Beside the fact that everyone speaks Spanish rather than English, it feels like an American city.

No one shows up to the office until 10:30 or 11am, so my typical day involves waking up at 8am (my body is trained well), running, breakfast and catching the news on CNN or CNN en espanol.  Since we come in so late in the morning, I generally leave the office around 7:30 or 8pm.  I have my desk in my own office room with a nice big window.  The neighborhood of the office is very bougie and reminds me of Florida in the 70s (just a little different from my office space with Village Life).  I have to admit I prefer the open air of the Roche office, but this experience will be good training for having a real 40 hour/week office job.  My coworkers are wonderful, one of whom (Noemi) is 27 years old and very eager to introduce me to Lima.

Yesterday, I went with Noemi and some of her friends to the Lima Wine and Pisco Expo.  I was expecting a modest neighborhood street festival; I couldn't have been farther off.  The Expo was held at the Chorrillo fairgrounds and was HUGE! Over a hundred vendors from around the region providing free tastes of all of their wines, dancers showing off their salsa and tango skills, and great music. 

Next door was the Pisco tent with about 20 pisco vendors.  -Pisco is a Peruvian alcohol that is similar to a tequila, used with sweet and sour drinks or simply taken as a shot. Pisco Sour is a sort of national drink, with lime juice, egg whites, and bitters...sooo good!- There are multiple types of Pisco: Acholado, Quebranta, Torontel, Italia, Mosto Verde (the premium), each with their own purpose...for mixing, shooting, sipping, etc.  Great first cultural experience in Lima!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Two Spencers in One Airport

According to the UN World Urbanization Prospects report, Lima is the 27th largest metropolitan area in the world with almost 9 million people living in the metropolitan area, so it would be crazy to think that I'm the only Spencer in Lima.  But who would have thought that there were two Spencer's landing at the Lima Airport at midnight on given night? I sure didn't when I was looking for the taxi driver that my host arranged to pick me up.  I saw a sign with "Spencer" on it and when I asked if his name was Gaspar he smiled and nodded (evidently not understanding me).  Beside the taxista asking me how my flight from Quito, Ecuador was, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  We had a wonderful ride (approx. 40 minutes) to Miraflores, and I got a bit of Spanish practice telling him about my project and learning about his family.

Then, we pull up to the Lion Backpackers Hostel and he tells me this is it..."No, this is not it, I'm staying with a family." And all of a sudden, the light bulb clicks.  The sign he was holding at the airport also said Andrew on it and in my daze of traveling all day I just ignored it; he wasn't wrong in asking me how my flight from Quito was.  Turns out two Spencers with arranged taxis to accommodations in Miraflores (one of 49 districts in the Lima metro) landed at the Lima airport at midnight on September 26th.  Unfortunately, I chose the wrong one.

This would not have been a problem if I had been prepared and had written down Laura's contact information OR better yet, taken down the address.  But I had figured the taxista would take care of that... Luckily the manager of the Lion Backpackers Hostel was very helpful and allowed me to use their internet to look up Laura's phone number and then called Laura for directions to her home.  So, an hour and a half after picking up "my" ride home, I finally made it to my house for the next three months.  We never found out what happened to Spencer Andrew but hopefully he made it to the hostel.

Home sweet home in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back in Business for a new experience

Well, everyone, after an unfortunate 8 weeks away from the blogosphere, I'm back in business.  The last few weeks of my project work in Tanzania were very busy as I completed my 80 hut-to-hut surveys and conducted multiple stakeholder interviews with village leadership, school faculty and staff, and even with the Rorya district primary school officer. Once back in the US on August 30th, I barely stopped moving, never in one place for more than 4 or 5 days: Fayetteville for the first Razorback game of the season, Hot Springs and Lake Hamilton for Labor Day and quality family time, DC for a wonderful reunion with close friends and some professional meetings, NYC for the Clinton Global Initiative, and in between a lot of short periods in Little Rock (ALL IN ONE MONTH). 

On September 26th, I packed up my bags again (much lighter this time) and headed off to Lima, Peru
to begin project work with Minga Peru.  I am developing a study tour program for the organization that will bring undergraduate and graduate Communication students to Lima and the Amazon to learn about Minga's work and to meet the women and children with whom Minga works.  Although Minga looks to work with multiple universities in the future, we are currently planning on a pilot program with UALR for this coming May. The deliverable of my project is a program guide for the organization outlining not only the programming and lessons for the May trip but providing a framework so that Minga staff will be able to coordinate programming and logistics for future programs as well.

Not only does this next experience look to provide numerous lessons in program development, organizational management, and fundraising, but also will be a great comparison to my work this past summer in Shirati.  Whereas in TZ my project work was in the field and I was working in the field most days, my work in Peru will be based out of Lima.  I will only have one opportunity to visit the Amazonia communities (for a week) and so will have to take advantage of that week to gain as much insight as possible into the programs, the people, and the dynamic of Minga Peru in the Peruvian Amazon.  Here's to the next adventure! Salud!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"It's a Small World after All"

After snorkeling, I hopped a cab to Mangapwani, where classmate Derrick Rainey has spent the past ten weeks doing his IPSP.  Well, my original intention was to take a dala dala (public bus) up there for a mere 1300Tsh ($.88), but the cab driver that was taking me to the station talked me into riding up with him after bargaining him down by about $12 for the round trip.  Turned out to be a good decision because he was fascinating!  Born in Stone Town, his father left the family, leaving him to live with his mother and grandmother, both of whom had no income.  In order to help his family he started working and saved up to put himself through English school and then driving school, which allowed him to become a taxi driver.  Eleven years later, he owns his own cab (very clean!), a taxi business that contracts with other cabbies, and has bought his own house for his wife, two children, mother, and grandmother…cool story! He was fascinated with the projects that we do for IPSP and Capstone, and I think we have inspired him to start an NGO in Zanzibar assisting villages with their lack of clean water.

Anyway, I was able to visit Derrick in his village and received a full tour of his IPSP partner, Creative Solutions, an organization that provides education in English, art, carpentry, sewing, cultivating, and now thanks to Derrick, music, to young adults and pre-schoolers in Mangapwani.  The complex is fascinating as every structure is artistic, colorful, and utilizes local resources.  It seems like he has really had a great time and been very successful.  With the help of our friend, Margret, one of the students at CS, we went to the famous slave chamber, where Arab slave traders would hide slaves after the trade had been outlawed in the area.  The chamber was protected by the cliff on which it sits.  After the chamber we headed to the beach for a swim in the west coast waters, a bit different of an experience but a beautiful sunset.  It was great catching up with Derrick and hearing about the upcoming wedding that I will unfortunately miss.  Congrats to Derrick and Lonnie!

Turns out my day with Derrick was his last full day in Zanzibar, and coincidentally our flights off the island were only fifty minutes apart, so although we did not realize it until he showed up to the terminal and saw me standing in the gift shop, I was able to be Derrick’s last familiar face before heading back to the states! 

My next story of connections occurred at the Dar airport in the security line to get back into the airport (no matter whether domestic or international, all those flying into Dar must exit the terminal and re-enter the airport).  I was standing in front of two Americans and as all mzungus in Africa seem to do, we started talking.  They tell me that they are graduate students from Berkeley who spent the summer doing graduate research in Kampala, Uganda (where two of my classmates are).  I excitedly tell them that I’m also doing graduate work and that two of my classmates are also in Kampala.  As soon as I tell her that I’m a student at the Clinton School of Public Service, she says, “oh yeah, isn’t that in Little Rock?”  I’m incredibly impressed/surprised that she knows this, and she quickly explains that she met a guy at an internet cafĂ© in Kampala who went to CSPS...Andy Lewis, my guess is you’re that guy.

Finally, I landed early evening in Mwanza and was picked up by none other than Ben Mwangi*, an old family friend of CSPS classmate, Shamim Okolloh.  We had only met through Facebook, so it was an interesting waiting period outside the airport, wondering if he was actually the guy standing right next to me, but we easily found each other thanks to cell phones.  It was a great time getting to know such a close friend of Shamim’s and Mama Shamim’s, my two favorite Kenyans, and I think that I’ve almost talked him into coming to Little Rock for our graduation next May, so we’ll see if he follows through.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Finding Nemo!

So Wednesday was to be our touristy day of snorkeling, souvenir shopping and touring the town.  We set up for a fisherman to take us out to Prison Island, just off the harbor of Stone Town, and after about an hour ocean ride in a small fishing boat floating through crystal clear turquoise water, we arrived.  There were about six of the same boat hovering around the expansive reef around the island, so we took the back edge of the reef and had a field day.  As wonderful as snorkeling in Costa Rica was, this far surpassed it.  The fish swam around us as if we were one of them.  Oh! And I found Nemo!  I was following this really pretty black and gold fish (obviously a Sigma Nu fish) when I saw a clown fish hanging around an anemone.  Although the clown fish here are more black and orange with a little white, they’re unmistakable and upon a closer look, I found Marlon and his wife (who was not in fact eaten by the shark) and then in the back corner of the anemone there was little Nemo, a baby clownfish no bigger than the size of a small paper clip.  Anyways, the aquatic life was amazing, and I can’t wait to get a book of tropical Indian Ocean fish so that I can be a dork and identify all the fish I saw.  Finally, I was amazed by the urchins.  All the urchins that I’ve experienced are an ugly brown color but these were jet black with a button-like middle that was neon orange encircled by five white dots.  It was terrifyingly beautiful; I still stayed far away.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Fish Market (F.A. Post for Week 7)

This might be the definition of food heaven on Earth.  Every night in the Fordhani Gardens, tens of vendors set up tables, grills, and presses for 5-6 hours of food, drink, and fun.  I have a feeling that it’s mostly done for tourists, but I don’t care; I’m amazed!  Each fisherman table is covered with skewers of kingfish, tuna, barracuda, lobster, squid, octopus, prawns, shrimp, mussels, scallops, beef, and chicken.  Then there was chipati, coconut naan, regular naan, massive lobster claws, whole octopus tentacles, potato cakes, fish cakes, sambusas, fried plantain, ALL on a 6’ X 2’ table, and all mostly under 5,000Tsh (~$3.33) except for the lobster claws.  You point to all the different skewers you want, they load it onto a white Dixie plate and then take it to the grill.  When cooked, they load it back onto the plate with a backup plate and cover it in this chili sauce that although it practically makes you cry, it has the perfect sweet taste to compliment the seafood.  Our first vendor was a man named Mr. Polite, and boy was he!  My friends made fun of me for dwelling on this, but after two hours of eating, I went back to Mr. Polite for one last lobster skewer as he was packing up.  With only two skewers left, he laughed at my love for the lobster and gave me the last two for the price of one! 

Mr. Polite's Fish Stand

In between the fisherman tables, there are stands with sugar cane juice flanked by big mechanical presses that siphon the juice squeezed from the sugar cane into a basin that is then emptied into a bowl and sold.  It’s fascinating the preciseness of the way the men fold the cane over and over to get all available juice out of each stalk.  Finally, there is Zanzibar pizza.  Much like a crepe, it’s thin dough fried but with toppings cooked into the dough.  My first attempt was with a chicken pizza and unfortunately I saw the massive amount of mayo that they spread on it, so although good, it wasn’t my favorite. But THEN I had the mango pizza and it was divine: just the right amount of sweet but with light dough that reminds me of a good ol’ peach cobbler.  Needless to say, we went back the next night and although I did not spend too much time at Mr. Polite’s table, I found a guy with comparable food who even had fresh lemon juice.  Needless to say, food coma ensued.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Something off of a National Geographic

Bwejju Beach - Indian Ocean to your left

That is exactly what Zanzibar is: National Geographic or Travel + Leisure, their cover of “history meets culture meets beauty” or “most beautiful beaches in the world”.  A quick lesson about Zanzibar: located on the east coast of Tanzania, it has a long history of being a stop on the Arab slave trade corridor and so has an incredible blend of Arab, Indian, African, and oddly enough Italian culture and food.  It is the “zan” in Tanzania, since the merging of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964 and has its own Vice President.  Told by a local, Zanzibar is like looking at the palm of a hand: the main part of the island is the palm and four fingers together and the east has a thumb with a bay in between the thumb and pointer. 
Bwejju Beach at low tide - Notice how far out the waves are and the numerous "clam diggers"

Bwejju is on the outside of the thumb; Stone Town is at the bottom of the pinky.  So, we got a taste of the inlet between the island and Dar AND the east coast of the Indian Ocean.  The beaches in the east are like something off of a poster.  The land is lined with palm trees growing out over the beach, the sand delicately gives underneath your foot, and the shellage is diverse and abundant (my mom would be lost for HOURS!).  The crazy thing about this coast is the low tide literally recedes for about a mile leaving a marsh-like space in between the regular beach and the water.  I tried trekking out to the water during low tide and made it about 30 feet before being totally stuck in the muck.  The view, however, is incredible.  Hundreds of women are scattered from beach to ocean, dragging big bags and filling them with what I would guess to be sea life that didn’t make it out with the tide, hanging out in the small puddles that make up the barren ocean bottom.  However, when it’s high tide, there’s barely any beach or sand at all, and when we were in Michamvi (at a hotel with a GREAT bar and restaurant that should be visited by all) the tide actually came onto the hotel property and up to the deck.  This part of the island is surprisingly very isolated and quiet, few tourists, and incredibly peaceful, a great place to get away.