It has been almost two weeks now since our group came back to Helsinki from Tanzania and perhaps it is time for some reflections. The weeks we have spend in Dar Es Salaam can only be described as an intense, but joyful roller coaster full of inspiring conversations, formal meetings, improvised meetings, Celine Dion guided taxis drives, presentations, extreme toilet visits, (both professional and private) and above all a lot of fun. Being part of this project offered us a chance to see many aspects of life in the city in a way that is not possible as a ‘regular’ tourist. Because of the vast array of impressions, the 3 weeks we spend in Tanzania felt like being away for half a year. It was therefor a crude reminder to step out of the airplane in Vantaa Airport, only to discover that it is still cold, grey and occasionally snowy in Finland.
When thinking back of our trip, two themes keep coming back in my mind: the journey was all about contrast on the one hand and bringing people together on the other.
In terms of contrast, what I in particular noticed was the contrast in circumstances between various local groups, as well as the difference between us (as foreigners) and the local communities. Especially when it comes to opportunities or ecological footprint, the differences come apparent. For example, the gentrification that is happening in most of the informal settlements. During our bike tour on the second day of our trip, we saw how modern houses are built in the middle of the slums. These new houses, that contain all the luxuries that a modern Western household offers, were surrounded by a wall that puts them in complete isolation from the rest of the neighborhood. I was being told that the owners of the land on which the slums are built prefer to sell their plots to individual buyers, rather than to improve the housing for the original inhabitants. From a land owners perspective I can understand such a decision, but I could not fully understand why one would chose to build their new gated home in the middle of a slum, when one has the capital to build one in the first place.
Another example of contrast would be the fact that we take it for granted to have a shower every day, and as a tourist staying at a beach resort we almost demand it, but whilst staying at Mama Kevin (our host mother) we did not have that possibility: the ‘Kevin family’ washes themselves in the toilet while scooping well water from a bucket and pouring it over themselves. At their place we were lucky to be able to use a separate room in the house to wash ourselves, in most houses in the communities we visited this luxury was not present. The sanitation circumstances at Mama Kevins house were relatively alright, but nothing compared to the Western standards we are used to.
In terms of bringing people together, it was very encouraging to see the level of engagement and motivation of the direct stakeholders within the communities. For example, during our final presentation we suggested that running a pilot project would be a logical next step to promote urine as fertilizer and within half an hour after our presentation the members of Phast Ujenzi (the local federation within the communities) had arranged a field suitable for this project. Another example of the hands-on optimistic mentality of people would be an coincidental encounter we had with a female farmer named Juliana when we visited a plant salesman. With this salesman we were discussing the possibility for him to use urine as fertilizer as well as selling it to costumers. Out of curiosity, Juliana happened to be in the shop and decided to join the conversation, but as Huusna (Phast Ujenzi) was explaining about EcoSan, Juliana got enthusiastic and suggested that she would offer her own farm as a test site for urine as fertilizer. For me this showed first of all, that Phast Ujenzi had a truly inspiring story, that almost sells itself through telling it, and secondly, in order to make a project work it is more important to find a (select) group of people that are truly convinced by it and are intrinsically motivated to help the project further, rather than trying to come up with a concept that aims to include everyone, even when there is no interest for it. Finally, when setting up a project one needs a little bit of luck in finding the right people: our encounter with Juliana was coincidental, but on the other hand we were also in the right place at the right time because we were fully engaged with the project ourselves. To quote Woody Allen: “80% of success is showing up”
Now being back in Helsinki I am very happy we “showed up”, because after this trip I feel fully energized to keep pushing this project further. Even though from Helsinki we cannot do as much on the situation in Dar Es Salaam, I believe that the EcoSan concept of using urine as a fertilizer has a lot of potential. Not only in the developing world, but also in the Western societies. As we are operating from Finland (THE European dry toilet country) we can still do a lot here to raise awareness on the possibilities of this technology. And why would we promote a frugal technology in a developing country and at the same time perceive it as an inferior technology in the West? I think in order to transition towards a sustainable society, we can learn a lot of the initiatives and ideas from other places in the world. Hopefully as a team we will be able to contribute to merging the strengths of ideas of both places in the world and create a truly Upward Spiral!
Will and the Tanzanitation Squad