Mkate wa Mchele

After telling me that the mkate wa mchele (rice bread) that I had bought at a roadside stand was inedible (although it tasted just fine to me), Ms. Nahya recommended that I ask Hasina to make it for me at home. Little did I know the adventure that was to ensure….and the cooking blog that it was to produce….


  • 3 cups white rice – pebbles and insects removed, washed thoroughly and soaked in water over night
  • milk of one small nazi (mature coconut)
  • 2 large spoonfuls of ugi, optional (porridge similar to cream of wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • ½ cup raw sugar
  • 3-4 cardamom pods – seeds removed and crushed with mortar and  pestle
  • 1 teaspoons of salt

Soaked rice, ready to be bread-ified

After the rice was softened from its water bath the first things to do were to make the ugi and grate the coconut so that we could extract the milk. While Hasina worked on the Ugi, I sat myself down and started grinding away. It takes Hasina about 10 minutes to grate an entire nut, I myself took about 20, but it was fun none the less. Currently I’m reading Anna Karenina and there is a part where Levin works the fields with the local farmers as a way to clear his head and just focus on a manual task… I ground that coconut, I felt the exact same way.

Nazi waiting to be ground with the Mbuzi

Once the Nazi was ground it was time to squeeze it for all it was worth….this is the really fun part because you get to take handfuls of juice filled ground coconut and compress it between your palms until you’ve milked it dry. After about 4 washings, I had extracted approximately 4-5 cups of milk and it was time to continue.

Bread batter before it's left to rise

Thanks to the modern technology of a blender (traditionally this step would be done with a large mortar and pestle), our task was made easier. Place the rice in the blender with 2 cups of milk and grind until smooth. Then remove half of the mixture. Add to the half remaining in the blender, salt sugar and cardamom. After a slight blend – add in yeast. Blend until slightly warm and the smell of the activating yeast hits your nose. Mix in with the other half of the mixture and let sit for approximate 30 minutes.

Hasina putting the clay cover over the pot containing the bread batter

Now here is where it got really cool. Since our oven doesn’t work and all we have is a little microwave oven that might as well not work, we decided to cook the bread on charcoal. Hasina brought her stove from home along with a tandoori clay cover and some coconut husk to use as charcoal. She started up the fire and once the coals were ready, she divided them between the bottom of the stove and the top of the clay lid. Then, placing the pot on the stove, she added a little bit of oil just before pouring in the bread batter. We then covered the pot with the clay lid and waited. It cooked for 45 minutes and was ready when an inserted wood stick came out clean. The end result was a dense, yet spongy rice goodness. I will confess that a piece of my Mom’s fudge would really be nice for Christmas, but mkate wa mchele isn’t a bad substitute.

Mkate wa Mchele!


Popo of Pemba

Pemba Flying Fox

I know what you all are thinking. They call the police ‘popo’ in Pemba too? No, no, my friends. When I say popo, I mean the Kiswahili word for bats. Pemba is home to the “Pemba Flying Fox” a type of large, fruit-eating bat that was once near extinction, but thanks to an amazing awareness and conservation campaign, the species (Pteropus voeltzkowi) is flourishing.

Giovanna, Riccardo and Amour lookin' up at the popo

Although Giovanna and I had to work last weekend in a training course for health facility prescribers relating to Schistosomiasis (Zanzibar launched a national elimination campaign this year), we managed to fit in a trip to Kidike on Saturday to see the furry, flying, and famous mammals. We arrived at about 5:30pm, just as they were waking up and getting ready to take flight to find a succulent fruity meal. We were met by a local community member who clapped his hands and made noise in order to get the popo to take flight and show off their wings.

Kidike Landscape

It was a really nice adventure, and since this type of bat is endemic only to the Island of Pemba, it was a real treat. They were much cuter than I expected and honestly the fact that people used to eat them made me a little sad. Luckily now, they are a protected species and need not worry about becoming someone’s dinner.

Everything else is going well in Pemba. The good-byes started today as Giovanna left for a holiday break and she won’t return before I take off. In her absence I will be responsible for managing 3 other training courses, of course with the support of everyone here.  Although I will be working through the next two holiday weekends, I’m looking forward to seeing how everything goes.

Slowing Things Down

Following an amazing weekend in Unguja, I managed to get pretty sick, spending three days in bed without eating anything and waiting for a high fever to subside. Once the suspected food poisoning had past, the pace of life for me here in Pemba slowed down quite a bit. Taking things a little slower just seemed like a good idea, and I’ve really been enjoying the new approach.

I spent a couple of days wrapping up my final report for my Master’s and since then I have transitioned into a supporting role for another project, which regards the reinforcement of the current Health Management Information System (HMIS) in Zanzibar. The project head from Italy, Dr. Giovanna, arrived at the end of November and since then I have been working with her.

This week the local HMIS coordinator and Dr. Giovanna organized a week of training for district-level disease surveillance and health management team folks. The topics that we are covering are new HMIS forms that will be introduced next year, Schistosomiasi (for which there is currently an elimination campaign on Pemba also supported by the Foundation) and problem solving regarding HMIS challenges. The week has produced a lot of great discussion and collaboration, and it is great to see the amount of ownership that the district-level personnel as well as the local HMIS coordinators have taken regarding this work. Sitting in meetings all day long in Kiswahili has definitely helped my ear for the language, but I am far from fully understanding exactly what is going on.

Flowers at PHL

Within the next month, these trainings will be taken down to the health facility level. Most of them will happen over the weekend in order to limit the disruption to service provision, so between now and when I leave I’ll be working weekends, including Christmas and New Years. Having something to keep me busy on these days actually gives me a bit of comfort, and hopefully it will keep me from missing home too much. Honestly though, it’s so hot here, the idea that Christmas is just around the corner seems impossible.

It has been really interesting to have a closer into this project and honestly, it has given my a more positive outlook on international cooperation efforts. At the same time though, I think what makes this project so unique is that is works closely with the Ministry of Health and inside the HMIS program, which is already running with great local management and organization.

Cookin' Ingredients

I’ve even had a chance to cook with Hasina some in the last few weeks. Last Saturday she showed me a great okra recipe with tomatoe paste, fresh tomato, onion, garlic and lime. Cooking with Hasina is great, but half of the fun is really going shopping. We weave through the nearby villages on dirt paths, going from one little hidden store to another, getting one ingredient here, another one there. I get the sense that she is one of those women who knows everyone and everything and it is really great to spend time with her. She also allows me to fumble around in Kiswahili as much as I want. She is a great teacher, always willing to repeat things as many times as I need.

That’s the latest from here. Everything is going well and I am looking forward to finishing out my last couple of weeks here on the Green Island. If all goes as planned (and with 5 flights over 4 days there is likely to be a mistake somewhere) I’ll be back in Seattle in 20 days. I’m really looking forward to it.


Vacation in Unguja

On Thursday the 24th arrived back in Pemba after 4 amazing days in Unguja, the largest Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago. After finishing a rough draft of my thesis paper for my masters and working a couple days in Dar es Salaam, I was ready for a couple of days of being a tourist.

To my luck one of my brother’s close friends Lizzy has been living in Unguja for the last year and she had kindly offered to let me stay with her while I was on the Island. When I arrived, Lizzy came to pick me up with her friend Musa and I immediately felt at ease and was looking forward to the next couple of days. We didn’t  have a set program, but we knew that we wanted to do some touristy stuff, especially since neither of us had really embraced our inner-expat since our arrive on the Islands.

Sunset my first night in Unguja

On the first evening we walked around the city center of Stonetown and just before sunset we headed too a rooftop bar, which is located in one of the nicer hotels in the city to have a drink and watch the sunset. Not having seen a cocktail menu for the last 4 months, I couldn’t help but try something new, so I got the Dawa, which translates into Drug in English. It was an amazing drink made of muddled lime, local gin and honey from Pemba. It really was amazing….so amazing in fact that I had two! Right around 6:20pm and the sun was sinking behind the city landscape the various mosques in the area began to call the muslim community to prayer, and it really was a beautiful moment. Approximately 5 Muezzin were singing at the same time, but it some weird way they all fit together in harmony. It was a great chance for Lizzy and I to get to know one another and a great way to start our “vacation.”

On the second day we headed to the tourist office of a local tourism expert and friend of Lizzy’s. We decided that we wanted to check out the rain forest in the afternoon and then take a Spice Tour the following day. While Lizzy had heard that during rainy season you could take a canoe trip through the forest, we were told that the water levels were a little too low still. At 1pm were in the car heading for Jozani Forest. Just as we were approaching the main entrance of the forest Lizzy saw a sign that said “Canoe trips now available!” Excited by the possibility, we asked the driver to turn around so that we could check it out.

Lizzy in our expedition canoe

When we arrived at the reception, we saw that the prices for the various canoe expeditions were rather expensive, but thanks to Lizzy’s impeccable Kiswahili, she bargained for a two-hour trip through the mangroves for just 10,000 shillings each. The two of us along with a tour guide and navigator loaded into a canoe and we were off. Unfortunately, we go onto the water at about 2pm and it was incredibly hot. Although the water of the mangroves was shallow and rather stagnant, Lizzy and I decided anything would be better than roasting alive in the canoe, so we decided to jump in clothes and all. We had been told that there were no crocodiles or other dangerous animals, but to be honest, I didn’t believe them and was waiting for some type of man-eating fish to rip off one of my limbs.

The excursion was really great and on our way back the tour guide let us climb into the tree house of “the big boss,” who is apparently a Dutch national that spends his time in Unguja living in a tree house looking out onto the mangroves. Lizzy and I had decided either her really loves nature or absolutely hates people, but the tour guide told us that he just REALLY loves nature. On the way home we picked up fish, sweet potatoes, coconuts and jackfruit and made ourselves quite a feast that night.

Downtown Stonetown in the rain

The next day we headed out early in order to grab coffee before our group spice tour began at 9am. I have really missed Seattle’s coffee culture over the past year, so it was really nice to explore the little cafes that Stonetown has. The spice tour was an all day event which started with a tour of a spice farm where the guide explained the various spices grown in the archipelago and I learned a ton of cool things, including the fact that nutmeg and mace (used both as a spice and for pepper spray) come from the same plant and that vanilla vines along with pineapple and banana trees only produce fruit once a year.

The tour was followed by a lovely lunch of pilau, coconut curry sauce, mchicha (a spinach-like veggie) and Chapati (a local flat bread). In the afternoon it was off to the slave caves and the beach for a swim. The slave caves were really interesting and the guide explained that after the British had abolished the slave trade, it still continued in hiding for decades after. The salves would work during the day, but in the evening they were kept in the caves for hiding and then snuck out to arab boats that arrived to take the slaves and sell them abroad. While I’m sure their living conditions weren’t good at all, the guide did say that they were treated well and fed well, because much of their value was in their strength.

Lizzy at the roof top lounge

After that it was time to dive into the ocean and man did it feel great. Unfortunately the swim was cut a little short by thunder and heavy rain, but it was totally worth it. That evening we headed back into town to enjoy some local street food including Zanzibar pizza, which is basically a mix of ground beef, egg, onion and mayo wrapped in a thin dough and grilled, and a potato soup called Rojo. I’m pretty sure one of these items made me super sick starting on Friday, but it was just almost worth it.

Thanksgiving morning we had another lovely coffee shop breakfast complete with warm date scones and we did a little shopping even with the pouring rain. We decided to celebrate the day by splitting a pizza at a local restaurant and then it was time to head home, grab my bags and head to the airport.

While spending time with Lizzy was amazing and I am so grateful to her for welcoming me into her life in Zanzibar, we both knew we couldn’t hang out forever as we both have a lot of work to do. She’s working on an incredible film project and I was just one week away from submitting my final thesis for my Master’s. My rough draft has gotten good comments, but there was still some work to do.

Festival Italiano in Dar

Festival Italiano A Dar es Salaam....Fun Fact: Dar isn't the Capitol of Tanzania, it's actually Dodoma

Today was the last day of the Festival Italiano put on by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, here in Dar es Salaam. The Festival lasted two days and it consisted of displays and booths for various Italian organizations, food importers, and others that work in Tanzania. The Ivo de Carneri Foundation was invited to participate, so Giovanna and I have been representing the Foundation all weekend long. It has been a great opportunity to see other Italian organizations and collaborations that are currently underway across the country including cheese production, some beautiful jewelry and clothes, as well as some great health-related programs focusing on sustainable farming (Istituto Oikos) and healthcare provision.

The Festival was relatively small, with about 30 booths for different groups, but it was still a great time. It was held at a shopping center/hotel so there were individuals from all around the world, both those traveling through and those currently residing in Dar es Salaam.

Joyce and Nell enjoying a gelato.Unfortunately Dar's heat is rather a challenge when it comes to gelato eating, but these ladies handled it like pros

My friend Joyce, who I met my first day in Dar about 4 months ago actually came to visit me both days of the Festival and yesterday she came with her friend Nell. In order to give them the full Italian experience, I told them they had to try a gelato, which they really seemed to enjoy. I also got a scoop earlier in the day, and let me say, it took me back to the Navigli Neighborhood of Milano.

While it was a bit overwhelming to arrive in the “big city” after nearly 4 months in Pemba, it has been nice change. I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich on cracked wheat bread tonight for dinner, and it was fantastic. In Pemba you can’t find peanut butter that isn’t full of sugar and hydrogenated oils and you definitely can’t find brown bread anywhere. A little cinnamon and maybe some honey would have made it out of this world, but I’m pretty darn happy as is.

The Ivo de Carneri Foundation Table

I arrived in Dar on Friday and our first night we stayed in a guesthouse where I was basically sharing a 4 bed/1 bath apartment with 4 Austrian social workers. They were really wonderful and included me in their evening of  sweet red wine from Dodoma and playing the card game Phase 10. The 5 hour power outage didn’t even ruin the mood, and really drinking wine by candlelight makes it taste better anyways. Unfortunately because of the lack of power and internet, we decided to move into a real hotel for the second two nights, and even though I don’t have any cool roomies this time around, I’m rather enjoying it.

Tomorrow I am off to Unguja to meet with a friend of my brother’s who has kindly offered for me to stay with her. From the sound of it we’ll be doing some pretty touristy things, since she’s lived there for a year now and still hasn’t managed to see some of the sights, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be there for 4 days before heading back to the quiet Island of Pemba.

The Festival in Full Swing

Happy Birthday Mohammed!

Mohammed celebrating his 2nd B-day at the beach!

On Sunday the Muslim Community here in Pemba, which is approximately 99.0% of the population, celebrated Eid al-Ahda (Festival of Sacrifice). It just so happened that on Monday it was Mohammed’s, second birthday. Assma, Mohammed’s mom, thought it would be a great opportunity to head to Vumawimbi Beach on the Northern coast to celebrate and she was kind enough to invite me and Riccardo along. I knew I would miss out on a half day of work, but the possibility of getting back into the ocean made it impossible to pass up.

Although we were scheduled to head out at about 10am from PHL, between needing to collect various family members, going to town to pick up food from a woman Assma had asked to make lunch for us and various other u-turns and loops, we were on the road by about 12:30pm. One thing that I’ve learned here is that you definitely shouldn’t sign up for a journey if you’re not 100% ready for an adventure.

Aisha dishing out a delicious lunch. Not exactly pre-swim friendly, but it was darn good!

We arrived at the beach by about 2:00 and we quickly set out a mat under a tree and started preparing for lunch. While eating our delicious meal of biryani rice and stewed beef, two elders for a neighboring village came over to warn us that they were a bit concerned with the white woman (me) and that they did not want to see me in a swim suit or even in the water while there were men present. Rather disheartened initially because I feared that I wouldn’t be able to make it into the big, open blue, Assma and company said it should be fine as long as a wore a tank-top over my suit and work a kanga around my waist on my walk to and from the ocean.

Assma and Mohammed swimmin'

After eating it was time to dive in, and it was great! Hyidaya, one of Assma’s nieces was very keen on me teaching her how to swim. I don’t think her doggy paddle improved much, but I did remind her of her natural ability to float, so now she knows exactly what to do if she gets in trouble. After about an hour of swimming, floating and races on the beach, it was time to get out an cut the cake! Although Mohammed was pretty reluctant to get out of the water (I’ve never seen a happier baby), he did really enjoy blowing out his candle.

By 4:30pm were we all packed up and headed back home. Although the day was cut short by our late start, it was still an amazing couple of hours. Our trip home

Riccardo, Assma, Mohammed, Yasir, and me. Yasir got me pretty excited for the shot

was quite an adventure too, as the clutch of our SUV was going out and the driver had to keep turning it off and starting it directly into 2nd or 3rd gear. After about 2 hours we’d made it back to town safe. Probably one of the best Mondays of my life.

“We Must Change in Order to Improve the Quality of Health Services in Zanzibar”

Although I’ve been known to embrace Halloween for its fantastic excuse to stuff my face full of sugary, chocolate goodness, my holiday was a bit different this year, but it was great nonetheless.

On October 31st, the 6th annual Zanzibar Health Sector Review was held for the first time in Pemba (it’s always taken place in Unguja before). Mr. Yahya asked me to go as a representative for the Ivo de Carneri Foundation and I was honored by the opportunity. After working at the hospital for the last 3 months, it was a great way to see how things operate on a higher level and it gave me a view into the healthcare system as a whole.

Dr. Ali M. Shein, President of Zanzibar

The day, with the theme of We Must Change in Order to Improve the Quality of Health Services in Zanzibar, was filled with interesting presentations regarding current Ministry of Health (MoH) planning and also various projects that are currently underway in including malaria prevention, salt iodization, family planning efforts and nutrition. Not only did the President of Zanzibar and the Minister of Health make an appearance, but it was a great opportunity to meet various individuals that work with development partners in Zanzibar from big wigs like the World Health Organization to smaller entities such as JHPEIGO (an international health NGO that works in collaboration with John’s Hopkin’s University). It was also great to meet some of the individuals working in the Zanzibar MoH, most of them healthcare professionals by training.

A couple of the take-home messages that I got from the day is that the MoH is starting to push for more coordination between donors, as they have set up a “basket fund,” for development partners to contribute to. Then those funds will be used based on MoH determined needs. This also goes along with an urge for health systems strengthening and a move away from vertical, non-integrated programs.

A lot of time was spent discussing maternal mortality and the hopes to meet the Millennium Development Goal #5, which deals with maternal mortality as well as access to reproductive health. While there has been a significant decrease in the maternal morality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) in the last 5 years, there is still a long way to go in order to reach the MDG goal in Zanzibar. Reproductive health experts emphasized that it is is critical to address the underlying and behavioral factors that lead to these deaths. For example, cost-sharing for natural births and c-sections may detract woman from going to health facilities for delivery.

One comment that really stood out to me was made by the Director General of the MoH at the end of the day. He said that although the questions and resulting discussion had been great, he reminded the audience that most of the questions and comments had come from international development partners and NOT those of the MoH or the Zanzibar health community. In addressing the Zanzibari audience, he reminded everyone that “this in OUR review” and that he hoped in years to come, this would change.

Although the day lasted nearly 12 hours, it was a great experience and I really felt lucky to have been included. Mr. Yahya was actually able to attend, so it was great to share the day with him as well as Shaaban who managed to make it. It was also a great sign that for the first time the meeting was held in Pemba, showing greater commitment to the smaller and at times forgotten island in the archipelago.