Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Guest series: Final part of Wilmington-based non-profit’s work in Africa [Free read]

Editor’s Note: The following is part of a series written by Anthony ‘Tony’ Peele, a social entrepreneur who co-founded Swahili Coast with his wife Caroline and a volunteer and board member of the Full Belly Project.

Peele recently embarked on a trip to work on projects for both groups in Zambia and Tanzania. And, while southern Africa is certainly out of Port City Daily’s coverage area, the groups doing work there are proudly based in Wilmington. Port City Daily is partnering with Peele to offer a first-hand look at that work.

The day before I left, I thought it was fitting to have a little party at the co-op. In Tanzania, there are two words for coconuts. Nazi is a ripe coconut, mostly white ‘meat’. Dafu is an unripe coconut, and is mostly water. There are vendors that bike around the neighborhood selling Dafu as a tasty, refreshing drink. It’s one of my favorite treats – fresh coconut water is rehydrating and incredibly satisfying.

Related: You can also check out Part IPart II,  Part IIIPart IV, Part V, and Part VI.

For the party, I recruited a vendor from the local pub I frequent to come out to the co-op and give out coconuts to the team for the party. Neema also arranged for a local woman to come out and cook everyone’s favorite food — Pilau — a spiced rice, potato, and beef meal similar to Indian biryani. She cooked the pilau against the trunk of a tree, with the pot resting on the gnarled exposed roots. I asked if it will kill the tree, and she insists it won’t – but I’m not so sure.

We sat together and enjoyed our pilau. I sat next to Violet (Vailet), who asks me about what kind of food we enjoy in America.  I promised that next time we throw a party, I’ll make tacos for everyone to enjoy. About half the members are Muslim, so I won’t make my favorite pork tacos, but we will make beef and chicken. Violet seems bored by my description of American food, and decides to tease me again for not having kids yet at 31.

The stories of the women and men we work with are intensely personal, and there are members here that have experienced abuse, illiteracy, and prostitution. Those are not my stories to tell. However, the story of Swahili Coast and the co-op is not a story of trauma. It’s a story of their craftsmanship and perseverance through challenges. It’s a story of collaboration and building something exciting together.

When we started the company, we settled on the phrase, “Power over Pity,” as our motto. We’re aware that a lot of other brands working in the region market tragedy — but the reality is that no one wants to be pitied. We’ve chosen to tell a story about power, and choice, and creativity. It’s surprisingly easy to appeal to people’s white savior complex, and sure, pictures of beautiful African kids can certainly sell bracelets, but the stories told about Africa for centuries are stories of tragedy and lack. But we have to be better than that. Why not tell a story of power?

So that’s what we try our best to do.

After lunch, my friend Fido arrives. Fido is an old friend from Manzese, one of the ‘rougher’ neighborhoods in Dar es Salaam where I used to live. At one point, Fido was a rasta man with a passion for music who was braiding hair for a living. Now, he’s one of the primetime radio DJs on East Africa Radio and a local celebrity. He’s brought his video producer to help us shoot a quick promo video. We stage a few shots, and mic a few members up for interviews. The experience of putting it together feels a little contrived, but it’s important to capture just how transformative this project is.

Video:  Joseph works on finishing out the sandals on the last day.

The last few days of my trips to Tanzania are never boring. There is the anticipation of returning to the comforts of home, while still balancing the logistics of completing everything I set out to accomplish. I try to keep an ambitious schedule for what to achieve, and inevitably we can’t complete everything. The last day, I have a flight at 3 p.m. At 8 a.m., we’re still making bracelets and I’m packing them as they come off the workshop floor.

Most of our goods we ship via air-freight, but surprisingly it is often cheaper to buy extra baggage through the airline than it is to ship separate packages, so I’m bringing over 200 pounds of sandals and bracelets back in my checked baggage.  On the last day in the co-op, I have four boxes that I’ve laid out. Each will have to be as close as possible to 23Kilos. One gram over results in an additional $150 charge per box! The only scale I have available is an agricultural hanging scale – so I weigh bracelets and sandals and stuff the boxes and reference my notes on how many grams each bracelet and sandal weighs. Everything is finished, save for about 100 bracelets, but I can’t hang around any longer without risking missing my flight from the crazy Dar es Salaam traffic.

I get the boxes sealed up, and call an Uber. All looks good until the Uber driver calls me and tells me he’s just been detained by traffic police and I’ll need another ride. I can empathize; I’ve been there. With only 2 hours before my flight, I’ll have to find a local taxi to take me. I run out to the street to flag one down, mindful of the hour of traffic to the airport. In 36 hours, I’ll be back in Wilmington. It’s the start of a long journey home.

You can follow along with my travels at @Anthony_Peele on Instagram

Find more information about Full Belly Project online.

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