Time Passes (Molly) by Claudia Bode

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Time passes in a blur, like the images that flash outside the window of a moving bus.  Fleeting, fragile, forgotten.  A woman’s dress blowing in the wind as she walks alone on a path into her village.  A man struggling with his harnessed cattle to plow a small field.  Red dirt flying as young boys dig to make clay bricks.  A row of girls walking down the train tracks, single file, with buckets of water floating on their heads. An old woman, bent, but walking with strength under a load of firewood.

Then there are the memories that don’t fade so quickly.  Flying across dirt paths on a motorbike.  Afternoon games of dodgeball between the kids and Deb, evening games of Dutch Blitz with Deb and Putiyei. The constant chopping, stirring and cooking over a charcoal fire by Bibi, Mama Mamati, Mage and others.

The kids and, oh, their never ending hugs and laughs and tears.  Inno and Doto karate-chopping the invisible bad guys - and sometimes each other.  Quiet, serious Lucia, who always greeted me, “Hi Molly.”  She is the Shimmer to Serianne’s Shine.  Beatrice’s giggle, Ava’s large eyes and even bigger tears.  The million quiet and not-so-quiet smiles - it’s all there, tucked into my memory.

Bright shiny eyes, wide dark eyes with loads of curling eyelashes.  The feeling that I may never get my lap back.  And, of course, Zawadi.  There aren’t enough words for how much I will miss his little laugh.  

Time passes and there’s never enough of it.  There was so much to do, still is, that it becomes necessary to just live and to reflect later.  Much later, as it may turn out to be.  I’m so grateful for the time I had, grateful to the people I met and worked with.  Grateful for the way people opened up their hearts and homes to us.  I’m grateful for the reminders of what really matters and what doesn’t.  

The house is still under construction, going well, from the pictures we are getting.  It’s hard not to be a part of it on a daily basis but the team on the ground is solid and thoughtful, and they care about the end product as much as anyone.

The thing is, you are there and then you are not.  You’re in the middle of the noise, the chaos, the dust and then you’re not, like a vacuum just sucked it all away leaving you back in your original setting, as if it was all a dream.  

Now, it seems like that place was quiet and the noise is here.  I wonder if all memory subdues noise, makes us think the past was simpler while the present is messy, chaotic, more complex.  I was there and I know it was neither simple nor quiet, but it was beautiful.

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Putiyei: Warrior and Feminist (Molly) by Claudia Bode

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Putiyei, the Olive Branch for Children’s project manager, is a man of few words and key to the construction of the Peace Home.  He is involved in every step: from overseeing the work crew, coordinating material deliveries and reviewing construction methods.  He's tall, athletic, and prefers ‘doing’ over ‘talking.’  He’s the willow tree, deeply rooted, but able to bend in the wind.  Over the course of a day you might find him scrubbing dishes, playing dodgeball, swinging a sledge-hammer, driving volunteers to villages, listening to people's problems and building schools.

He is known for many things, but the only one Putiyei will tell you about without too much probing is his role as a father.  Like his own dad, he has dozens of children - but how he and his father ended up with this many children are two very different tales.

Eight years ago Putiyei didn't speak English, had never driven a car, and was living a traditional life in a Maasai Village.  Putiyei was asked by his village to guide the petite, red-headed, Canadian-born Olive Branch founder, Deb, as she travelled between villages doing community outreach work. 

Deb will tell you that, when she first saw him, she was so distracted by his presence that she fell off her bike.  He and Deb soon fell in love, and the rest as they say is history, except it's not.

At 22, when Putiyei married Deb, he married her and the Olive Branch, which includes the children Deb had already adopted.  Today, they have a precocious six-year old of their own and around 40 children they love as mentors, coaches and parents.  As he says with a sly grin, 'I've been busy.'

Putiyei has since learned the construction trade from previous volunteers and experts he has worked with here in Tanzania, including our own Paul Mannion and Ivan Rhodes.

This wasn’t the life Putiyei was raised to live.  He grew up from a very young age in the savanna training to be a Maasai warrior, to herd and protect the family's valuables, namely cattle, from predators with a stick, a club and a knife.  Putiyei was born to his father's fourth wife, which would ultimately help turn him into the man he is today. 

Putiyei is most proud of and most excited about two things.  His job as the (construction) project manager, saying ‘I love it, I love being out in the field’ and 'the girls.'  'The girls' that he is referring to are the Maasai girls and women who live with the Olive Branch. Traditionally Maasai girls are sent to be wives in another family, and they don't always get a choice in the matter. One of Putiyei's sisters used to be beaten by her husband because she did not conceive.  Another sister is studying to be a lawyer and plans to fight for women's rights.  Some are in secondary school, when they would otherwise be having babies, cooking, carrying firewood and water over long distances.  Some of the girls ran away to the Olive Branch to have these opportunities. 

Of everything Putiyei has learned, it's his respect for women and his desire to help educate them, that most intrigues me.  Most people take on the values of their family and their culture. If they change it's usually because of exposure, often in school, to new ideas at an early age.  Putiyei never went to school and had little exposure to outside ideas until he was 22, an age at which most of us are already formed in our thinking.

As a Maasai warrior Putiyei killed snakes, leopards, hyena, and even a lion to protect his cattle.  Now he uses that same ferocity to protect the women and girls in his life.  Sometimes, even at a risk to himself.

I asked Putiyei what made him change his views on women from that of his father and his brothers.  Deb’s feminism andinfluence is obvious, but what else caused him to fight for his sisters, what caused him to veer away from the life he was raised in?

Putiyei told me that when he was growing up he saw his older brothers mistreat his mother.  He knew this was not okay.  I suspect that it was this early observation, and his inner strength that has led him to follow his instincts.  Some people observe mistreatment and learn to repeat it, not even recognizing it as mistreatment, or becoming immune to it and believing it is their right to see women as objects because it benefits them. But a few people see this and decide not to participate. An even smaller minority decide to make a difference.  Putiyei is part of this elite group.  He's making a difference. 

It hasn't been easy for Putiyei. At first, his relatives were angry with him -- some still are -- for abandoning the traditions and for marrying a westerner.  The Maasai are one of three tribes in Tanzania who still maintain traditional lifestyles and close family bonds.  They are determined to raise their children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, to herd cattle, to have babies, to increase the wealth of their tribes, to be warriors.  If they begin losing their children to Western education they fear they'll lose what makes them unique. 

Putiyei reflects fondly on his childhood and his roots.  The freedom, the games they played, seeing who had the best high-jump, the best long-jump.  Practicing their fighting skills.  Sometimes he dreams of being out with the cows and his brothers again, even if just for a day.  He hopes that maybe someday he’ll get to spend one more day doing that.  Now there just isn’t time.  He said he loves how the Maasai raise their children to run free and to be gain responsibility, to learn in nature.  Although he himself practices a less strict, more receptive parenting style than his own parents.  “I want a more open, honest relationships with my kids.”  

Times are changing.  The Maasai ride motorcycles, they carry cellphones.  They used to be nomadic but more and more of them are staying in permanent villages because the land is less open than it was. 

Today Putiyei's father has begun letting some of his younger daughters attend school, but the idea of them marrying outside of the community is still unacceptable to him.  Some of Putiyei’s younger brothers are following in his footsteps.  They are witnessing the benefits of medicine, money and education. The Olive Branch has played a big role in this change by helping the women set up a business to sell their jewelry. The organization has also brought medicine to the village and just built the new Montessori school.

"In 15 years every family will have three or four kids in school,” Putiyei told me when I asked what the future held. “In 20 years those kids will have jobs outside, in towns, they won't want to go back to the villages, they won't want to live those traditional lives."  Maybe, but maybe they’ll find a way to maintain their culture just the same.

Putiyei is the type of guy who leads by example.  He’s the type of guy other guys look up to.  The type of guy who empowers females.  He’s the willow tree.  He knows where he comes from, he moves around the globe without letting it change his core values, he adapts to modern practices as easily as he changes back into his Maasai dress and joins in the dancing. 

On Making Mistakes (Molly) by Claudia Bode

On making mistakes...oh, it’s not fun.  My stomach turns in on itself, I feel guilty and anxious.  I don’t like being in the wrong, admitting I was wrong.  My mind turns in search of whom or what else I can blame.  But deep down, I know the truth, I know I made a mistake.   

It couldn’t have been avoided completely but I could have asked earlier, I could have prevented so much un-doing and re-doing.  Our crew has been working 7 days a week living under a tarp and cooking over a fire on site. They began laying stones in the foundations on Friday when I couldn’t visit the site and by the time we got to the site on Monday they had been laying them for nearly 3 days.  A lot of large stones were in place, a lot of hard work.  What I saw were stones placed vertically, what I thought was, ‘Hm? Well, that’s different, but makes sense for getting concrete through all the stones, they’ve already laid so much...’  And since these same strip footings aren’t the main structure, (that would be the columns), I thought, ‘Okay, we’ll run with what they are used to doing.’  And that was my mistake.

Wednesday evening, after seeing photos, our engineers provided feedback that the stones can’t be vertical, over time the weight of the building will push down and the foundation will settle unevenly… The stones have to be horizontal.   Oh, how I dreaded having to tell the crew that they would have to redo the stones they’d already laid.  It’s hot, the sun is brutal, the stones are heavy.  THESE ARE REALLY BIG STONES.  I shouldn’t have let that first ‘Hm?’ pass by so easily.  I know better, which only makes me feel worse.  

Instinctively I don’t like to admit I’m wrong, who does?  It’s easier to point fingers, to find the blame in others, to look for the things that got in our way.  We’re even taught to do that in professional practice, to never put anything in writing that would indicate something is our fault, it’s professional self-preservation.  In the construction industry mistakes are expensive.  The ultimate solution would be to be perfect, but it’s so human to make mistakes.  Professional practice teaches us to always act with due diligence, to double and triple check.  But things will slip by, architecture is incredibly detailed and takes so much foresight.  The key is to learn from our mistakes, to rely on our teams to catch us where we fail before the mistakes grow.  

But I think we also shouldn’t be so afraid to admit our mistakes. I think there shouldn’t be such a stigma around making mistakes, it’s hard enough without fearing the judgement of others, or worse the judgement we place on ourselves.  

Putiyei called our crew to avoid further work being done incorrectly.  Luckily they weren’t too upset, I know they weren’t happy, but they’re amazing and began pulling out the stone.

Maasai Architecture in Ngorongoro Crater (Molly) by Claudia Bode

Just west of Ngorongoro crater, where one drops below the mists into the desert-like conditions of the conservation area, we visited a Northern Maasai tribe.  As the cool winds blew dirt into our faces, the tribe entertained us with dancing, started a fire with two pieces of wood and showed us their houses.  Entertaining of the safari circuit of tourists is how these traditional, nomadic groups earn money to pay for medicines and school; this is definitely not the case in the less touristed part of Western Tanzania where the Olive Branch works.

The Maasai are among the few tribes in Tanzania who maintain most of their traditional practices.*  In the Ngorongoro Conservation area they herd their cows and goats while keeping an eye out for poachers; in this way the wildlife and Maasai protect each other.  This also gives the government a reason to allow the them access to the protected lands.  The lions and Maasai do not always live peacefully together, but it’s an arrangement that seems to be sustaining itself, at least for now.  

Villages tend to consist of one chief, his wives (the quantity dependent on his wealth in cows) and their many children.  In the village we visited there were eight wives, about 40 children, their spouses and grandchildren.  Currently our guide, one of the 40 children, has one wife but told us that when his herd grows he plans on adding more wives. 

These traditional compounds are protected from wild animals by a circular fencing of plants with 2” long thorns.**  These corrals are common in Tanzania, but typically only encircle the animals at night to protect them from the cats and hyenas.  Here in Ngorongoro, within the fencing is a ring of organic, almost dome-like mud structures, whose entrances face toward the center.  The homes create another ring which, like nesting Russian dolls, creates another enclosed space for goats and sheep.  

Stooping to enter the home of our guide, we followed the curving walls through a maze-like entrance.  The entrances are ingeniously designed to keep the interior cozy, warm and protected from the blowing dust.  Houses are made from a layer of vertical sticks bent and tied in the middle to form the dome.  A second layer of smaller sticks and leaves is wrapped horizontally around the first layer.  A third layer, similar to the first, is added before the whole structure is sealed by a ‘cement’ made of cow dung.  There are two raised beds in the house, each covered by a cow-hide with space underneath for storage and firewood.  A fire inside provides warmth and a hole in the roof adds ventilation and a little light.  Along one wall sticks are arranged to create a shelf and the nook along the other side is set aside for food preparation.  

The Maasai of this region are still nomadic, and so these villages won’t be lived in all year.  When the grass for their cows is gone they will move their animals onto other locations, closing the thorny gates behind them to return the next year, when they will patch and make the necessary repairs for the new season.  

*Hadzabe, Sukuma, Watatulu, Wabarbeg, along with some others

**Some of the villages, where wood is more accessible, use tall wood posts to surround their compounds. Lower in the valley where we stopped wood is not readily available, but the thorny tree-plant is everywhere.  

To those who contribute (Molly) by Claudia Bode

I have always considered myself lucky to be in a creative field.  I think it brings out what is best in people.  People want to create, want to contribute to building something with meaning.  I see this with our Kujenga team, our contributors, with the Olive Branch, and with the village we are working in.

We are building in Mswiswi, a small village town at the side of the highway, where the mountains of Mbeya stop rolling.  It’s a place through which people and dust pass on their way to and from the villagers further in the savannah.  

This week as I rode to the site with Godi on his motorbike to hire a couple of guys to clear the site for the new Peace Home, which we will begin to construct this week, he explained to me that the village of Mswiswi wanted to give the land to ‘our children.’  The village gave 2 acres of land to make sure that these kids grow up near their home, near a school.  Where many communities might abandon their children who don’t have parents, this place hasn’t, and if for no other reason, Mswiswi will leave an imprint on my heart.

Under the shade of mango trees the kids run around their current home like brothers and sisters anywhere.  Covered in dust, splashing in puddles amongst the ducks and chickens, they laugh and fight as siblings do.  From her laundry spot in the sun, Mama Edina scrubs their socks and sheets by hand.  Maybe she steps in, but more typically she lets them figure out how to make peace.  Mama Edina began taking in vulnerable and abandoned babies many years ago, and it’s because of her, and the support the Olive Branch provides, that these kids have a safe home to grow up in.  

These kids have tragic stories, any of which could be its own movie, its own book.  But they are not tragic, they are beautiful and the village sees this.  Their smiles wrap you in warmth and their hugs hold you tight, unable to move, happy to sit just a little longer, wondering how they so easily stole the rights to your lap, your phone and anything else that wasn’t attached.  Those kids are the biggest contributors.  They give the most, they make me feel more whole just by being there, by being one of the visitors they race out to greet at the sound of an approaching engine.  

Composting as waste management (Molly) by Claudia Bode

Dry, dry, dry

Dry, dry, dry

This week there has been a lot of talk about waste management.  Here, in Tanzania, septic tanks are the norm in town. In the villages it’s pit toilets, if there is a toilet at all.  Western-style toilets use a lot of water.  The Peace Home site is in the savannah where during the dry season there is very little water.  

This year, even the rainy season was dry.  More than have the crops were lost this year and the volunteers coming back from the mobile health clinics in the villagers further out are reporting a lot of malnutrition.

The original plan was to build a septic system for the new Peace Home but as we started exploring our options we realized the amount of resources that would be required to both build and operate, including the need for water every time someone uses the toilet, is too high.  After a brief exploration into capturing the methane gas from the septic tank and utilizing that for cooking, we decided it was not feasible because it is decidedly too complex and potentially dangerous around the little ones.  

Having been involved and researched compost systems before, we decided to use this approach.  Not only will the compost be usable for on-site trees and bushes (for health reasons we won’t use it on the gardens), but it will save a lot of water.  

The big win this week was convincing the planning office of this approach.  They expressed their doubts and questioned why we didn’t want to pipe water in.  Besides the fact that it is outside of our budget, the composting system brings long-term benefits for both the kids on the Peace Home and allows us to be more being responsible neighbors. This far outweighs the required maintenance.  

When compost is properly mixed and the ph-balance maintained there is no smell (the same can’t be said of a septic system).  Additionally both pit toilets and septic systems leach into the ground as undigested waste, which can get into the drinking water.  With a properly maintained and located compost system this can be avoided. Not only do we plan to have a well dug on site, but many of our neighbors have wells.

We aren’t kidding ourselves - this approach takes maintenance and training but in the long run it seems like the appropriate method to pursue.

Off to a busy start! (Molly) by Claudia Bode

What a full first few days in Tanzania!  

When I arrived at the Zion Home for the first time late Friday afternoon, we pulled into the yard to be greeted by several dozen kids and Deb, their mom, playing games.  This, as I've discovered, is one of the many fun activities that keep the kids entertained and learning during their school break.  

In addition there are nearly a dozen volunteers from Ireland, Italy and Canada here.  They are range from student-teachers, to healthcare workers, to language therapists who will be working with the kids and assisting the Tanzanian staff to provide services throughout the Olive Branch's outreach programs.

For the weekend, Deb, and Putiyei, her Maasai husband, arranged for the volunteers and myself to travel down into the savannah where Putiyei's family is from.  The Maasai are herders who mostly live off of their animals.  They were fantastic hosts who shared their lives and traditions with us.   

The Maasai have a special way of killing their goats through suffocation.  It's relatively quick and ensures that the blood, which is drunk, stays in the chest cavity.  I got to try this unique drink - it was interesting - earthy with a slight metallic (iron) aftertaste and hints of grass.

It is such a privilege to be allowed to take part and learn from others' lives. 

A little introduction (Molly) by Claudia Bode

Hi! Molly here - I am one person of a much larger team made up of the Kujenga team, the Olive Branch organization, Tanzanians and those who support our efforts, without whom none of this would be possible.

I grew up in East Tennessee believing I would do meaningful things. Being famous sounded cool. Being rich sounded nice. But being someone who made a difference, who made the world a better place, was really what I wanted for myself. The people I looked up to stood up for what they believed in, for what was right and they got others to believe in themselves.

I didn't know what that career was. In college I picked architecture, and fell in love with the design process. I loved how it helped me understand the world in new ways, I loved the way it enabled me to be creative, to make things, to think through problems in innovative ways and to see issues from multiple perspectives. But being an architect is not something I pictured becoming, not a traditional one, not deep down.

Yet, become an architect I became. I wasn’t sure how to combine my desire to be meaningful and my love of design until I got the opportunity to teach architecture at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. I went to Papua New Guinea with images of myself becoming a hero to my students. Students are quick to let you know your flaws, quick to force you to look into yourself. I left knowing that I can’t solve people’s problems for them. But I can contribute by teaching them the design process, so they can look for solutions that fit their own environment. Humans are inherently creative.

I am here, in Tanzania, to do many things - build a house might be what impresses people the most, but it’s simply the means to so much more. It’s about building relationships, it’s about workshops and training. It’s about helping some to find their own joy, to develop their own skills. It’s about capacity building. It’s about learning.

This first week I’ll be doing an introduction to drawing, and teaching the Zion kids about plans, elevations and sections. What excites me about this is that anyone can design a house, you just need the tools to express your ideas. Maybe one of the kids will want to design their own home and learning to draw is a good place to start.


Kujenga Summer 2017! (Claudia) by Claudia Bode

We’re happy to announce that the Kujenga Collaborative is kicking off some exciting projects this summer with the help of Molly Felde, the 2017 Kujenga Fellow! Molly will be travelling to Tanzania at the beginning of June and will have the opportunity to work closely with the Olive Branch for Children until the end of August.

As you probably know, the region of Tanzania in which the Olive Branch works is characterized by small and remote villages, with most residents engaging in subsistence/rice farming, pastoralism, or a combination of both. There are many different tribes in this area and many languages, with Swahili acting as lingua franca. The Olive Branch has run successful programs in this region for more than decade, focusing on increasing access to lifesaving medical care; increasing access to education, especially early childhood education; creating community banks to reduce access to local loan sharks; expanding access to reading material; reducing the social stigma of diseases such as AIDS in order to improve treatment rates; and generally working together with communities to find out what they themselves need to prosper. It’s a respectful and bottom-up approach that has worked phenomenally.

But the Olive Branch is more than a grassroots development organization – it is also a home for around 60 children who, for various reasons, could not be cared for adequately at home. These kids live in the Peace Home and the Zion Home permanently, forming a part of two large, noisy, happy families. In each of these homes, they receive education, a safe place to sleep, and most importantly love. Because both the Peace Home and Zion Home are rented properties, the Olive Branch has been looking to construct its own buildings in order to save the money they are spending every month on rent.

After spending a few years focusing on developing a large site on which to centralize its activities, the Olive Branch has switched tactics in order to streamline the construction of these structures. Rather than create one large masterplan in a remote area, the Peace Home and the Zion Home will be built separately, near where they are currently located in order to allow its residents to continue having access to the same schools and other infrastructure.

This summer, we are happy to announce that Molly will be spending a large part of her time working with Putiyei and local workers to construct the Peace Home, which has been designed over the course of the past several months by the Kujenga Collaborative.

But it’s not just about making a building. She’ll also be researching local materials and vernacular building strategies, testing different approaches to building, and educating local workers along the way. The entire Kujenga Collaborative will be engaged in this effort to provide her the support she needs.

Molly will also be running a series of design-focused workshops, one with the kids who live in the Zion Home to introduce them to concepts of architecture. She will also be leading a series of workshops in remote villages to understand how communities might benefit from public-space design and construction projects, and how those might fit into the Olive Branch’s programming.

All of this will be documented here, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. Follow us!

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