Sick Chicks, Buried Treasure, and the Conclusion of the Vaccination Saga…

Last week began with the monthly meeting of the teacher farmers. Hot topics at the meeting included revamping the vaccination program as well as choosing those farmers most in need (such as old widows) for whom Shona and I, with help from some others, will be building coops. The new village executive officer of Ilima attended the meeting and we were very grateful that he explained to the teachers that although we would help some of the most in need to build coops, teachers should be willing to help out those less fortunate in their community even after Shona and I are gone.

Now we’re nearly done our visits with all 76 student farmers! It’s been great experience meeting with them all and we’ve learned a lot along the way (such as the 9 million ways to greet someone in the Nyakusa language!)

One of the discoveries we made last week is that some farmers are not taking the proper steps to prevent external parasites. We’ve heard a common complaint about “wounds around the eyes.” At one of the farms we visited we examined some chicks that had some black around their eyes. On closer inspection we saw that their faces were covered with fleas. Most of the farmers use an insecticide powder, but this particular farmer was using an herbal remedy that just wasn’t working. All of his chickens were infected, the young chicks most severely. We explained that the fleas have a negative impact on the health of the chickens, especially the chicks, and that in addition to spreading amongst his population of birds, they could spread to other birds in nearby farms when the chickens free range.

We’ve suggested to some farmers the option of doing post-mortem exams on some of their chickens. Adamson Mwakayaga told us that she had lost 30 chicks to disease recently. She said the chicks had swollen necks and were coughing. Shona and I considered gapeworm as a possibility, but explained that coughing could be a sign of a lot of different diseases. We looked at one of the sick chicks, but did not find anything significant besides a mass on the neck. We’ve discussed the idea of doing some post-mortems with Ngaga, the field extension officer. We figured it would be good to determine, as in Andamson’s case, what is killing so many of her chicks and what are some of the common diseases in the village. It will also be good to show the farmers what exactly a post-mortem exam is and how it can be a valuable tool. And oh yeah… it would be quite fun for us!

Last weekend we camped at Lake Masoko, about an hour away. Once again we went through the Rungwe Tea Tour Company who put us in touch with a local guide named Joshua. Joshua was absolutely hilarious! He used to be part of a popular band that toured all over Africa back in the day. Hes and his brothers are tall and skinny with ‘fros (think Jackson 5 but much much older). Being the grandson of the village chief Joshua knew a lot of the legends surrounding the lake. He regaled us with stories of cursed treasure and magical snake dragons. During World War II German soldiers were stationed at the lake. They dumped coins and trucks in the lake before being forced to evacuate after the war. Joshua, being a diver among many other talents, had managed to find some coins in the lake which he showed us. However, there is a chest of money in the lake which no one has been able to reach: it is believed to be guarded by chains that turn into snakes. Joshua showed us a big hole in the ground where more German treasure was believed to be buried. Digging had stopped because the workers had seen zombies and snakes! We saw the grave of a German soldier who had unsuccessfully attempted to slay the multiple-headed snake dragon that guarded the lake.

Shona and I had the opportunity to get to know Joshua’s daughter Zeba pretty well. She told us stories of her family that were just as colorful as Joshua’s stories of the lake, but much more heartbreaking involving murder, betrayal, and HIV. Zeba lived in China and studied in the UK, so although she was very much Tanzanian she also has the prospective of an outsider. One of the things we talked about with Zeba is the problem of education in Tanzania. Many parents just don’t see the importance of sending their children to school, particularly their daughters. Joshua and Zeba told us about a man in the village, who we had met briefly, that had enough money to buy alcohol all day everyday, but was not willing to pay for his daughter to go to secondary school, despite her strong desire to learn. She is currently age 14 and pregnant. Zeba was great to talk with and we hope we’ll be able to see her again. She’s also interested in raising chickens so hopefully we can help her out!

This week Shona and I along with the village chair James, the vaccinators, the teacher farmers, and Alan Minga (who is the one that gets the vaccine and brings it to the village) have reached a final decision as to how vaccinations are going to occur now. Previously two farmers appointed as vaccinators would vaccinate all 82 farmers’ chickens once every three months. After speaking with over 50 farmers we found that they were not happy with the current vaccinators, accusing them of not showing up, using expired vaccine, and not vaccinating properly. The teacher farmers came up with a new plan: each teacher would be responsible for vaccinating their own students’ chickens. All money collected (25 Tanzanian Shillings per chicken) would go to James, who would then give the money to Minga so that he could use the money to purchase the vaccine for next time. All of the teacher farmers and all of the student farmers we talked to were happy with this new plan. But before “firing” the vaccinators we needed to hear their side of the story. The vaccinators claimed that the farmers were not always home when they came to vaccinate and that many of them did not pay. They also said that they were giving the money they collected to Alan Minga so that he could buy the vaccine, but this was not the case. When we all met with Minga, who has been involved with this project for years and in whom we all trust very much, he said that he was not receiving ANY money from the vaccinators. So we decided to go with the new plan of the teacher farmers doing the vaccinations. We thanked the vaccinators for their hard work, apologized, and tried to explain that vaccinating was just too much work for two people, and the current system is clearly working so we have to change it and try out something new. We hope that this new plan will be much more effective!

P.S. Unfortunately the internet is too slow here to download pictures to the blog 🙁