Friday, April 25, 2008

Cultural Differences and Informal Markets

A little update followed by a story...but they actually occurred in reverse order. Oh well.


Starting with the most recent.

Here is a picture of us receiving our long awaited honey filling machine from Denmark!!!! It was suppose to arrive 2 months ago, we were even told it was at the airport 6 weeks ago and had papers clearing it. I'll be helping setting it up so we can start selling retail packs in Zambia, this will allow us to both diversify so reduce dependency on exports but also to drive up demand so we can deal with more than 6000 rural farmers. After 6 weeks in Nirobi, it arrived.

Unloading at Forest Fruits in Lusaka

Last weekend we had a meeting for engineers without borders and sure enough, it was back in Livingstone, home to Victoria Falls. It was great to see everyone and we celebrated as a David Damberger and Jenn Dysart are heading back to Canada after each of them have spent over 3 years volunteering here in Zambia. The weekend may have included a moon-rainbow, karaoke, fireworks, ice-cream and giant baguette subs.

Letting Loose in Livingstone

(David Damberger, Trevor Freeman, Ka-Hay Law, Eli Angen, Thulasy Balasubramanium, Hans Hesse, Mark Hemsworth, Ashley Raeside)

A few days ago we loaded a container full of organic beeswax to go to Europe. Over 13 tonnes! Each sack weighs 40kg and we had to hand bomb all 300+ sacks 4 times to get them in there.

20' container of organic beeswax for export

So ya, all is well.

Now for story time.

A Day spent Downtown.

One day last week I got to go downtown to run some erands with a co-worker, his name is Maleh and he is a mechanic at Forest Fruits.

My task for the day was simple enough, to get a new cable for the electronic scale so that we could get it going to weigh all the blocks of organic beeswax before exporting them to Europe.

Maleh had to get a replacement part for the gearbox (transmission) on the toyota. While I'm at A&A Electronics he went across the street to find his part.

He tries 3 shops and no luck. We try another part of town, and still no luck. We then go to the hub of town, right beside 'city market'. As soon as we start walking he runs into a guy he knows who is a dealer in parts and he says he'll get the part and bring it to us. I imagine he would markup the price and this is how he makes a living.

As we wait, Maleh buys a bottle of water from a vendor in the parking lot. I'm enjoying the downtown and I see a crowd of 20 or 30 people all gathered around 1 guy and Maleh explains to me that the guy is a running a little casino on the side of the road where people place there bets and the dealer pays out 2-to-1 if they win and sometimes the dealer won't have enough money and everyone yells at him.

We wait a little more, I start to get thirsty but don't have any money on me. Maleh offers to buy me a drink but I decline because I feel guilty accepting.

We keep waiting and he starts showing me this headset deal that he bought for his cell phone which has a microphone halfway down the wire with a little button on it to speak into it. I thought he looked pretty modern and in general, pretty stylin. He shows it to me because its not working, so I try it on my phone and really had to play with the wire by sorta half putting it into the socket and it only working in one ear. Maleh decides he wants to return it, he just bought it yesterday and it already doesn't work. I told him that would be a good idea.

The guy comes back and says sorry, can't find your part.

We head off through the rediculously busy downtown capital city and after we turn a corner Maleh moves into the middle lane and he slows and asks a guy on the side of the street (who is selling belts) something that I didn't quite understand. He goes a little further and asks the same thing again to a guy selling game boards. This time I get it and I can't believe my eyes and ears...he was looking for the guy who he bought this headset from yesterday and this was the place where he bought it!!! I think to myself, "this is nuts! what kind of return policy does the guy on the street have?"

Vendors on the side of the road in Lusaka...they're very common.

Two things about the way things are here.

1) Social networks are the most important thing to Zambians.
2) The informal market is huge! In my two hours downtown, we dealt with 4 people who sell something and surely don't report anything to the government.

In Canada the informal sector is quite small. Babysitters...some farmers markets...drug dealers...

In developing countries, it can account for 50% of employment. In Lusaka, I'd guess three quarters of the people are buying and selling stuff without a business licence.

I imagine the government doesn't have the capacity to police everything nor the capacity to streamline the process for getting a business licence.

A study in Peru found that it took 11 permits, 207 bureucratic steps, visits to 48 government offices and the equivalent to 22 months worth of wages to purchase a business licence with an address.

The same study did the same process in New York where it took just 4 hours.

In Zambia, it seems everyone is forced to be an entrepreneur, yet I've heard this is given little or no attention in the curriculum at school.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Everyday on my way to work I walk past this sign and it puts a smile on my face.
I'm sure if you look closely at the women in the 'after' photo, you will laugh too.

Sign near the high school on my walk to work

Meanwhile, there are some things that I am reading about in the neighbouring country that make me sad.

"Despite increasing concerns of violence in Zimbabwe, South African officials have said they can do nothing to prevent a Chinese shipment of arms from being delivered to the land-locked country."

Oh ya, and here is a photo of the highway through the copperbelt, its a proper highway with 2 lanes going each way. With the price of copper so high right now, it is a high priority to have these roads in good shape.

Highway in the Copperbelt region of Zambia

Image of the open pit copper mine

Copper is Zambia's main export and it was privatized about 6 years ago at the same time the prices started climbing. I have heard that you still have to import copper from South Africa if you want anything other than copper wire, which they do manufacture here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Forest Fruits Mwinilunga

So I am in Mwinilunga, after a pretty interesting trip that involved riding 3 different buses over two days for a total of 22 hours. Only one of them broke down, but mostly they were good buses with good drivers. Unfortunately I didn't get to ride this nice looking bus in the photo.

Bus heading to Tanzania

I reached Mwinilunga at night and really had no idea what I was in for. I just knew it was far away and that the stars were like nothing I've experienced before. The milky way stands out like it is completely white, leaving the rest of the sky looking empty.

So I woke up the next morning, and this is what it looks like out my bedroom window.

I am staying at my boss' place for the time being, this is partly because I am technically not suppose to be in the country right now... at least I am not suppose to be working in the country...but if we want to be more technical, I'm not getting paid so...? Last night we hung out and made orange juice from the local oranges that are for sale on the side of the main street. Chris got a new blender/juicer as a wedding gift last November. He is from DRC (Congo) and just received his MBA.

Chris and his niece Beatrice

Evans is another guy I am working with and he seems extra nice. He is teaching me everything about beeswax and even how to ride a motorcycle.

The next photo shows what the factory looks like. More honey and bees than you can imagine. All-in-all I am pretty impressed with how hard everyone works and in general how organized the factory is. I have been able to find myself useful by helping others to understand computers and some basic circuits.

It feels really good to be out of the big city and into a 'proper' rural community. Chris knows everyone and it reminds me of living in Canmore and Chatham, where everyone knows where you live and what you're up to. I even went to a funeral already, which was quite an experience being the only white guy out of a good thousand or more people. Maybe sometime I'll explain in more detail what funerals are like here. All I know is that they are a big deal, and they happen all the time.