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The ‘off road’ adventures of La Chica

Life is not always glamorous for La Chica, sometimes it gets plain dirty. La Chica has been on the road a lot in the past few weeks. Her new projects are underway in two new locations in Masai land, and she’s been visiting the new villages and subvillages involved with Testigo’s permaculture training. But it’s not been easy, or plain sailing (or should that be plain driving?).

Hilux view Engare

A recent trip to Engarenaibor for a Masai ceremony had some great highlights (more on those in another blog). But it also found Old Red’s brakes failing. La Chica was forced to drive to the village with brakes that only slowed the car down a little bit when La Chica’s dainty foot was pressed flat to the floor trying to stop Old Red. She drove very slowly between Engarenaibor town and the project site, with a car full of Masai. She returned more than 100 kms to Arusha hoping that she wouldn’t have to stop in a hurry.

And only this past week La Chica did a marathon trip into Masai land. Leaving La Chica’s house with her passengers, they all started coughing, and La Chica had to meet her mechanic who found that there was a leak in the exhaust pipe, and the exhaust smoke was entering the car because the back door rubber was worn and not sealing properly. The solution – open the windows when driving up hills….

Departing Arusha in the rain, La Chica encountered so much mud that there were stuck buses and trucks littered along the road. She managed to drive Old Red sideways, and was rescued when a kind (and mud stranded) truck driver took over the wheel and drove through to a drier section with less mud while La Chica watched, horrified, waiting for Old Red to fall over sideways.

mud  copy

Then with the very rough muddy road, with corrugated sections, the electrics under Old Red’s bonnet were affected, and Old Red’s windscreen wipers stopped working. Poor Goodluck had to jump out of the car every time Old Red passed through a puddle, and wipe the windscreen with his hanky so La Chica could continue driving.

On the same journey La Chica smelled trouble! And five minutes later Old Red was boiling over – the water tank overflow was bubbling green liquid like a witches cauldron (only this was coolant). La Chica and her passengers waited for the bubbling to stop, topped up the radiator and continued on the perilous journey. The constant hazzard of livestock on the road presented an extra challenge, as Old Red’s horn was also disconnected with the bumpy road, and so La Chica had to slow right down and wait while crowds of animals took their time crossing the road in front of her. She also hoped the cars driving behind her were being careful, because one of Old Red’s brake lights also stopped working.


Cows on road

The bumpy road was noisy, but over the noise of the road there was another strange noise – oh no, this time the suspension was gone on the front right side of the car – seems the bush had broken in the African bush so Old Red no longer had a bush in the bush. La Chica just ignored the noise and kept driving.

The crew arrived safely in Terrat, in Masai land, and got some of Old Red’s problems fixed, but La Chica woke the next morning to find Old Red had a flat tyre.

Flat tyre close

me with flat

Despite all of Old Red’s challenges, La Chica bravely decided to journey from Terrat to the District Office of Simanjiro – over 100 kms away, with her Masai friend Marko driving.

View to District

Marko driving

They arrived well, and met with the District Office secretary, but on the return journey when they stopped for a break, La Chica noticed oil pouring from Old Red. This time, the transmission fluid hose had split. With no spare parts, La Chica was very lucky that a passing truck driver stopped and gave her a spare piece of hose pipe. Marko, showing great talent as a bush mechanic, took the hose from the radiator overflow, replaced the split transmission fluid hose, and used the donated plastic hose in the overflow tank. The journey proceeded.

But it didn’t end there! The spare tyre was making a loud rattling noise – it seemed that when the local mechanics had changed the tyre, they broke some bolts, and didn’t tighten the remaining ones, so the wheel was loose. Marko tightened it, but with only three bolts, and only on one side, Old Red remained unsteady.


La Chica had yet another journey to make on this trip. To the Testigo project village of Loiborsoit ‘A’. With no rain for a few days, she decided to brave the road, and drive four of them to the village. The journey became ‘exciting’ when La Chica was faced with driving through twenty metres of mud with no way around it. Old Red slid sideways, got stuck, reversed out and slid forwards, somehow getting them through the mud.  They arrived well in Loiborsoit ‘A’ but needed to have mechanics sort out the tyre and bolts that had been changed in Terrat.

checking tyres

On the return journey La Chica got her friend Lengai to drive, and it started to pour rain! The muddy patch became a muddy road, and as they drove in the descending darkness waves of muddy rust coloured water sprouted up on both sides of Old Red. Although the petrol gauge showed empty, Old Red made it back to Terrat village in the dark.

The return journey to Arusha was relatively uneventful.

Old Red overheated again, so La Chica and the other occupants played cards as they waited for Old Red to cool down. That only took half an hour. La Chica is still trying to cool down from the challenging road trip!

“I have never seen a seed”

It’s not often that La Chica stands back and observes, usually she’s too busy doing. But in a recent meeting in Engarenaibor, a Ward in Masai land where La Chica is planning to bring Testigo’s training to more villages, she did just that.  Over 45 Masai women and men were crowded into a room in the Mairowa village office to watch Testigo’s film set in Loiborsoit ‘A’, one of the villages Testigo trained in 2015.  In the film (which is on Testigo’s homepage there is a part when a young boy loudly crunches on a carrot.  Audiences in Australia laugh, and this Masai group also laughed!

With Ndoye

After the film one of the five older men in the room spoke eloquently about the opportunity that Testigo was presenting to them.  He said that he had never seen a seed in his life, but he wanted to learn to grow, and he wanted to be sure that La Chica was aware that he was old and couldn’t walk long distances anymore, so the training needed to be not too far from his home.  La Chica was very touched by this man, and his yearning to learn something beyond pastoralism and his traditional way of life.  It never occurred to him that he’d be too old to learn something new, like growing his own vegetables.  La Chica breathed deeply, and for a moment metaphorically stood back and wondered yet again how on earth she’d ended up in Masai land running her NGO Testigo.  This man is pictured below, fourth from the left.

With the men, Engare, Small

La Chica was very pleased when everyone in the meeting decided they wanted to be part of the project, and wanted to ask their friends to join as well.

With the group, Engare, Small

To set up this meeting, La Chica had recently met with the Mairowa chairman Ringoine, and the Women’s SOCCOS chairwoman Namnyak, who was leading her women’s group in a micro finance initiative.

Version 2

After returning to Arusha from Engarenaibor, La Chica met with two other Chairmen  – Luka, from the neighbouring village Ngozwak (on La Chica’s left) and Peter, the newly elected head of youth for CCM, Tanzania’s ruling party (on La Chica’s right).

With the chairmen, Engare, Small

She gave them each a small gift from Australia, which she placed on their lapels!

With koalas

La Chica feels so lucky that she’s doing work that makes her soul soar and her heart sing. She feels such love and compassion for these hard working Masai who always make her feel so welcome in their villages.  She’s looking forward to this year, and to getting to know the Masai from this new Ward.

Introducing Rozi Parmelo

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Rozi has five children. She has created six double dug beds, one keyhole garden and one sack garden in her home. She’s been growing and harvesting her vegetables, and started selling them three months after commencing her gardens. She’s used the income from selling her produce to buy chickens, which are also income producing, and she feels that her financial situation has improved dramatically.

La Chica and World Water Day

Tracey with chairwoman copy

La Chica often wears her Testigo tshirt displaying ‘water is life’ on the back. A truism if ever there was. But how often do we reflect on what this really means, especially when we’re used to having a constant flow of water at the ‘drop’ of a hat. What about for those people who don’t take having water for granted because they don’t have a source of running water in their house, or even nearby? La Chica has been involved with the Masai community in Tanzania for over 11 years. Traditionally, the Masai are nomadic pastoralists, walking with their livestock to water sources and pasture land. Those Masai who aren’t tending to their livestock are now living in permanent mud hut abodes in villages which usually have water challenges. This means having to go to available water sources and filling 20 litre buckets with water, then carrying them home, often walking for miles. Then, if and when the rainy season comes, and rain (might) finally fall onto the parched land, it rains ‘buckets’. The dry plains become flooded, water finding its own way, breaking down roads and sweeping animals and children away with it. Buckets collect water from tin rooves, dams are filled, and some lucky households with hafirs (household dams) provided by Testigo find their small dams suddenly full and ready to supply them with water for their gardens into the next dry season.

La Chica has seen many seasons pass in Tanzania. She’s seen the worst drought in history in Masai land and she’s walked back from ceremonies through thigh-high fast flowing water. She’s washed with only a mug of water, and has perfected the art of soaping then rinsing using this one mug. She’s delighted in the dry shampoo effect of constant dust, and tolerated feeling like a donkey or elephant who’s just rolled in dust for sun protection – the dust sticks nicely to her sunscreen providing an extra layer of sun protection. She’s also experienced the sheer joy of returning to Arusha from Masai land, returning to a shower, running water, and the feeling of extreme cleanliness. After all, how can we truly know what it’s like to be clean, unless we know what it’s like to be the opposite. But La Chica feels compassion for so many of the Masai she encounters who have never had the chance to feel that joy. Who have never been to town, never had the pleasure of standing under running water. La Chica’s askari (guard for her house in Arusha) is a Masai from Longido. He had never had a shower until he came to work for La Chica. Recently he returned from taking leave in Longido, and told La Chica that he loves coming back to Arusha and being able to stand under the thing that makes rain. Never mind that that thing that makes rain only provides luke warm rain (it’s a cold tap only shower).

So on World Water Day, let’s appreciate the water we have available to us – in Melbourne, La Chica’s home town, the abundance of water that always flows from the many taps that everyone has in their houses. A few years ago La Chica hosted a Masai visiting from Tanzania, in her home in Melbourne. La Chica and La Chica’s family took this Masai around to many places in Melbourne – the city, Puffing Billy….when he saw the Yarra River he exclaimed at how much water was available in Melbourne. He was astounded when La Chica explained that this wasn’t Melbourne’s water source, and it wasn’t clean. It was just a river.

La Chica has witnessed Masai sharing muddy dams with their livestock, drinking the same water. She’s watched Masai kneeling down to this water, and drinking it through their brightly coloured and checked shukas in order to filter it. She’s witnessed the adaptability of the Masai to drink very little liquid, and although La Chica can do the same, she becomes parched far more quickly.

Testigo wants to provide more hafirs to the Masai, so that they can collect rainwater when it does finally pour down. A$400 will provide a hafir to a Masai household – strong heavy duty plastic, and a dam that’s 10 metres long, two metres wide, and one and a half metres deep. Helping others feels good – give it a go!

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike, I want…

Thanks to Tour d’Afrique bicycle race participants 2016 (from Cairo to Capetown), Testigo has three bicycles for use of project participants.  Last year La Chica applied for bicycles for another NGO, Lengo Football Academy (which she co-founded) and was very happy to receive 20 bicycles for the players.  They rotate the bikes among the players, and the ones that have a long way to travel or need to regularly collect and transport water to their homes have benefitted hugely.  Although there are less bicycles this year, there is a great need, and La Chica is thrilled that the Masai women who don’t have donkeys to help them transport water will be able to use bicycles!


IMG_5925 copy IMG_5910 copy

Introducing Ester


La Chica is in awe of all the wonderful Masai women and men who have participated in Testigo’s permaculture training.  She wants to introduce some of these people over the coming months.


Ester Alais

Simanjiro_Maasai Women's Gardens 021

Ester is from Loiborsoit ‘A’ village.  She has eight immediate family members and five double dug beds. She joined the project because one of her good friends did and was very enthusiastic about it. She has limited land space in her home and is competing with the cattle for her own piece of garden real estate, but she’s planning to move to her mother’s place and there will create a large garden. Every few days she feeds her family the produce from her garden. She has used some of the proceeds from selling her vegetables to pay for veterinary treatment and medicine for her family’s cows. Ester involves her children with the garden, and loves that they are doing something which is good for them rather than sitting around being idle. Her plan is to prepare a garden for each of her children, saving the proceeds from sale from each specific garden for the relevant child, to help them in the future. Ester features in the Testigo film which can be viewed on Testigo’s home page –


Worlds apart

La Chica’s lives are so different. No, that’s not a typo, La Chica doesn’t just have one life, she has two lives – one in Australia and one in Tanzania, and the in between bits are usually in an airplane.  Ask La Chica which one she prefers, and she’ll tell you she can’t answer that question, that each life is so different from the other.

When La Chica is in Australia, she finds it easy to do things.  There is electricity 24/7, fast internet connection, running water, shops within easy reach with pretty much anything she wants to buy, smooth roads, traffic lights that work and drivers that on the whole obey the traffic lights and rules, clean and efficient medical facilities, dentists with electricity and modern equipment, and there is such a variety of food.

When La Chica is in Tanzania it can be challenging at times.  For days on end (most recently for five consecutive days) there is no electricity, so even if La Chica is in Arusha town and not in one of her project villages, she can’t maintain a fridge, have cold milk, keep fruit or vegetables more than a day, and if she’s lucky to still have water at home, the shower is invariably cold.  She uses her mobile phone as a hotspot, and has to put credit on her phone regularly, sometimes daily, and if she’s trying to Skype with people in other countries and someone rings her hotspotted mobile phone, the Skype call gets cut off.  In Arusha town she has a local shop near her home.  They sell water, matches, toilet paper, soap, one type of body lotion, and very little else.  The road to her home is a dirt road which floods in the rainy season, and is very bumpy and rocky.  No one obeys the traffic laws, or the traffic lights, and the crazy dalla dallas (public mini buses) will drive the wrong direction down a road or squeeze through traffic or drive on footpaths if it means getting to their destination more quickly.  If La Chica needs to see a dentist she lines up with twenty or so Tanzanians and waits her turn.  As for doctors – La Chica would rather not be sick!

But the scenery – they are on a par with each other.  La Chica spent nine years living in London, with its often grey clouds, and always low sky.  With its population of 64 million it never felt like there was enough space.  Tanzania and Australia both have big skies – beautiful blue expanses that feel endless, and at night, both countries share the same starry vista.  In Longido, the Masai village where La Chica has her own mud huts, there is no light pollution to detract from the night skies, and she’s made many wishes on falling stars.

La Chica loves the wildlife of Australia.  She still exclaims with delight at the sight of the Aussie animals, whether koalas, kangaroos, echidnas, possums or snakes (she screams at the sight of spiders, though).  She also loves the wildlife of Tanzania.  A ‘day in the office’ for La Chica means a drive to one of her project villages, and she’ll usually spot giraffes, impala, dik dik, ostriches and many birds en route.  Tanzania does have tarantulas, but then Australia has huntsmans – both of them are feared by La Chica!

As for the people, there is much more diversity in Melbourne.  So many nationalities, reflected in an abundance of restaurants of so many different cuisines.  Different religions, cultures, languages – Melbourne is such an example of multiculturalism.  In contrast although there are more than 120 tribes in Tanzania each with their own language, in reality many tribes have assimilated and are losing their unique cultural identities and languages.  Arusha town has a range of restaurants, and boasts a mix of food including European, Mexican and Chinese, but outside of town the Tanzanian food is pretty much standard fare – rice or ugali (corn meal), red kidney beans, cooked green leafy vegetables, and meat.

If La Chica didn’t have her two lives, she wouldn’t appreciate the differences, and she wouldn’t be grateful for the benefits of each.  She certainly doesn’t take either for granted.

And so…La Chica feels she’s got the best of both worlds – she’ll never ‘settle’ for one!