Field Work stories. Clara Galvani: "In Tanzania to increase the dairy industry through the screening of infectious diseases."

"At home, we had a little electricity, just enough to charge our phones, but insufficient to do anything else, such as using the hairdryer. We didn't have hot water so we had to boil pots of water taken by the river to shower. Everything, even the simplest activities, required twice the time," says Clara Galvani, recalling the strong professional, but above all human experience, lived in that strip of deep and wild Africa that fascinates and frightens at the same time, Tanzania. Clara, 22 years-old, got there in June 2019, with the Field Work program of the University of Bologna and a very specific task: to help the local community to increase the dairy industry safely, through the screening of infectious diseases of the animals.

A plane trip to Dar es Salaam and twenty hours by bus to reach Mahinya, a village in the province of Songea, where she would have lived with other expatriates inside the college of the NGO Co.P.E. (Cooperazione Paesi Emergenti). As travel companions, she had with her the skills acquired during her studies in Veterinary Sciences and the awareness of an important chapter of her life that was about to begin. For three months she would have dealt with the screening of infectious diseases: Brucellosis, Tuberculosis, Rift Valley Fever and East Coast Fever. In order to increase the dairy industry in the Ruvuma region, animals must be free of diseases transferrable through milk, and Clara wanted to be part of this significant change in the quality of life of local inhabitants.

“The NGO Co.P.E., with which I would have collaborated, had put in place an agricultural-zootechnical project, FARE, which stands for Fair Agro-Zootechnical Regional Empowerment in Tanzania. This initiative had the task of implementing a governance system that could foster dialogue and synergies between the public and private sectors to develop the dairy industry. The project also aimed to improve the quality of local veterinary services through training, research, creation of new employment opportunities and support for consortium entrepreneurship, with particular emphasis on the participation of women," explains Clara. "The Field Work program, combined with the opportunity to collaborate with this NGO, immediately seemed to me a constructive experience both from a training and humanitarian point of view, so I left despite the awareness that I would have encountered difficulties and many unknowns."

Difficulties, such as the distrust of breeders, and unknowns, such as suddenly feeling the 'different' one. “When I happened to eat in the villages, people were always very happy to give me a meal at their home. The rumor that a musungu (white person) was nearby, spread quickly and often people just came to look at me. Especially the children often surrounded me to talk to me and pinch my skin, so strangely pale."
In the hinterland of Tanzania, tourists are not often met, but despite this the locals have very precise ideas about Westerners. "A widespread prejudice is the immediate association of skin color with wealth. It is assumed that a white person is rich and as such, everyone expects to receive something more: a gift, a higher price, a more substantial tip. With Simone, an Italian guy who was carrying out civil service in Mahinya, we were invited to take part in a wedding. Partly because it was expected that we would help pay for the ceremony and bring the most beautiful and expensive gift, but above all because bringing two white friends to a wedding is an exceptional event. So much so, that at some point we were made to sit on two chairs and, in turn, the guests paid 1TZS (0.00039 €, ed.) to be photographed with us."

In Tanzania, Clara has certainly discovered a profoundly different daily routine from hers, but at the same time a human warmth and a rhythm of life much more in harmony with nature. “They never get angry and always smile. The most fascinating thing is undoubtedly the culture of greeting. When two people meet, although it is not the first time during the day, they greet each other in a very articulate way. Physicality is also particularly sought after. When you introduce yourself, you say hello by hugging or holding hands for a long time."
In Tanzania, everything is done 'pole pole', that is 'slowly', with peace of mind. “Life is faced day by day. If you try to make plans, 99% of them fail. Not being used to organizing in advance, it is quite common to have problems and wait, even for hours or days. Their relationship with time is fascinating, starting from the way the hour is calculated. Near the equator, the daylight hours are around twelve throughout the year. Their hour 1 corresponds to the first hour of light and therefore to 7 in the morning, the second hour to 8, and so on. This created quite a few misunderstandings for me, especially when I wanted to buy bus tickets and understand what time I had to leave."

Travels in this area are not easy at all. The main means are buses, on which the maximum amount of passengers is always reached and often exceeded, since children are not counted. During the trips, usually very long, some stops are made to buy food through the windows. "You can find all sorts of food, once I even saw it selling fried crickets," says Clara. "And when you go to areas near the lakes, the driver picks up a woman selling fried fish on the bus."

In this unusual but stimulating context, Clara found herself having to bring together her skills, gained over years of study and academic commitment, with the local reality. "My research activity involved taking blood from twelve villages and analyzing the samples in the laboratory. In the first period, when the reagents for the analyzes had not yet arrived, I helped the association in the management of a FARE project, thanks to which it was possible to open some dairy plants. In mid-July I then started my own project," Clara recalls those days, as she tells of her small team made up of a local veterinarian, Dixon, an Italian girl who studied animal production, Anna, a representative of the regional veterinary office of Tanzania, Nelson, and their driver, Fanueli. "For twelve days, our task was to go around, village by village, in order to collect the blood of the cows that the breeders made available to us."

The farmers were 'educated' before the delegation visited them, in order to understand the importance of the activity. "Almost all breeders have no education, few know how to read and write. For this reason, and to avoid misunderstandings, it was essential to explain to them what we were doing. It was not uncommon for someone to associate us with witchcraft or to think that after our intervention the animals could have died, or that the blood could serve us for some kind of economic gain.
During the sampling activity, I also submitted to the breeders a questionnaire that I had prepared in Italy with the help of my thesis supervisor, Professor Alessandra Scagliarini (Vice Rector of International Relations of the University of Bologna, ed.), and then translated into Swahili once arrived in Tanzania. It was not easy to find someone who was able to speak English and my Swahili, not very understandable, was often a source of great hilarity among those present."

Clara admits that during the three months spent in Tanzania the ups and downs were numerous, but it was precisely the difficulties that made her grow and mature as a person and as a professional. "Seeing the impact that what you do can have in a place where the need for your skills is almost extreme, gives you the true measure of how much the 'mission' you have chosen for your life is worth all the sacrifices. Past, present and future. Thanks to Field Work and the University of Bologna for this awareness."

Anyone who can handle an oar always finds a place in a canoe. (proverb of Tanzania)