Andeer Interview: Mitch Apley Part 2

Andeer Interview: Mitch Apley Part 2

In the second in a series of interviews, Chicago's Will Andeer sits down with Mitch Apley for a follow-up to last week's interview.

ANDEER:

So How did the trip to Africa go?

APLEY:

The trip didn’t exactly go as we planned… but it turned out all right in the end.

After almost 40 hours of travel, which included a 15 hour layover in Doha, we landed in Dar Es Salaam mid-day on a 98 degree Sunday only to have our camera equipment confiscated by customs. We thought we had all the right paperwork in place, but for whatever reason, we ended up spending the next four hours trying to convince the customs officials that they should release our gear without having to pay exorbitant taxes or whatever. The local Heifer folks stepped in right away and tried to help, but by the end of the day it became clear that we weren’t going to prevail and were going to have to leave the gear behind while we figured things out with the local government the next day. Our driver from the hotel was still standing outside the airport waiting for us when we got out, and we made our way to join the rest of our team for dinner and to get some sleep.

Dar Es Salaam is an interesting city. It’s got 4.6 million people, and the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty is present everywhere you look, except where there isn’t any wealth. Our hotel was very nice all things considered, and right on the harbor. But, the next day our fixer asked if we would like to walk to the Ministry of Information, and Vicki from Heifer and I said, sure. A block from our hotel, the neighborhood is decidedly different.

The ministry of information itself seemed to be located in an abandoned retail store. There was basically a folding table in the middle of the room with a guy sitting on a folding chair who directed us to the ministry of film upstairs.

We went up, and then down this long haul past that into a tiny little office where they have the film office. They said “Oh yeah we know you. We’ve been working with Kathy Kraft. You’re missing this one line on page two, item number six that the embassy in Washington D.C. needs to check off any comments they have about your application.” I said “Well, they don’t have comments. It’s just a film permit.” Their response was, “We need Washington D.C. to add their comments or we can’t give you a film permit.” They were very friendly about it, but it was starting to feel like we were in a Kafka novel.

The Ministry of Film sent us to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Diplomacy, which was back by the hotel, and we just kept going up the chain until we finally got someone to stay late to talk to the right person in the US. The next day our fixers got the permit and worked with customs all day, and we finally we were able to go get our gear.

The rest of the team from AbelsonTaylor had hit the ground running. Their task was to take a bunch of concepts aiming at driving demand for fresh, processed, local milk and test them with the local population. In Tanzania, drinking milk is not as popular as it is in other countries, so that raises some challenges for Heifer as they try to lift families out of poverty by getting them into dairy farming. So, Tristen George, Kristen McGirk, Carolyn Rechel, and Joshua Shehab were testing concepts we’d developed in the agency to see what would be most effective. They were doing market research through focus groups and actually talking to families in their homes to find out what was important to them with regards to milk, health, and nutrition. So, even though we were down as a film crew for two and a half days, at least some good work was getting done.

The next morning, then we all flew out to Mbeya which is a town of about two hundred thousand, maybe. The market research team went to do more of their work in Mbeya. The rest of us, the story telling team, loaded up all of our gear into a mini-bus and spent the next five hours on a journey to Njombe which is the town nearest to the farmers we’d be meeting and interviewing.

So film time. We ended up going to three different farms, all pretty great success stories. The first family we visited had a tilapia pool to grow fish in addition to their dairy operation. All three also grew avocados on their farms to help supplement their incomes. They all also had a bio-gas operation going. They take the other output from their cows, the manure, and put in in a tank which is pressurized and as the methane gas is emitted, they pipe it into their homes where they use it for cooking or for a heat source. One woman turned on her stove top and I was sure it would smell horrible, but it really wasn’t much different than propane.

We also went to a milk processing plant in Njombe and got a tour of their operation. Besides producing fresh processed milk, much of which gets delivered to schools in the area as part of a school milk feeding program that Heifer is helping with. It makes a big difference for the kids to have that nutrition coming in… They also make all kinds of Italian style cheeses, though, those mostly go to tourists.

All in all, it was a great experience. I got to fly our drone around, which has the effect of drawing kids from a mile around who just want to see it fly. They laugh so much and love it when it zips around. The country side there in the southern highlands is breathtakingly beautiful. It doesn’t look like what I used to think of when I thought of Africa. It’s rolling hills and valleys, beautiful lush vegetation, and because of the altitude, the weather is almost perfect. Except maybe for the torrential downpours every night. We were there right at the beginning of the rainy season.

Anyhow, we’re still going over the footage, but it seems like we got a good story. Hopefully a video will help raise awareness. And, I understand the market research team learn a ton and plan to get an ad in market over there later this year. We shall see what happens.

I do feel extremely lucky that I work for a company that promotes this kind of thing. We have so many people who are encouraged to support causes that are important to them, and I think it makes a big difference for everyone involved.

Will Andeer is a creative rep for charlieuniformtango. His column ANDEER INTERVIEWS appears in SCREEN monthly. Reach him at will@charlieuniformtango.com or will@screenmag.com.