Everyday actions are learned as we grow up, by observation, copying, failure, trying again and getting better little by little. Depending on our home place and culture of origin we learn very different skills: it may be using certain tools in the garden or on the farm, techniques for handwashing clothes, cleaning house even how to do shopping for food.
When, as an adult, you switch home place for a while and immerse yourself in a different culture its time to adapt and re-learn some things. This can be both challenging and very much fun.
A example is haggling over prices. In North America and Europe we are used to walking into a store or market and buying things at a fixed price. Here in Tanzania (and many other places of course)there are situations with fixed prices , such as supermarkets and larger stores, but in many places you have to negotiate for a good price. As visitors we first are given what we call “mzungu” prices: very much inflated and nothing a local would ever consider paying. So we haggle back and forth and sometimes leave without the item, otherwise having arrived at an agreeable price for both parties.
More recently I’ve been practicing carrying things on my head. Here we see young girls transporting buckets or sizeable bundles on their heads gracefully and without touching them with their hands.

starting young

I asked Saum to help me learn and she showed me  to roll up a kanga and place it on my head which cushions and supports the bucket. The weight immediately settles the head and spine into a straight (strong) line. A little steadying by one arm holding the edge of the bucket helps me keep it there and prevents sudden movements. I have to learn to walk slowly and evenly, both strong and flexing all the time keeping a balance between the movement of my feet and legs and the slight movements of the water in the bucket.

years of practice

During a work party with my friends of the Twiga group we were carrying buckets of clay, and great excitement stirred, when I picked up a bucket too. It works much better than our way of carrying off centre and one-sided. Do try it sometime! I was most impressed by the older women in the group working tirelessly and powerfully.

Zaruna laying stone

While some of the group were digging and moving the clay, others were building the stone foundation for the small cob cabin that we are building here at Amarula Camp.
And like every good work party we had food together at the end. Happy about what we achieved and feeling good to be working together again.

Soon we will start cobbing- if you’re in Tanzania and looking to learn cob building, please contact me. There’s always room for help.

5 replies
  1. marisa pereira
    marisa pereira says:

    Hi Elke:
    I see that you are in Tanzania! I have been in Florida since August, buying a house and working on it. Then reconciling with Peter (we broke up after the Middle East trip.) I am getting hungry for traveling again and Saturday I am going to Brazil, then maybe Vancouver to see Peter, then maybe Vietnam, then maybe back in Florida to do some work in my yard. I plan to do some cob right here in my garden. But…Tanzania also sounds wonderful! How long are you staying there? Maybe we’ll meet up for some great work party one day.

    take care and keep that bucket on your head!


  2. Ayla Challenger
    Ayla Challenger says:

    Hey Elke,

    Great to hear about all your experiences and learning in Tanzania. I am going to miss you at the Ecovillage this summer. I am probably going to be teaching with Cindy Walker and Pat Hanabury this summer. I am also working on doing a cob bench project in Tofino this fall. Sending you some cool snowflakes.



    • elkecole
      elkecole says:

      Hi Ayla
      It will be strange for me too not to be there. Things are starting to come together here meeting more people who want to learn and build. Natural Building Tanzania- how about that!
      If it gets too cold there come on over:)
      Best wishes for the season- I know you’ll have a good time

  3. Patrick Hennebery
    Patrick Hennebery says:

    Hey Elke:
    It looks like great work you are doing there. I am teaching a month long cob internship with Ayla at the Ecovillage this summer and I also did a course in Mexico this spring. Take care. Everybody misses you at the E.V.


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