Usambara Mountains
changing landscape
roadside offerings

Nov 22
Hot pink and blue are the roadside colors of Tanzania. They represent  three large cellular providers Vodacom, TIGO,  and Zain. The presence of their advertising shows up on tiny roadside stores to large block buildings painted in these colors that everyone knows.
The busride from Dar to Arusha takes 9 hours on “kilimanjaro express”. The landscape changes from the coastal flat land to red earth from which people make bricks, past vast areas of sisal plantation leaving the Usambara Mountains to the East. Looking West and North the view is wide open, small hills dotting the landscape.
We only stopped once for a 15 min food break at Kerogwe – a rest stop with restaurant, toilets and vendors selling fruit and newspapers.
Eventually towering clouds in front of us : Kilimanjaro is hiding. We drop passengers in Moshi and carry on to Arusha, another 70 km, now through green areas with rivers, small gorges and the everpresent mountains.  Mount Mehru to the West is visible – it anchors Arusha into place.
Seppo picked me up and we drove to his studio and gallery adjoining the Masai Cafe that his wife Julia runs. On display in the gallery are masks from different areas (not just Tanzania) and some prints of rock art on handmade paper by Seppo. The Rock Art is of course why this next project is happening- so I take this first impression as an invitation to awaken my curiosity.
Arusha is busy- and yesterday (Sunday) many churches held large celebrations for confirmation. The sound of their music and amplified voices reached everywhere.
Evening came with a full moon in the sky- first full moon in Africa this time. We went to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. Yes this is truly a tourist town: you can eat greek, italian,lebanese,  ethiopian and probably a few other flavors. “too many mzungus” sais Julia, although she knows that this is what brings money to town, but also makes everything more expensive.
Today a little internet session and then off to Kondoa- another 4 hours in the Jeep. Away from the fancy food and busy streets.

Elke in the foundation trench

Before we start looking at the next location I want to just tell a little more about the Baobab site.
The builders went to work and quickly built the earthbag foundation. We topped it with a gradebeam to strengthen the structure and  provide good base for the blocks. Making a level form is easier said than done because the boards that are rented are not straight at all. So we did our best.

foundation done

By the end of Friday it’s all done and the lead builder Mohamed , Caito and I went around and marked doors, windows and special features into the fresh concrete. Hopefully this will reduce errors when they look at the plan. When I return in a month the site will be transformed and I expect to see the walls up and perhaps even the top floor slab poured.
A lesson for me: Thinking about saving money I thought using rubble would be better than good gravel. Turns out that rubble is hard to get, involves more transport and costs almost as much! So ask questions before making assumptions- and understand that what may be waste elsewhere is not necessarily seen that way here.

planting with Sally

Sally an I spent a couple of late afternoons last week planting the shrubs and trees she brought to the farm. David and Gabriel worked with us as we chose good spots for each. In a few years the garden will be tall and shady with all the beautiful trees.

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The breeze/ wind here is reliable- starting mid morning and ebbing in the evening after sunset. There is no electricity yet so nothing can be charged, which in this time of electronics can be a challenge. I brought a small solar charger (mission1) and found out that the cell phones that I have use a different voltage than this one provides.
And the laptop of course needs charging as well, so we will be making trips to Bagamoyo regularly.
Aside from these small struggles I’m enjoying being back here.
Things have changed/ developed a bit since last year.
The house we started last October is nearing completion. Terri and Caito have moved in, even though there’s still work to be done. It will be easier to make progress when they can be on site to move things along.
Things to be done on the house:

  • install ceilings and insulate them
  • finish window installation (security bars are in, and windows are being built)
  • build compost toilet
  • build shower and wash station (there is an existing shower house with toilet away from this house that we use now)
  • install/connect plumbing fixtures
ceiling wanted…

I took a couple of walks since I arrived  and am trying to observe what is happening with the land.
This is a large plot  that has been farmed in the past.  There are two orchard areas: one grows oranges the other limes. Part of the area of the lime orchard has been identified as the best location for the cowshed/ biogas production, and has been cleared for that purpose. A couple of years of non-management of the trees allowed a noxious climbing weed to choke many of the trees. It must have been a big job to free the remaining ones.
The intention here is to apply permaculture principles in the farming and planning. I am talking with Gabriel who has worked with a visiting permaculturist and is now the resident manager of the farm. He is eager to learn more and it helps me a lot that his English is good.
Gabriel showed me a mandala garden that has been started : with banana circles, planted palm, Avocado, Guava and Passionfruit. He talked about his crop of sweet potatoes last season and is now preparing to plant summer crops.
Baobab has now started a new project that brings groups of HIV positive children and youth out to the farm for some education, play and a meal. The people meet monthly at the treatment center where the government gives them medication. The intention with this program is to create a peer network of people in the community that will help infected youth not to feel isolated or marginalized and  also give them a place to speak about their issues with each other as they grow up.   Terri tells me that in her observation medicine is provided but not enough social/ psychological support is given.

a bus arrives for a program

A great need related to this program and other groups that come, as well as to serve residents and workers on the farm is the central kitchen. We had made a plan for it last year and I am working on a simpler design, somewhat reduced in scale. This, I believe will be our building project this year.

Also much needed is additional accommodation so a first “dorm” room may also be built.
You can see there’s much to do….is there anything you can do to help?

 

window at Permalot

Window at Permalot

Daylight comes slowly, and when it rains even more so it seems. The alcove we sleep in is on the east side of the building and has two windows allowing the first morning light to enter my sleep. In the summertime the morning sun tickles our faces, the winter sun never comes over the trees to touch the morningside of the studio.

Arched cob frames kitchen windows

I get up and move into the kitchen where the skylights light up the living space. I hear the rain drumming on the glass. If all windows were gone here the place would be perfectly lit up- if the skylights disappeared it would be dark in here. Daylight (and moonlight!) comes from the sky and if we can’t see the sky through the windows because of vegetation of other structures we don’t have natural light coming in.

window in my sleeping alcove

If not for light, what are windows for? They are the eyes to the world around us: we like to see if there are clouds rolling in, like to know when visitors approach. Working near a window allows us to watch over the children playing outside. I like to be connected to others in the neighborhood just by seeing them out and about. Windows also become the beacon to go to: think of a dark night when you see the lit up windows of a house. They allow a sneak preview of the space you enter: especially in stores. A town is more interesting to walk through when stores show window displays and people sit in window niches of cafes and restaurants.

light from skylights

skylights light up the sanctuary hall

 

When trying to plan an energy conservative house we want to be careful with window placement and sizing. Here are a few tips:

  1. Know the site: understand and observe the sunpath and design the building accordingly for optimum daylighting
  2. Be selective and intentional about size: a window doesn’t need to be large to give view. A window that is close to the eye is like a lense. Try holding a small frame in front of you and notice the difference of area you can see by changing the distance to your eye.
  3. Learn about the different types of glazing
  4. Use Solar tubes for daylight in deeper spaces
  5. There’s not much to see low to the floor: unless you specifically receive solar gain on your floor (thermal mass floor) lift the glass area up!
  6. Light colors on the walls that are facing windows and on window reveals reflect light into your space.
  7. Light from two sides: better two small windows on different walls than one large one; this avoids glare and brings life
  8. If you’re down because the winter days are too short….go outside everyday during daylight hours. Even a few minutes make a difference.

See you out there!

eye to the world outside