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Home is where?

Changing worlds doesn’t get easier over time as you may think- culture shock still happens to me when I return back to Canada. First the world seemed so much quieter and so gray here, not to mention cold. My dreams kept taking place in Africa and even now after a week still do.
So let’s go back and revisit Baobab Shamba where we spent our last month.

view from the road with the new kitchen in front

When we returned from Arusha the kitchen walls had been built and the roof frame was started. Everyone was eager to move forward with next steps. The rains had turned the land green again and it seemed like everything was growing.
Our list of things to do was never shrinking: support the garden, work on gray water system, build shower at the house, build sinks for both shower areas, plaster, wall tiling, build stove, and so on.

Tiling….

Early January brought a handful of new volunteers to the farm. Some came with high skill: Eckhard Beuchel, a builder friend of mine from Germany, followed my invitation to build a stove for the kitchen. The idea was to create a stove that allows for different fuels (hoping for fuel briquettes made from agricultural waste in the future), or at least get more from a given amount of firewood.
We came up with a stove that heats three pots with one fire and an oven that can be preheated by the cooking fire as well. Have a look:

While he was working on the stove I built the third and largest concrete sink and counter:
Well I didn’t do it without the help of Sean on the arches and the guys onsite who mixed the concrete on a Sunday morning.
All through the week the site was buzzing with activity. CM tells a good story of it all from his perspective on his blog.
Tile mosaics transformed the shower space, two other concrete sinks for laundry were cast in place, trees planted and another building started: Terri and Caito are now building a home for themselves.

Terri and Caito’s house
The compost bins

Sean built a solid set of compost bins and we held a demonstration class for the folks on the farm.  This is what our permaculture intro has come to: compost, trees, and greywater. If any two of these still work and live when I return I’ll be thrilled.
Really we are introducing ideas and inviting change of behaviour and that just doesn’t happen overnight. Small steps- pole pole
Finally here’s a series of images taken over time from the road entrance to the farm:

in the beginning : the Guava tree
the office was first
then the eating banda
next came Ubuyu 1 the house

 

and now the kitchen out front.

Soon the trees will grow up all around, the brick making will be done and the smell of food cooking will drift towards visitors who approach the buildings. Karibuni – Welcome!

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Something completed and another soon to start

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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Water: sweet and salty

November 13

It only took a couple of days for our seeds to sprout . I planted some cowpeas earlier this week and now they are up and growing on the “fence”. The Mchicha greens also show and now I’m watching for the Zucchini.
It’s the presence of water that creates the magic of course. We use a lot of it at the Shamba:

  • Everything that’s planted needs to be watered daily.
  • The animals need drinking water
  • The builders use it for making bricks and mortar.
  • The kitchen needs water for cooking and washing.
  • People need water for washing.
  • We wash our clothes.
  • And the neighbors come to get water from us.
shower platform in banana circle

Part of what we’re trying to do is get more use out of the water by setting up greywater systems from every building so that used water from sinks and showers gets distributed for irrigation.
Our “Banana Shower”is the first step. We all enjoy the beautiful set up in the middle of the garden and the plants will love it too.

building the shower

The kitchen building will be sending its waste water to the garden as well. I am looking  for a simple solution for distribution of water without small parts (as we use in drip irrigation). Send me ideas! I look forward to having the books from Oasis Design to help us make decisions. Thank you Art!

Back in the garden: we are now preparing beds for more planting: layering seaweed and manure under mulch, and letting this sit for while before we plant.
Gabriel split a cluster of lemongrass and now we have several new starts which will provide us with lovely flavored tea. It’s pretty exciting to be part of all this!

The design for the kitchen is finalized and we will break ground on Monday- first by digging up a banana cluster and transplanting it.
The building will have a core storage room, a dishwashing area, cooking area, watchman’s station, shower, and upstairs a sleeping place for one of the staff. It will be located at the entrance to the “compound” with a fence connecting to it in the future.

the building site before starting

Making the trip to Bagamoyo town is not a big deal- the hardest part is making up my mind!
Today we all went in for a birthday pool party at the Millennium resort. A great excuse to lay on a lounge chair and read a book while the children were playing in the water with the current volunteers from Baobab. I slipped away for a dip in the ocean: it was warmer than the pool, salty and pretty choppy water. Yes its the Indian Ocean- you gotta love it.
Good timing for a day in town: this morning we found that we had no water at the site- and there’s that topic again….

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Permaculture and stories

November 10…doesn’t feel like November
A downpour woke me up this morning – I zipped up the tent fly and rolled over noticing  the slight cooling that came with it. It happens quite often that we get a short rain at that time and I can only hope that this brings some water to all the plants in the garden.
The farm was a hub of activity yesterday. Samson started making bricks (fired from our own clay), two others are producing blocks, two more are digging the sand for the blocks. We had a guy building a pidgeon house, and Gabriel and Kenneth made a gate for the fence.  Amy and I worked on the preparation for the porch floor and fixed the edge of the bench at the office.
Shelves were set up for the dishes, and in the house Terri was sorting things from the move and discussing plans with Katie. And, of course, the woman who cooks for us was doing just that.
I notice that Caito being here draws the guys in to working and being around.

After lunch I presented the kitchen plans to the group to decide on the final  location. We all agreed to keep the location that was layed out in the plan a couple of years ago. Now we can prepare the site and get ready to build.
We had a storyteller here for the afternoon and the children from Baobab came out for this special occasion.
A team of young film makers fro the college of performing arts in Bagamoyo  filmed the event.

We started planting a few things in the garden. In the morning Gabriel , Kenneth and  I started to make a garden layout in the Mandala Garden . We looked at the trees that have been planted and the layout of the beds. There is a lot of room for vegetables and we were deciding what to plant where. It’s a little ironic that I should be doing this with them- I don’t have much experience in the garden, but I have been watching the ecovillage gardeners do things and have picked up a bit from that. We returned in the late afternoon, when the sun was low, for the actual planting.
One big rule that I do know is:” Cover the soil “. So when we planted a bed of zucchini and mchicha (a fast growing spinach like green) I covered everything with rice hulls .

CM calls using gmail these days. I so appreciate his way of staying connected.

Here on the farm email and writing take a lesser place. With plenty of other things to do and a lack of electricity what would you choose?
Speaking of electricity: We had some success with the generator charging a battery and allowing things to get charged and lights for a night. But then the inverter overheated- I don’t know why – and we haven’t charged the battery since. Running the generator is terribly noisy and I struggle with the value of having the lights on or having the quiet.

I’m thinking about making a series of short sessions on permaculture to educate everybody who works here and have them all understand why things are the way they are. Perhaps once or twice a week  after lunch would be a good time for this- its too hot to do anything else then and the cook is free as well.

November 11
Painfully slow internet as I’m posting this. Looks like we will build a big earthen cookstove with the help of my friend from Germany….
Hoping to get better connection on Saturday.

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Landing at the Shamba

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?