The best blog is the one I’m actually going to write- so here are some notes after walking from Burgos to Santiago between September 25 and October 15, 2011

1. Community:

I think in my mind I expected a “pilgrimage” to be a fairly lonely experience with little contact to anybody. That was corrected on day 1: we had casually met Sue from Toronto as we walked out of Burgos. A few miles down the road entering a small village where we hoped to have a break and some food we were greeted by her waiving to us from a cafe inviting us to join her and another friend. This is an attitude we would see frequently – peregrinos (pilgrims) inviting others to their table at restaurants and bars. There was always the option for solitude but also the possibility of connection.

 

2. Peregrino culture:

Very quickly after joining the walking ‘community’ the group behaviour becomes obvious:

a. People take their boots off anywhere- in restaurants, on park benches, in the lobby of an albergue. Often this is accompanied by some treatment of blisters etc.
b. Upon arrival at the albergue you set up your bed space with your sleeping bag etc and
c. proceed to take a shower. Refreshed you then
d. go to the washing station and wash your walking clothes (since you only have one set of clean clothes)
e. Take a rest after hanging the washed clothes
f. Do some journalling
g. Scout out the best place for pilgrim’s menu in the village and take in the sights, perhaps go for a beer
h. Optional visit to the local church and or pilgrim’s mass
i. Join other peregrino’s for dinner ca.7 pm (long before any locals look for food, but the albergue closes at 9 or 10)
j. Full and tired go to bed at 9
k. Wake up early- if you’re the very early type you best learn how to do your packing very quietly
l. Leave the albergue before daybreak to get a good start on the walk and better chances at a bed at the next location
m. Wish everyone ‘Buen Camino’ as you pass them – also allow people to pass and exchange a greeting
n. Peregrinos loose all good habits when it comes to traffic: they wander all over the road, pay little attention to vehicles…

     

    3. It’s Peace making in its own way:

    The common goal of  ‘doing the camino’ gives a connection point that removes differences of status or other background. We are all pilgrims at this time. We talk to each other in many languages (with more or less skill) laugh and cry, struggle with our bodies, our backpacks and our minds. And we practice tolerance when we get frustrated about the behaviour of others (snoring, zipping bags, flashlights at 4 am etc) . Men and women share sleeping rooms and bathrooms, and we have to give space by turning our glance at times.

     

    4. Pushing my limits

    I never thought of myself as a hiker, and before this a 6 km walk seemed like a daunting exercise. Now when we look at 15 km I think “that’s just 3 hrs” and I feel quite able to do 25. Walking has become a serious mode of transport and is in fact a very pleasant way to explore places ( I knew that for visiting towns but hadn’t considered it for longer distances).

     

    5. Simplicity

    All there is to do is walk: Follow the yellow arrows and the sign of the shell and you will get there.

    Getting dressed is pretty simple too: One spare set of clothing and perhaps something in the morning to offer some warmth.

     

    6. Other Highlights:

    • The rich textured stone walls along the path and in the villages
    • The sound of Church bells and birds
    • Regional foods: ham in many varieties, Cheeses and Wine
    • The City of Leon
    • Stork’s nests everywhere
    • The changing colours of Earth
    • Harvest time and trailside gifts of food: figs, apples, pears and grapes

     

     

    I have received a lovely account from Sally who came and volunteered at Baobab too. For your reading pleasure:

    Baobab Journal December 1st 2010

    I think I will start with my last day at the Baobab shamba because it was so special and all the strands of my time with Terri, the orphans, the building works, the plantings came together.
    My daughter, Alice, and her lovely neighbours in Dar es Salaam, George and Theresa, drove up to Bagamoyo. I moved out of Francesco’s Hostel and we went to the shamba.
    The children and their carers were already there and having fun in the playground, Alice had bought herbs and planters from Dar so we got to work and planted them and also gave the shamba a new hose. The old one had more water pouring out of the holes than came out the end. Gabriel and David the two chaps who look after the land and animals were very, very pleased with the new hose.
    Terri is American and had not had time to celebrate Thanksgiving on the previous Thursday which is the normal day so had gone ahead and organised a wonderful party for all the builders, farm workers, the children, their carers and teachers about 40 people in all. A goat had been killed the previous week and a sausage had been made with the meat left, there was a vast bowl of rice (nice change from the maize porridge) peas with peanut butter quite tasty lots of vegetables. Alice had bought up pre cooked eggs from her chickens in Dar and I made devilled eggs as a starter and she made some goat cheese. It was a feast.
    With everyone still sitting on the floor or on the benches around the rondavel Terri told us that Gabriel the gardener was going to give thanks for the meal and then everyone could express their thoughts of what they were thankful for. Every single person spoke either in Kiswahili, Maasai or English or all three. Terri said thank you to me and to all the donors (you guys) and I thanked Terri and her husband Caito for putting up with me and I also thanked the lovely ladies at the Orphanage, Sarah, Helena and Gloria and the lads on the farm. For me the most moving was what David said. He had no English when I arrived and I had only managed to teach him a little bit including ‘you must water the trees every day’. When It was his turn he looked at me and said ‘Welcome every day’.

    We ended up with an incredibly sickly bright blue and white cake bought from our funds I had to cut it up into so many pieces and when I licked the icing it turned my tongue completely blue. Tanzanians love food colouring. Every morsel was demolished. I took fond farewells and cried some of the way back to Dar.

    A quick run down on my second week there. The English lessons continued to the Mamas at Baobab home and they just loved Bingo, Snap Hokey Kokey and learned so much. I would play with the orphans every day and found it very very hard to say goodbye to them. When I arrived on the motor bike all the neighbourhood children would call out ‘Sally Sally’. I visited the Montessori School for the older children and also the Nurse Training School and I hope through Mediae Trust to fund more text books. I spent some time at the hospital where the children receive their AIDS medication and was impressed with the staff and care there. With our funds the ceiling materials were bought and more cement and the windows are almost finished. The walls of the kitchen are now about 10 feet high and growing every day. I planted another 20 trees to create shade for the playground area.

    This may not be my last journal about Baobab. I Just have to go back to see how the trees and shrubs are doing and how the children have grown. It was a truly wonderful experience and again I thank you all and feel that you were part of it too.

    I am writing this from a spectacular house near Nanyuki at the foothills of Mount Kenya as I am staying with very dear friends. The weather is like a cool English summer’s day and a great break from the hot steamy coast. I think you may be in snow. Greetings to all

    Sally

    December 1, 2010

    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!

    A week ago today we traveled back to Arusha: our time in Mnenia village was finished- for this time. The standing question of the last few days there was “when will you come back?”
    Following is a sequence of experpts from my journal to capture my time with the women of Twiga group, building their store in the village of Mnenia.

    Dec 4
    In the village there’s not much available. Especially building supplies, either more expensive or not available at all.
    On the 2nd day of each month there’s a bigger market in Kolo: there you can buy clothing, shoes, roofing, baked goods, vegetables, cookware, tools, livestock and more. One can imagine that this becomes an important event in the life of the villagers.
    The next larger town is Kondoa- 25 km from Mnenia , and if you can’t get what you need there you have to travel 8o km to Babati. There are daily buses in both directions.
    We tried to be very organized and purchase and load all supplies in Arusha when we went to pick up Sue and Sean.
    A problem with the vehicle held us up on Tuesday so we didn’t leave until 4 pm.  I was glad to leave the busyness of the town and head back out towards the village. We stayed the night in Babati on the lake. Our hope for a visit by the hippos that night did not get fulfilled, so we hired a fisherman to paddle us out to see them in the morning. Still no luck- all we got was their sound – no visual.
    Arrival at camp meant unpacking everything and setting up kitchen and tents . Just when we had everything tucked in a thunderstorm blew in and tested all our tents and setup with strong gusty wind and rain coming horizontally. All was well and we took a deep breath!

    Thursday came and time for the beginning celebration. The women had prepared the site with colourful strips of fabric, flowers and a few palm fronds for decoration. In the morning we slaughtered a goat for the occasion that later was eaten with the pilau.
    Official beginning of the event was at two pm or saa nane- eight swahili time.
    The women started by performing traditional dances to welcome us into the community. The village dignitaries were present and a master of ceremonies.
    He gave me the name Mma Matumaini-(that means Hope) and everyone liked that. I received a black shirt, kanga and string of white beads and was asked to cut the ribbon for the other small structure that had been built.
    Next the group presented me with a few local traditional gourd and clay cooking dishes.
    I spoke a little to them about my hopes for the project and presented a unity flag to Twiga group. With all formalities finished it was time to eat and finally dancing in the square where Sue and I joined the women for a few dances.

    After such a good beginning I was very excited to start work the next day. Everyone showed up as agreed at eight with hoes and shovels to excavate.
    But first we had to decide on the final positioning of the building. The door will face onto the square where the waterfountain is and you can see the porch from the workshop as well as the road, so that when things are displayed outside they will be easily visible.
    With many hands the digging was done quickly. A tractor load of stone was delivered and we started to build a dry stone foundation.
    Teatime offers opportunity for a little bit of “shule” some short talks about things around the building, structure and process.

    Mama fundi: Zenia

    Dec 10
    Snapshot of yesterday morning.
    We now work on scaffolding made from Sisal poles. Sara is is now pretty competent at cutting “corner”bricks and works with three or four others: someone getting udongo,someone handing bricks, someone on the scaffold with her to spread the mud and fill the joints. From the inside of the building you can hear Sue’s voice:”level?….level!” as she goes around checking level and plumb. There is another group on the other side also laying bricks and mixing mud. Everybody is engaged, occasionally visitors drop in and help out a bit.
    Meanwhile in the backyard, a few women cook the day’s meal on a couple of small fires. This is also where people go when they take a short break and need some shade.
    Rain has been a daily event lately. Sometimes in powerful thundershowers, then in long periods overnight. Last night everyone in the small tents got wet from a long downpour.
    The river at the bottom of the land is high today. We can hear it rushing from the kitchen.
    There was an upset in the village and we found out that someone very respected had died when a tree fell on his house. The women needed time out to attend the funeral. So we stopped after tea and went to Kondoa for roof materials.
    The road from Kolo to Kondoa is part of the historic “great northern route” from Cairo to Capetown. It’s rough- damage from rain and earthmovements, broken bridges . Once again we’re grateful for the Land Rover’s power.
    Massive Baobab trees mark the landscape and I wonder what their story would be if they could tell it.

    see more here

    Dec. 16
    CM is here. His arrival was very much anticipated by the women and boys. At the end of the day yesterday I received a special gift of a fresh chicken with eggs inside that I was to cook for him. Saum help with preparing it and we cooked it in the earthen pot in the cob oven.
    Today all the women showed up to welcome us. Seppo and CM brought three bicycles donated by folks in the Cowichan Valley and a sewing machine from Sue- items the women had wished for. Still more bicycles needed but this was a great start!
    We danced to welcome CM and then went to work: plaster! We mixed lime and earth and many hands once again made fast work and by lunch time the building was plasterered inside and out.

    Dec. 17
    Last day on site. We have accomplished a lot. Walls are complete with plaster, the floor is laid and the door is hung. Costa will return in a few days to work with the group to build the roof. The model stove in the store room is finished and a few of the women feel confident to reproduce these.
    I watched the women take on this project and my highlights were times when I stood back and saw everyone busy on the building- work divided by aptitude and energy level, and once scaffolding was involved, the older women stayed on the ground. They all mixed mortar and plaster, laid bricks and packed the floor. At one time all of them were inside the building singing and plastering. As they occupy this building they will always know that their own hands built it. It is my hope that they will take these skills home and perhaps do some needed repairwork .
    We had a closing celebration yesterday with a few “speeches”, the presentation of the bicycles and sewing machine, and expressions of gratitude and hope for future cooperation. And one more round of dancing together. Good bye hugs and words and wishes for our journey and then it was done.

    Now the faces of Zena, Sara, Zura, the four Hadijas two Hawas , Zaina, Fatuma, Fatima, Mariamu, Hafsa, Maimuna, Rehema, Sewatu and Zaruna are part of my memory of a very special time in their village.
    My gratitude extends to Seppo Hallavainio for setting everything up and for being my “brother”, to Sue and Sean who stepped out of their comfort zone and joined the project without knowing much beforehand, to Daniel who gracefully danced between languages and cultures and to the village council of Mnenia for their support of this project.

    Things will change here and I can’t help but wonder what it will look like a few years from now. Will it still be quiet and dark at night with the sounds of insects, dogs, the wind and the river and human voices? Will the women still wear their traditional dresses with Kangas and headscarves?
    What of this lifestyle is important to take into the future and how can their standard of life improve?
    Many questions to take with me and to ponder.

    November 29
    Two days in Arusha have passed quickly collecting supplies for the projects. Tools, materials, pots, food.  We now have to load everything into the Land Rover and the trailer and then it’ll be time to head back out to Mnenia village.
    Sean and Sue, two new Volunteers, have arrived and will make this trip for the first time today.
    Tomorrow we begin the work with the Twiga women’s group: with a celebration. A goat will be sacrificed, we will all eat together, and the village officials will be there.
    I don’t know when I’ll be writing again- I intend to stay in the Village until we wrap up the work there around Dec. 18.  So stay tuned and no worries!