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.
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.
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.
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.
Driving from Arusha to Mnenia brought back memories from just over a year ago: then I was sitting in the passenger seat of Seppo’s aging Land Rover with growing amazement at the changing landscape while the vehicle negotiated the endless bumpy road-construction stretch between Arusha and Babati.(see Kijiji means village) I remembered the beauty of the country road of red earth on the other side of Babati, lined by large trees and populated by village people here and there.
The picture is different now: the road to Babati is mostly finished and traffic moves very fast, but now construction is underway on the other side. Just like in Bagamoyo a few years ago, I witness the massive impact that better roads have on the natural environment and can’t help but wonder how this will change remote villages like Mnenia, where we’re going.
Returning to a place means seeing it with fresh eyes and I was a little anxious as we approached the village and camp. Would it still hold the magic that I felt there last year?
The season is just a little later this time and everything is green and trees are blooming. All the fields are planted or tilled and ready. The sky looked heavy with rain when we pulled into Amarula Camp,the campsite of the Rock Art Project. Daniel, our translator last year, was there and his beaming smile showed his surprise when he saw us. “The women keep asking ‘when will Mma Matumaini come back?'”, he said. That’s what they call me here; matumaini means hope.
The Camp is looking much more finished: the nice banda with attached kitchen is complete, there are three covered Safari tents, another kitchen, a shower building and a structure for the dry toilet. The grounds are being kept by the staff, and it looks like they’re doing a good job.
We sat around a fire that evening under an almost full moon. And I felt again the peace and the sense of ease that overcomes me when I’m there.
For the next day Daniel arranged for us to meet with the Twiga women around 3 in the afternoon. “After they are finished with their work on the fields”. Of course- this is a very busy time for them.
I had not seen ‘our’ building with its roof (only a picture), so I was quite excited to find it in good shape and the women proudly in front. They all came to meet us- so many hugs, smiles and greetings- and then we sat down inside.
This was just a visit, a re-connection to see what is possible. We touched on some ideas but it will take more talking and thinking before something can be organized. So we enjoyed some sodas and each other’s company and of course some dancing.
I feel encouraged to go back for a longer time to continue the work in the village. Real soon!
|Masai compound from road|
It took hours to get out of Arusha; picking things up , shopping, waiting for people and traffic.
Finally, around 1 we left town towards Kondoa region. Along a new paved road it was easy driving at first. We were crossing Masai land, where round houses in clusters dot the landscape and herds of cattle move about. Occasionally we got dangerously close to a goat or a cow crossing the road as we sped along in the Land Rover. Donkeys are plentiful too: Masai 4×4 Seppo said.
Then the pavement ends and we drove alongside road construction for what seems like hours. Rough, bouncy, dusty- I was glad for the 4×4 vehicle and Seppo’s knowledge of the road.
The houses we drove past changed: square little brick houses with small fenced yards lined the streets in the villages. In the distance the edge of Ngorongoro park.
On fresh pavement again: We reached the town of Babati. “No Mzungus here”said Seppo. There’s a lake and a hotel on the edge of it- green grass, tables, a bar. Feels like an oasis after the drive. We ordered two beers and stretched our legs. There are hippos in this lake , about 300 or so. Local fishermen will take tourists to see them by canoe.
We didn’t have time for that- another couple of hours to go before we would reach camp. But before leaving town we went to the market for some fresh vegetables. Not much to pick from: Onions, potatoes, tomatoes and Mangoes. Dried goods in little shops surrounding the stands.
Leaving Babati the road becomes dirt road- good solid red earth. The rich color makes my heart sing. The road winding its way up through small settlements and rich treed landscape offering views in the distance of valleys and finally to the North the evening light on the Masai Plains. Breathtaking. Not much further ahead lies the camp also overlooking the plains and the Village we now are part of: Mnenia.
My excitement kept growing with every move. Seppo pointed to the tents and set me up in the big Safari tent- with a bed!
Soon it got dark and we sat with a few Kerosene lamps and a couple of solar lights. Costa, the builder who is here, made some food and then another surprise: Full Moon rising over the Eastern horizon. The beauty of the moment brought tears to my eyes.
Early to bed, the night was cool and in the morning I was looking for some warmer clothes. A few hours into the day the heat comes back and we look for shade again.
Morning visit to the village. Seppo has been working with a group of women on a project that will have them produce briquettes made from plant waste. They will also make paper and be able to generate some income from these.When we drove up there was great excitement. And much laughter as we struggled with languages. We have a young interpreter with us who patiently relates what we have to say.
The building that the women are using is located next to a water tap. Village water taps are where women gather- carrying water in buckets on their heads.
Later yesterday we met again with the group and presented our idea for a small store next to the tap to have as selling point for anything they produce: paper, briquettes, pottery etc.
They loved the idea and got really excited when we suggested that we build it together without the fundi- the tradesman we always seem to be waiting for. It will be us and the women starting next week after two volunteers arrive.