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!


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Elke on the train

going to Fez

I have dreamt of going to Morocco ever since I was a teenager in Germany, when it was still one of the destinations on the Interail train-pass. Marrakech was one of those names for me that carry mystery and calling. What better time to go than during this trip on Sabbatical.

Even today, where travel is easy and things we value, like safe drinking water, are readily available everywhere I’ve been, the sensual impact of a Moroccan town is big. Colours, smells, sounds and the mazes of old buildings and markets are at times overwhelming, but mostly awe-inspiring to me: I am definitely in a different culture!

Souk in Marrakech


Berber rug patterns

The Arabic world is rich with ornament: from jewelry to buildings, in metal, plaster, thread, wood and leather. Patterns and symbols carrying meaning and story are passed on from generation to generation. Craftsmen and women spend their lives working on fine details, often using methods unchanged over generations.


And yet: the modern global flavour is strongly influencing local tastes: everywhere, but perhaps more in urban areas, we saw a blend of worlds: traditional gowns, tight jeans, Moroccan leather slippers and western style knee-high boots. Cellphones are everywhere.

old and new in the souks


The old world of the Medinas is full of the richness of tile work and plasters. Visiting the Ryad Moqri in Fez, which is now housing a school for the traditional crafts, I learned a little about the technique of the fine plasterwork. The pattern is transferred from a cast using a powder-coating. Then the plaster is cut to the depth desired by the artisan. The result is a relief with strong shadows.


colourful relief plaster

Plaster Model

burnishing the lime finish


Old buildings require repair and I saw plenty of restoration underway. Newly plastered facades grace beautifully restored interiors. Modern materials replace older tools here too: a plastic burnishing tool.





New Lime Plaster finish

The sense for decor doesn’t stop in old town: high end condominiums also show attention to detail and seem to carry the traditions forward adding modern style.


Modern apartment buildings


Train Station Marrakech

light fixture at train station








Tadelakt plasters are a lime finish that we have just recently been learning about in Canada; Morocco is where this technique originates. We saw beautiful examples both indoors and out. They set the mood of a place and give elegance and beauty featuring cut out patterns and bright colours.


Tadelakt fountain



Tadelakt finish at the hammam

The waterproof surface isn’t used just for wet environments: here restaurant walls, hotel foyers and courtyard walls are finished with shiny blue, red and yellow. You can even take some home in the form of small containers bright turquoise, blue, pink or purple.

Tadelakt for sale

Small Tadelakt containers








As a designer and builder of earthen homes I appreciate the work of finishes as much as the construction of the building.

On a trip south into the desert we saw towns and villages of earthen architecture; some dating back hundreds of years and kept in use or restored, others crumbling and in disrepair. There are themes in the architectural form: corner towers, stepped rooflines, courtyards and large colourful gates.

Houses are built tight together three or four stories high. Narrow streets and walkways are bridged here and there by arches of stone. The old buildings are built of mud bricks or rammed earth on stone foundations, tapered on the corners. They are covered with earthen plaster that is rich with straw fibre. Cut patterns create sharp shadow lines . The colour is the colour of the earth around, ranging from red to orange and yellow tones.

bridging over walkways

The desert climate allows for clay roofs as well. Layers of bamboo and clay over wooden beams form terraces that blend completely into the landscape.

Mud Roofs






It’s not all good though; earthen buildings need to be maintained annually and slowly fall apart if not cared for. They do age gracefully and damage can be fixed- even by re-using the original materials. It takes time, interest and energy to make that happen and out in this desert new buildings are often built with cement blocks like everywhere else. In comparison  they appear sharper, their colours less attractive and clearly artificial. And if you’ve ever felt the difference inside when it’s 40 degrees outside you’ll stay with the mud.

I was often reminded of villages in Northern Sudan that I saw a few years ago: the private sphere of the courtyard behind walls of earth, bright coloured gates and large clay water urns on the roadside. A gesture of hospitality – even at the gas station.


Hospitality: roadside water urn

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