Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes 6

Notes from Africa #6 – Snapshots
Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

1. We were robbed! Settled in for a quiet lunch beside a peaceful bird filled lake – Our food had arrived and we were happily eating – Just as I reached for a second bread roll – An 18 inch blue monkey came out of nowhere and grabbed the bread basket – one roll in his mouth – one in each hand – And he scurried off a few feet to enjoy his ill gotten meal! AAhh! I would swear he was laughing at us!
2. Judy’s birthday was a great success. We stopped at a market to buy cakes and Mango Juice for the children in an AIDS orphanage/day school – To reach the orphanage we drove in on a dusty rutted rocky road past small time street merchants and impoverished homes to the center. (As are many such organizations in Africa, it serves actual orphans, kids who have relatives to shelter them & some living with their own families.) We arrived near the end of naptime – and soon sleepy preschool aged children came tumbling out of their sleeping room. After singing “Happy birthday; dear Judy” and other songs for us, we distributed cakes and juice and the children formed into clusters to enjoy this special party. The three simple meals provided by the school may be the only food these children receive each day. Operating expenses for the schools are about $2000/month… and many months the sources of funding are uncertain. Judy declares this was one of her best birthday parties ever!

3. After several encounters with the Maasai culture, we travelled high up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro – up into the coffee producing area –to have an opportunity to learn about the Chagga people. Here we have stayed in a beautiful Guest House – the old family home and farm of David Mtui…The Chagga people have benefitted greatly from both coffee and banana production… Homes and farms are well built and furnished, and education is valued. Many of the Chagga people are now successful business and professional people of Tanzania. The countryside is beautiful – with thick forests of both crop plants and native forest. Our accommodations are quite wonderful! – We are definitely off the normal tourist track here! (We are the only guests) We have visited a local banana beer maker – to see how bananas and millet are combined to produce the popular local brew – also a local village blacksmith who makes all manner of iron and steel products using a simple anvil and charcoal fire with bellows made from a tire inner tube.… I bought iron cowbells used by the local folks to keep track of their animals. David’s farm is a jewel of a place and he has been a thoughtful host… plus the food has been incredibly well planned and presented!
4. From David’s farm we thought it would be a nice afternoon walk up the mountain to the entrance for those who climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our host said that we must take a guide with us – and he volunteered his brother. Off we went through an elaborate network of footpaths – past families out planting their corn crop for the year, past homes, churches, schools, rivers, banana beer bars, past forests of banana trees, terraced fields… no matter how high we walked it seemed their were always more houses and farms farther up the mountain side (terracing of the land into small farm plots make it possible to maintain the soil during the extensive rainy season they experience in the fall each year…) We climbed until we reached the impressive entrance portal for this great mountain. Here there were warnings about the health hazards that might be encountered by climbers and precise rules for what was expected from climbers. To climb, it is necessary to hire a guide for $20/day, and a minimum of 4 porters @$10/day. Plus a hefty park service fee. The trek requires 3 -7 days. The old mountain climber in me thought this sounded like a fine adventure… but, alas, we are not meant to climb such a mountain. What had been presented to us as a one-hour walk from David’s farm turned out to be a three-hour hike. David’s brother said we would not have time to return before dark – so he insisted on calling his brother to return us by van. It was still a fine adventure.
5. Traditional agriculture here is based on corn – bananas, as well as other fruits vegetables – many wonderfully strange to our eyes and taste The major farming problems are 1) to provide adequate water, 2) maintaining fertility of soil, 3) preventing soil erosion. In Arusha there is an extensive agriculture demonstration site with each region of the area showing successful techniques of low water farming, pest control, bee keeping, varieties of crops, companion planting, highly efficient beds for home vegetable production, low fuel stoves, methods for firing bricks that do not require wood from the forests…
6. And so bed time… the bush babies (look them up on Wikipedia) are calling to each other and soon they will begin their nightly foraging. With a strong flashlight we can see them high in the trees – as large as a small cat with large reflective eyes shining back at us. We hear then when we go to bed and sometimes they scurry across out metal roof.