Nine days with my Family in Tanzania…
August 5th, 2012 by Dipesh
It’s no easy task to break away from our western comfort zone and embark on a journey not just to a new country but to immerse ourselves into a completely different way of life and standard of living. We have just started our Responsible Travel for Families in Tanzania with the Lord Family coming out to stay with us in Tanga and put their heart and soul into village life. Thank you for coming and thank you for making a difference…
We rolled into town after a long journey. Tanga looked busy, noisy, hot and perhaps not a relaxing place for a camp. But a few minutes after we turned off the main road we drew up to the gates of Camp Tanga and a warm welcome from Anderson, the Camp Manager. The Camp is set amongst beautiful tropical trees of all kinds with a palm thatched bar centred round a giant Baobab tree on the edge of the ocean. After a drink and supper we retired early – we were rather spoilt to be upgraded to bungalows in the grounds rather than the tents we had expected. We are a family of five: Richard 53, Ratty 50, Thomas 17, Jessica 14 and Millie 12.
We were given a briefing about some of the project work in Mwambani Village, literally two minutes’ walk from the camp gates. Our guide and leader for the week was Eliphas, who introduced himself as Mr Happy and turned out to have a boundless store of enthusiasm, energy and knowledge about Tanzania, its wildlife and its people.
After a comfortable night in the deliciously warm air and in the safety of our mosquito nets, we were well set for our first day of project work. This was making an oven; rather different to anything we had seen before! It involved us chipping clay off a termite mound with a pickaxe, as this material is durable because of the termite saliva. When mixed with camel grass glue (made from pounded camel grass and water) the magic mixture was ready and we pummeled it into balls that were left to dry in the shade. After lunch break back in camp the afternoon project was taking seaweed off lines where it had been grown in the sea; amazingly, even though the villagers sold this for only 8p a kilo and it was labour intensive to grow and harvest, it still provided a useful supplement to their income.
Up early the next morning to milk a cow. No machines here and it was much harder than any of us expected. Cow milking is undertaken by the Masai and our tutor certainly knew what he was doing. Then we went out with the herdsman to herd his cows into the bush for their daily grazing. We had to pick up sticks and use them to guide the cows through the bushes. We had a few runaways straying into vegetable patches, but eventually got things under control. We left halfway through the day for lunch and we found it hard to believe that the herdsman did double what we had done with no food or water.
After lunch we went to do palm weaving with the village Mamas. The weaving was for roof material for a new house that was being built in the village. Some of us had rather clumsy fingers and we hoped that our produce would not be needed to keep out any rain.
Day 4 provided a wonderful example of Eliphas’s ingenuity and innovation. One of the problems in the village was the cutting down of trees for firewood. Candle bush trees as they were known were excellent for pollarding and provided a sustainable source of fuel. Our first task was to sift through a huge pile of candle bush seeds sorting the good from the bad. These had to be planted out in polythene tubes made from recycled milk sachets. The peaceful solitude of this activity was suddenly shattered by a scream coming from Ratty’s direction. A huge Rat (later identified as a Cane Marsh Rat) shot from its burrow, jumped over Jessica’s leg and ricocheted against Ratty’s leg before pausing a few yards away to survey us suspiciously. After this excitement the afternoon’s planting of some more mature saplings in the village went smoothly apart from the difficulty in finding materials to make tree guards. Eliphas remained full of energy and treated us to an hour’s Swahili lesson and then a walk along the beach. This featured mangrove swamps, wading birds and an inspection of the wonderful wooden fishing dhows with their sales and outriggers that cannot have changed much in the last two thousand years.
(even though it was midwinter in Tanzania the temperature was still in the mid 80s). This was hard but satisfying labour and by the end of the day we had the first of three layers completed. We could hardly keep our eyes open for the normal evening gathering around the bar where we swapped stories with the school groups who had also had a hard day’s work. As usual we were well fed. Some of the food was very familiar, such as sausages, and ketchup with everything. Some less so, with Eliphas had promised to give us muscles and today we saw what he meant. Today’s task was making a concrete patio for Raru, a disabled man in the village, replacing his dirt one. We began by hacking away at the dirt floor levelling it out. The tough bit was acting as human concrete mixers. Buckets full of gravel, buckets full of sand and buckets full of water, all requiring fetching and carrying in the heat of the morning rice and pasta mixed with delicious vegetables and sauces.
Despite feeling tired from the previous day’s exertions we were keen to get stuck into completing the task. This time more mixing of a different type of cement which taxed our skills as plasterers in obtaining a smooth and level finish (and trying to write our names neatly in the cement). No sooner had this layer been completed than we started digging the foundations for a sort concrete sofa on the other side of Raru’s house. Millie and Ratty showed unexpected talents as bricklayers as the layers of breeze blocks were laid with the use of a plumb line and cement trowel. Another hard day with a few mutterings that this was supposed to be a holiday and not a hard labour sentence!!
We were still intrigued to know what the concrete sofa would look like, and this became apparent during the morning. We became skilled in cutting breeze blocks in half with a hammer and wet plastering the outside of the chair, although Eliphas still put us to shame with his skills and energy. Throughout the time we were working in the village everyone was very welcoming and understanding and we were able to practice our basis Swahili greetings. We were usually surrounded by a crowd of bouncing children of various ages always wanting to be swung in the air, picked up or sung to. The level of their English varied from nonexistent to surprisingly good and we tried to help on this for the afternoon’s activities which was teaching English under the Mango tree. One occupational hazard was the occasional falling of a mango. Even if it missed us it disrupted the lesson as the children shot off to see who could grab it first. The Mango School has several purposes; there were the children who loved singing nursery rhymes and playing games, there were the beginners who spoke limited English and there were the advanced students who spoke fluently on various topics. Jessica and Ratty tackled the younger children with a collection of various singing activities. Thomas took the more advanced group for conversations about football and their aspirations, and Richard and Millie took the beginners group teaching them various subjects with the use of a blackboard and chalk – a first for both Millie and Richard. Later that evening Thomas played football with some of his pupils as well as people from the camp.
Up early to catch the low tide as this morning we were sea weeding. This was the reverse of what we had done a few days earlier, now tying seaweed onto ropes and stretching them out in the sand below the high water mark. This was quite a fiddly job and some were better than others but we succeeded in completing 20 lines. We avoided stepping on sea urchins but discovered many different varieties of marine life, including starfish and a yellow billed stork. The afternoon was full of surprises. This time we went to the Mamas’ kitchen and were taught how to make Chapatis and Vichetti. First they made the dough; one lot with baking powder and one without. They taught us various different ways to roll out and knead the dough. We took it in turns to go into the small kitchen to help them cook. This was quite an ordeal and we emerged coughing and with watering eyes from the smoke wondering how on earth the Mamas manage to do this every day. We also found squatting on stones a test of endurance, as our bodies just don’t seem as supple and we are used to chairs! We came back to camp armed with various things to eat and it must have been especially difficult for the Mamas as it was the Ramadan and they had not had any food all day.
This was meant to be our rest day but having got to know Eliphas we knew that we had to complete all our project work. After a later rise and breakfast we headed back to the village to finish our oven. We kneaded the clay like bread and then used a bowl as a mould for the shape of the oven. We used the now familiar glue of camel grass and water to make the oven smooth. We then cut out three holes which would be used to put firewood into; Richard ran into trouble when the oven started collapsing. We then went back to complete our concrete sofa by painting the Camps International Logo on the outside. We were beginning to feel slightly sad of the prospect of leaving. Anderson took us into town to do some last minute shopping and the bustle of the market contrasted with the much more peaceful atmosphere in the village. We had spent some eight days almost entirely free of the sounds of modern Western life; no planes, no jet skis, no iPods: the only interruptions to the peace being howling dogs and the imam calling the faithful to prayer.
This is Family Life and we all felt it was more than a great success. Here are our personal thoughts:
- Millie (12) – I think I will remember Mwambani as a humbling experience for a very long time. The villagers were very welcoming and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the activities. I thought the view from the bar was amazing, with not a motorboat in sight.
- Jessica (14) – I found the heat quite heavy going but I was amazed to see that some very simple things gave the villagers such pleasure.
- Thomas (17) – I found the difference between the unfriendliness of our society and the friendliness of the local people in general very satisfying and interesting.
- Ratty (50) – We came here to celebrate my 50th birthday and I did wonder at one stage whether we would still be smiling at the end of the week. We still are. It has been the most brilliant experience and very enlightening to see the reaction of our children to different situations. From the village life to the projects to the welcoming ways of the Tanzanian people it has been a truly wonderful time and I highly recommend it.
- Richard (53) - We had wondered whether it would be possible to have a family holiday which combined relaxation, education and authentic interaction with the local community. Camps International achieved all of these, and a huge thank you to Anderson, Eliphas and the rest of the crew who made this possible and went out of their way to make sure we were well looked after and had a great time.
Kwaheri and Lala Salama !!!