Monday, January 30, 2012

Are you Local?

So, I seem to be getting into the swing of Arusha now. I think, for me, I tend to feel a little nervous in these crazy places until I have been somewhere long enough to become more familiar with my immediate area, then I can move around and feel a little more relaxed. Having wandered into the markets and come out again unscathed, and having walked up to the bus station and back and gone and done some shopping etc, I am now definitely not so nervous about my surroundings, and starting to enjoy them. Shame I'm leaving tomorrow - I'll have to go through it all again at the next place! But it has been something of reminder to me that this is the process I have to go through. Some people don't need that - they just slot right in from the word go, but for me, it takes a few days before I feel comfortable. It has certainly helped making a few new friends who live locally and showed me around and took me out to a few bars etc. I think I am looking forward more than ever to getting to Zanzibar, where I will be staying for at least a week, which will be plenty of time to settle in once again. But that is jumping the gun a bit, as I haven't left Arusha yet!

Speaking of which, yesterday I went on a local cultural tour up to a village called Ilkiding'a. It was only about 7km out of town, heading up on to the foot hills of Mt Meru, but it really seemed like the city was left miles behind.

I'd been interested in going on one of the cultural village tours since before I arrived in TZ, and while I maybe had in mind something even more traditional (maybe staying in mud hut, going on a hike with a Maasai guide etc), what I got was very enjoyable and pretty interesting too - just not quite as traditional as I'd hoped.

My guide, Salim, was in fact a Maasai, but was one of the 'modern' Maasai, so wore western clothes. His village was pretty large -about 21,000 people - and was split into 6 smaller sub-villages, which they were trying to split further so they could encourage slightly smaller, more intimate communities within the larger village.

A very slow, bumpy drive took me up to the start point, the house of the man who had set up this particular cultural tour, Eliakimu. He explained a bit about traditional Maasai life (for example the men can marry as many wives as they can afford, but have to build each their own house and one for himself, so it gets a bit expensive. There is a man on the way to Lake Manyara, for example, with something like 30 wives, 84 children and 300 odd grandchildren!) and how it has changed (the adoption of Christianity and the understanding that lots of wives is too expensive, resulting in most modern Maasai only marrying once). One of the reason there are so many orphans over here is that if a man with many wives/kids dies, the kids are effectively orphaned, as the mother's struggle to support the family. Many of the locals still live in traditional mud bomas with roofs made of leaves although, as soon as they can afford it, they are building more modern brick houses with sheet metal roofs. If the money runs out, the building stops, so there are many partially finished houses about the place.

There is still the belief among some of the older people that photos steal part of your soul, so many locals don't like to be photographed, although this attitude is changing slowly as the number of visiting tourists increases, and as those who do allow photos seem to stay healthy! I was impressed that Eliakimu discouraged us from offering money for photos, as he said it taught the wrong attitude to both adults and children alike. All the money paid for the tours was handed to a treasurer and used to fund the primary and secondary schools that served the village.

Although I was once again on my own, another group was also doing the tour, so we combined forces and walked out through the fields between the crops. Maasai were originally nomadic cattle drivers, but the village of Ilkiding'a came into being about 200 years ago when a tribe was encouraged to build more permanent houses, clear some forest and start farming. Now they grow all sorts of things from rice, to potatoes, to maize, to coffee and much more. They keep what they need for themselves and the rest goes down the road to be sold in markets. There is also a women's group who make traditional Maasai necklaces and bracelets, carvings and other niknaks for the markets - not all of which is bought by tourists, as the Maasai do genuinely wear the items themselves.

We passed a huge fig tree, which was the traditional place of worship for the Maasi before Christianity introduced churches. When times are tough livestock would be sacrificed under the tree to encourage rain or good harvests. It was unclear if this still happened, but I got the feeling that it might well do.

As we walked the paths through the fields and crops, the local kids would come and watch, calling out greetings in English that they'd learned in shcool. They were pretty shy, but their curiosity often got the better of them, and they follow along at a safe distance for a while, before passing the baton on to the kids from the next boma. If we stopped, some might run away, giggling and screaming, others would cautiously come over and smile shyly. The rest of my group were French, and we'd try our rudimentary Swahili on the kids, and they their equally rudimentary English on us. This generally got shy smiles too (from the tourists this time!), but as soon as the cameras were brought up, they'd run away. Occasionally one would be brave enough to pose for a shot, and then the others would be falling over themselves to see the picture on the tiny screen on the back of the camera. I resorted to sneakily shooting from the hip, resulting in one of my favourite shots of the trip, but also a lot of blurry grass and headless children. The guide said a lot of their nervousness was because they didn't often see - and certainly not interact with - white people, but I guess with the increase of these tours, that will soon change.

Eventually we got to a boma where we were to stop and be invited inside, and where the family were used to tourists and cameras, allowing us to get lots of pictures of the cheeky, giggling children. The round bomas have a kind of square middle section separated off by make-shift walls. The middle section is where the cooking is done, and behind the walls is where the family would sleep or house the livestock, which lived in the same house as the family. Traditionally the women folk do just about everything, from gathering wood, fetching water, grazing cattle, preparing food, sewing and harvesting crops, getting kids ready for school, you name it, they probably did it. The man of the house apparently does very little, although in some of the more modern families - our guides, for example - they will either help with these chores or go out and earn money too. I was impressed that the mother scolded her kids for trying to beg snacks or gifts from us.

Eventually we got back to the starting place, where I was served a delicious lunch of typical local food - a chickpea and kidney bean mash, boiled spinach-like greens, rice and a kind of curried potato stew, all washed down with peppermint tea. It was very filling and very tasty.

So, not quite the back to basics traditional visit I'd imagined having, but a thoroughly interesting one nonetheless. I will be looking out for others as I go, I think.

The evening saw me being adopted by the ex-pat crew again, and being taken to a fantastic Indian restaurant called Big Bites, that specialised in Tandoori and Punjabi food. It was so good, and the company was entertaining too. I think, when I move on tomorrow, I will miss Arusha, and the friends I was beginning to make. Still, there is a good chance many of them will pass through NZ at some point in the future, so we may yet meet again, and I will be able to return the hospitality. For now, though, I will get on with some packing for tomorrow's 10 hour bus trip, followed by lounging in the bar enjoying cold beer. Life's good.

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