My African Adventure
Part 3, the Walking Safari
By John L. Fuhring
So, what did Paul do when we arrived at the highway, you ask? He immediately flagged down a dalla dalla and motioned for me to get in. Oh Lord, me in there?!? “Yes, bwana, we go to my village, too far to walk.” I don't know what the natives thought about a little old white man like me getting in, but nobody seemed too surprised or even interested. Man, as my grandfather would have said, “you can't pack in any more even with a mall “ (Mall - old fashioned large wooden hammer for tightly packing cotton, etc.). To my surprise, the smell of closely packed human bodies was not as bad as I've experienced under similar circumstances here at home, meaning that it wasn't bad at all. Paul paid the fair for both of us, the door slid shut and away the contraption zoomed down the highway.
After about 10
of bouncing and lurching,
stopping and starting, we reached a village “business
district” such as
has already been described in my other stories (what do you mean, you
bothered to read the other stories?!?). We got out and
up “Main Street” and past all the one-room shack
stores. I have to
admit that I was impressed at the selection of goods offered for sale
you could buy just about anything from antibiotics to short wave
We were headed (more or less) north toward the lower slopes of volcanic
Mt. Meru and it got steeper as we left the highway.
We walked along a dirt road that had been pounded to a talc like powder by foot and vehicle traffic and by the prolonged drought. We had to pick the firmest parts of the road to walk on because the soft, thick dust was as deep as our knees in some places. Oh yes, it was dry and the drought had been going on for years now, but you could still see how beautiful this place must be when the rains come and everything is lush and growing. The elevation here is quite high (over 5,000 feet), the temperatures are comfortably mild, but the vegetation has an exotic and tropical look to it. There were banana trees growing everywhere, coffee trees planted in groves, corn (maze) growing in the fields along with a lot of other things I didn't immediately recognize. In the volcanic soil of Mt. Maru, just three degrees from the equator, it seems that any and all crops can grow there.
As we continued walking the ground got steeper and the vegetation changed from banana trees to coffee and corn. I don't know this for a fact, but I was under the impression that the local people hold small pieces of land and each family practices a kind of "organic" subsistence farming consisting of food crops for their consumption and a cash crop like coffee and bananas. I was struck by the absence of men working the fields and formed the theory that they all came into town to find cash jobs while the crops were in the field and before harvest.
As you can get some little idea from the photograph, the scenery is very beautiful although the long drought has left the corn crop very stunted. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be when rain has caused everything to grow.
We finally arrived at Paul's property and his little home. Nobody seemed to be home, so Paul went to a neighboring house to get a key. As you can see from the photo, Paul's house is pretty new and he's very proud of it. It is constructed in the standard and time approved method of thin branches woven between larger vertical wooden sticks. The larger spaces in this open wickerwork are filled with rocks collected from the hillside and then the whole mass is plastered with local mud. A roof is placed over all to keep everybody dry and to protect the walls, doors are added and you have a cozy house to live in. The floor is made of dry clay that has been beaten down to form a clean and dry (but somewhat uneven) surface. A few articles of locally made furniture and you have a home. As you can see, Paul's house has a very modern and deluxe metal roof that is so much nicer and drier than the usual thatch roofs. Naturally, Paul is very proud of his little place and as a matter of fact, I'd like to own a little cabin like that somewhere myself.
Inside the house, low walls and sheets of cloth partition off the sitting room from the bedroom and the kitchen. Actually the word kitchen might be misleading as no actual cooking is done inside the house. Near the house there is a rough built shed where the cook fire burns. There is a large gap between the walls of the little cook shack and the thatch of the roof to allow the smoke out. I thought I took a picture of the cook shack, but I can't find it - not that it was much to look at anyway.
Paul was most eager for me to come in and rest while he crushed some coffee beans that I could see drying on blankets outside. I like coffee and especially like Tanzanian coffee, so I was eager to try some "home grown." One of my favorite ways of fixing coffee is exactly how the natives fix it. You take dried whole beans and crush them in a bowl - about a tablespoon per cup is about right. Put the crushed beans in a billy (pot of some kind) and pour in water, bring the water just to a boil and then let the brew stand for five minutes or so. Most of the bean fragments become waterlogged and sink to the bottom and the liquid can then be decanted off. The result is a very fresh and flavorful coffee at just the right temperature. There may be bits of bean in the coffee, but they don't hurt a thing and may be chewed and swallowed without any bad taste. Matter of fact, one of my favorite candies is chocolate covered coffee beans - if you like coffee and chocolate, you will love this treat. By the way, my expectations regarding the taste of Paul's coffee were entirely vindicated. In other words, it was good coffee. Paul seemed extremely pleased when I pronounced it as "excellent" and "as good as any I have tasted" which wasn't far from the truth.
If you look closely at the picture above, you will see that Paul's place is sparsely decorated and all he had for artwork was a political poster printed out for that day's presidential election. The guy on the picture is El Presidente himself and by god, everybody knew who they were supposed to vote for.
While we were at the house, Paul brought out his photo album. I was surprised he had so many photographs, but I suspect that photography and photo developing there in Arusha is no more than what people can afford. I noticed that some people in group pictures had X's over their face. I greatly suspected that these were childhood friends who had died and sure enough, they were.
I suspect that Paul's social life is very full. He appeared to know everybody we passed and he obviously lived in an environment filled with much natural beauty. On the other hand, when he asked me the price of my little digital camera, he was astounded that anybody in the world could afford such a thing (Lord, that was embarrassing). I'm sure it would have boggled his mind to know how much "stuff" and other forms of wealth I have. Why am I so well off in material goods? - really it is only through the random good luck to have been born an American, not because I'm any more deserving than the rest of humanity.I'm sure Paul would change places with me and my "riches" in a heartbeat, but I wonder if he'd find my world lacking in the social richness of his own. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but more and more I think that a richer social life outweighs material wealth and I'd like to give up "things" for a simpler but fuller life.