The area where I am staying and working is called Moshi, it is in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. It is a fairly typical Tanzanian town, busy, bustling and loud. There is a bit of a mix of rich and poor, but there are very few rich people out here. Here are very few Mzungu here as it is not a tourist hotspot. Arusha, a bigger town, an hour or so away by bus or dela dela, is where tourists go to climb Kilimanjaro. Any Mzungu you do see are almost always volunteers, and they are very much persued by the locals until they get used to seeing you everyday. But having white skin here makes you almost like some sort of celebrity. People all greet and smile at you, children I think sense that you are happy to see them and they will mob you, follow you and insist on holding your hand.
My brothers, the Oreo boys
It is wonderful. But it is also heartbreaking when you realise the number of people here with Aids and HIV. Children being taught in the schools, so eager to learn but with such a dim future, its heartbreaking. Here, without money, you get no sort of treatment or medical assistance. Standards of things like hygiene are like something from the dark ages and Malaria is rife. But the scenery from here is as good as any in the world, people here are very aware of that. The street scenes you see day to day nevery fail to make me smile, from the wheelbarrows laiden high with fresh mangoes and pineapples being run down the street, women carrying all manner of bulky items on their heads, Masaii warriors with handsfree mobiles to the dela dela busses painted with the most weird and wonderful designs such as English football club crests, paintings of hollywood actors or with crazy random English phrases daubed on the sides. Laidies sit by the side of the road with sewing machines, people roam the streets selling mobile phone credit and cigarettes, owners of curio shops try to lure you in by making friends with you whilst walking and nothing is ever rushed. The locals say ‘pole pole’ (pronounced Poh-lay poh-lay) meaning slowly slowly. If there is one phrase I could pick to sum up my experience of Africa so far, that would be it.
They wanna be just like me...
On my project I am working with the Oreo family as part of a small conservation society. It is their aim to secure some sort of funding to enable them to plant many trees in and around local rural comunities. This is because in this part of the world, many of the people here do not have gas or electric cookers. They cannot afford to buy Kerosene or charcoal, so many resort to cutting down trees to enable them to cook their daily meals. This has led to a massive reduction in the trees and greenery of the area, which brings many problems. The tree roots help keep moisture in the soil, help the absorbtion of rain into the soil for other plants, and prevent rivers from drying out. But the landscape in many areas surrounding Kilimanjaro (and large expanses of Africa) is arid and desert, with very few trees or plants. Wildlife is forced to leave and look for food and shelter elsewhere, water becomes scarce and there is not enough vegetation for healthy grazing of livestock. There is also a lack of wood for people to build and repair their homes with. So the plans of the society are to reforest around a few dried out river basins and on some of the hill slopes near a waterfall on Kilimanjaro. However, funding is currently non-existant. The society members only just make enough money to feed themselves and to keep a small plantation going. It is sad to see these people with so much knowledge and experience just fighting to raise enough money to eat and send their children to school (the school fees are cripplingly expensive here, but equate to just $150 per year �" about 75 pounds).
While I am here, I am to learn about the process of growing trees and maintaining them from scratch, physically doing the work myself. I will also learn of the long term objectives of the conservation society, such as educating the local population of the value of trees, how to plant them and how they can be useful to you. Sadly, they have no real kind of business sense other than buying and selling at local markets. They have applied for funding from various organisations in the past, but having seen the letters they sent and how the constitution is written out, I would say these guys need help. Hopefully this is where I will become useful. I hope to teach one of the older boys how to use the internet, and set them up with e-mail. I will try to get information from as many environmental/conservation charities and NGO’s as possible, and help them with setting up a bank account for raising funds.
Here’s hoping all goes well.
The family really are so grateful for our help, and reat us as their own. I am asked to refer to Mr Oreo as ‘Baba’ (father) and misses Oreo as ‘Mama’. The kids call us brothers. We work with them on the planting, watering etc on the compound. In return they make us food such as Ugali, which Mama Oreo prepares for us during the early afternoon from scratch, its wonderful. They have helped me see how families live and bond, what is normal to them and what struggles they face. I feel so at home with them, and hope to be in contact with them forever.