05.03.2013 34 °C
Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, at 5896m, the highest peak on the continent of Africa is one of my ambitions before I kick the bucket one fateful day (and to many, I’m certain, a very sad day). Though a distant second, it was still an incredible sight when I saw the snowy peak for the first time on a visit to Arusha, Tanzania at the beginning of February for a Christian agriculture and appropriate technology conference.
Mt Kilimanjaro attracts lots of tourists to climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world and it is easy to see why. This area of Tanzania is ‘real Africa’. The fabled Serengeti plains are close by with all the big animals. You pass Maasai hanging around everywhere in their long red checked robes and colourful beads.
One of my friends called Hillary (despite the name, he’s a guy) lives in Arusha, so I was looking forward to catching up with him since his time working with Bethany Christian Trust as a volunteer. He has since gotten married and has a 2-month old baby, Michelle. His wife has a great name, she’s called ‘Happy’!, though I suppose it is a name which could be a lot to live up to all the time…
It was fascinating spending some time as part of Hillary’s family. For me (and most white people I know living and working in Africa who aren’t racist…), one of the ultimate goals is to be accepted as an equal by the local people and I really felt this by Hillary and his family. On most evenings, I spent time round at Hillary’s home eating cooked banana, (matoke) and, if I was lucky, watching a dubbed Philipino soap called Mara Clara afterwards…
Hillary’s mum, visiting from Dar es Salaam to see her granddaughter was keen to visit her family in the village outside of Mosi. Every African has a ‘village home’ which is always out in the sticks over bumpy dirt roads where the pace of life has slowed to a crawl. This is a place where you get a warm welcome but where a modern way of life seems totally out of place.
One of the best things about the drive to Mosi from Arusha is the fantastic views of Mt Kilimanjaro from the roadside, something I was very excited about. Sadly, though, the whole peak was shrouded in a big, grey cloud. It was tempting to believe Africa’s highest peak and one of its iconic symbols was not standing over us like a sentinel nearby.
Hillary’s granddad was an especially affable character and full of life. His snow-white hair matched the colour of the mountain peak he lived under and his bright-white teeth would go nicely in a Colgate ad. He showed his teeth often while laughing and sharing stories in Kiswahili. His land is full of volcanic rock spewed up in the distant past by Mt Kili and he had to do a lot of lifting and moving of boulders to make the land farmable.
On the return journey, the sky around the mountain peaks started to clear, thankfully, and it was incredible to clearly view the pointed peak of Mawenzi Summit, one of the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro. A little later, alongside the road, and what I had been wishing for, emerged at last! It is beautiful and impressive!
In the car, Hillary’s mum explained that Kilimanjaro means ‘impossible journey’ or something similar in Kichagga, the language of the Chagga who live around the mountain. They believed it was inaccessible and so stayed away from it.
On the Arusha-Mosi route, another road leads off to the airport and to a special mine. Tanzanite (as the name alludes) is a precious stone only found in Tanzania. It is more rare than diamonds. Some of Hillary’s family in Arusha (and Hillary’s family seemed to pop up everywhere in Arusha) are involved in buying and selling of tanzanite and seem to be very well off in the process! The hotel I stayed in, for instance, Charity hotel (why so-named, I had no idea and forgot to ask) is owned by Hillary’s great uncle who is also building another hotel (there seem to be plenty of people passing through Arusha,). Hillary himself gave this new hotel its name, but I completely forget what it is – it is a combination of children’s names in the family, but the name didn’t particularly roll off the tongue… Charity hotel is plusher than the hotel I had originally booked into at $25 a night, but Hillary insisted I stayed in his great-uncle’s hotel at the same cost. I felt a bit embarrassed to do that, but I appreciated Hillary’s kindness. This same great-uncle met me in the hotel lobby convinced I had contacts to help him buy a second-hand helicopter from the UK. Thanks to friends on facebook who discovered you could pick one out of ebay for £75,000.
Though seeing Hillary and his family was a great side-dish, the main purpose for visiting Arusha was to attend an agriculture and appropriate technology ‘symposium’ (whatever that means) run by ECHO (Educational Concern for Hunger Organisation). Emma and I had been to ECHO’s base in Florida at the end of 2009 before heading to Kenya and had some of the best experiences of our married life there. There are many interesting and lovely people associated with ECHO and the conference was a good time to re-connect with old friends and make some new ones. Our old REAP boss was in attendance and was even sharing at one of the main morning sessions on how to use the Bible to motivate people to be good stewards of their God-given resources.
The conference was a great place to be with among the energy of like-minded agriculture and development people and to be re-motivated about why I want to do what I want to do…
One of the most inspirational sessions was a session led by Stan Doerr, the head of ECHO. He provided statistics and a somber picture for the need for an organisation like ECHO to exist and for the need of agricultural development work amongst the least-advantaged peoples. Here are a few ‘facts’.
- The American State of Iowa produces more maize than the whole continent of Africa!
- There is a good chance that we are going into another Global Food Crisis which greatly affects the poor. In a Global Food Crisis, prices of foods spike and a high percentage of income is spent on food. For example, in 2012, the price of sorghum in South Sudan increased by 220%!
- In 2006, before the Food Crisis, an average person in the USA spent 9.8% of income on food, while in Tanzania, the figure was 71%.
- Worldwide, there are 2 billion people suffering from nutrient deficiencies
- 177 million children are affected by chronic malnutrition.
- 3.5-5 million children are dying each year from causes related to malnutrition.
- Malnutrition is expected to significantly increase in sub-Saharan Africa in the next 30 years.
- One episode of severe malnutrition in an under 5 child’s life can impact their cognitive ability for life!
- “Agriculture development is the most effective way to combat poverty and to pull (developing populations) up into a higher level of food security” Warren Buffet
- 7/10 people around the world depend on agriculture for food and income.
Another highlight for me was hearing from Roland Bunch, author of the classic development book “Two Ears of Corn”. I had first read an article taken from this book while I was at uni and it was the first time I had ever considered appropriate responses to peoples’ needs in the developing nations. It was a completely new way of thinking for me.
At the ECHO conference, I felt I was part of a big family and quickly made friends. It was disappointing we were all travelling to distant destinations scattered all over East Africa including South Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique.
Tanzanians speak excellent Kiswahili so I used this to my advantage by asking Hillary how to say certain phrases. It helped that most of his family didn’t know English, so I used my poor Kiswahili and found it improving quickly. I always enjoy talking in Kiswahili having spoken it as a child in Congo and so it is one of my favourite languages (despite my struggles to speak it…).
However, there was a big downside in jogging my small brain to recall and learn new Kiswahili words. On returning to Arua and my Lugbara lessons with our excellent teacher Eunice, I could hardly speak a word, and any understanding of the language had vanished…
A few weeks back and Lugbara is starting to stick a little bit. Some words are playing round my mind as I go about the day which is a good sign. Our afternoons sessions with Eunice are a real killer, though, as, being the dry season, the temperature can top 35 degrees. All the animals are lying stretched out on the cooler cement floor and I feel like doing the same. As Eunice tells her cultural stories or asks us how to say something in Lugbara, I can find myself going cross-eyed and feeling my eyelids drop. I have to fight the impulse to nod my head and fall asleep. It’s very obvious and I am keen to learn, so I have tried chewing coffee beans to stimulate my brain and keep me awake. Power horse, an energy drink, seems to be doing the trick and is now my new tipple of choice during Lugbara lessons.