15 October 2009

couchsurfing in a tanzanian village (part i)

After two dalla dallas (crowded minibuses) and a taxi (totalling about three hours with traffic), we reached Simoni's little village in Kibaha.

There was no electricity or sewage system in the village, and they had running water two days per week. This was real Tanzanian life, and I felt lucky to have the chance to experience it.

I think my biggest surprise was how lush it was. Whoever said Africa was a dry wasteland has never been to Tanzania.

The earth was brown and dusty, but it felt like a garden of Eden. There were tons of full, leafy mango trees (the biggest I've ever seen-- and in four different varieties), tall, skinny papaya trees, banana trees with huge fronds, little orange trees, vast fields of pineapples with their long, pink leaves, cassava you plant for the roots and cassava you plant for the leaves, curling pumpkin vines growing out of the ground, coconut trees, palm trees, cashew trees, and thorny trees and other trees and plants used for medicinal purposes-- there were even aloe vera plants just growing along the side of the dirt road. And Simoni told us they never had to water the plants and trees-- it was Mother Earth at her most bountiful.

This photo is of a giant mango tree with about a billion full-sized green mangoes hanging from it. Unfortunately, Simoni told us they needed another month or two to ripen properly. After that, "there are mangoes everywhere you walk." (Sounds like heaven to me.)

There were ducks, chickens, dogs and a cat wandering around, and there was a pig pen behind his house with these little piglets (I guess that's where the term, pigpile, comes from):

Tanzanian culture is very polite, and we spent most of our time with Simoni just walking around the village and talking with people. (Simoni seemed to know all 3000 people in his village.) Our conversations would usually go something like this:

Villager: Karibuni! (Welcome!)
Us: Asante! (Thank you!)
Villager: (huge smile, thinking we speak Swahili, launches into Swahili welcoming speech)
Us: (uh oh, not understanding anything)
Simoni and villagers: (Swahili Swahili Swahili Swahili)
Us: (smiling politely, totally lost)
Simoni: (Swahili Swahili Americani Swahili Swahili)
Villagers (brightening): Obama!
Us: Yes! Obama!

And everyone would laugh, and all was well. It became the routine of "You're from Obama!" with big smiles and us, smiling back, "Yes, we're from Obamaland" over and over again, but it was nice to find some common ground.

And boy, is Obama loved here in Tanzania. His photo is everywhere, there are paintings of Obama in random villages, Obama stickers on cars-- we've even seen kangas in different colors with his photo, a map of Africa and "Congratulations, Barack Obama" above his photo and "Love and peace God has given us" below his photo (in Swahili):

It was interesting how slowly everything moved-- it seemed funny that we thought Dar was slow-moving, because in the village, people walked and moved even more slowly. But, I appreciated that people here valued spending time together above all else. Everything else could wait until you'd had a proper conversation with your neighbor, and I feel I don't see enough of that in modern society.

I can't, for example, imagine most urban Americans taking so much time out of their busy, busy schedules to just chat with their neighbors. (I feel that, increasingly, most urban Americans don't even know their neighbors.) And perhaps most interesting was that the people in the village seemed quite happy. Yes, maybe there was a little too much idle time here, but slowing down and spending more time connecting with other people face-to-face would probably do most people in 'developed countries' some good.

Anyway, I was also impressed by how well people from this tiny village knew their world geography and politics. I've met a lot of well-educated people who didn't know where Taiwan was, but when I told a man from this village that I grew up in Taiwan, he thought for a moment and then nodded and said, "Taipei." Another man was teasing us that we may be from Obama now, but we used to be from Bush. And he conceded that Clinton was okay, too.

And speaking of democracy, we got to go with Simoni as he registered to vote. Voting and seeing others vote makes me feel there is no limit to what we humans can do if we just work together.

It was interesting to notice that the top two 'signatures' on the page were fingerprints instead, and it makes me happy that literacy (or lack thereof) doesn't prevent people from voting (or being allowed to vote).

Our couchsurfer, Simoni, is also pretty incredible: he's a talented wood carver but has also opened a (free) school for the children in his village. He has a huge heart, and Tanzania is lucky to have people like him in its midst. Here's an example of his work:

And here's a huge log that he's planning on carving next:

I'm excited to see what he'll create, as it will be a very cool black and white wood once it's finished. (Simoni showed us some photos of huge giraffes and elephants he carved using the same wood, and they're very impressive.) Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be around to see the finished work, but it's nice to know that it will, in Simoni's gifted hands, become something beautiful one day.

Next up: our visit to Simoni's school and how you can visit his village, too.