Thursday, 10 September 2009

It’s time to head back to Dar es Salaam, Salim arrives at 10 and we pack up, we call into MCP to say our goodbyes and hit the road. We stop off to see the carver near Kilwa, he gives Martin the mpingo medicine and we buy some of his work, he’s delighted. It looks to me he hasn’t sold anything since we were there 2 days ago and we nearly buy up his whole stock. Martin is really impressed with his turning skills. We get back on the road, the unmade section seems especially tiring this time, and so long, it feels as if my skeleton needs to be pulled back together. Progress through traffic in Dar is slow, and we eventually make it to Focus’ shop at 6pm. He is waiting for us, and presents us both with a sculpture he has made from our mpingo log, mine is a modern version of the traditional man and woman sculpture you associate with African carving. It reminds me of a Lowrie picture, it’s a work of art. He also gives us a Karibu, welcome sign, We buy some gifts in the shop and then say our last goodbyes to Focus, and head for CEFA for our last night in Tanzania, at dinner we see our friend Daniel, and meet a man from Norwich who has just arrived, we share with him the knowledge we have gained in the last week, we have learnt a lot.

We meet Salim at 5.30 am and head for the airport. Once we say our goodbyes to Salim we head through to our gate. I interview Martin in the lounge and we board the plane for the ten hour flight ahead, After a few hours we see the Sahara desert below, it seems to go on and on and on. I begin to get the same feeling I got when I returned from Greenland, a longing for the sight and smell of a rose, it’s almost like a mirage. I never realised I had such an attachment to roses before this summer, and it strikes me as strange the accumulated sensations that make up the experience we call home.

Day 8. Resting in Kilwa

Today is rest day, a time to reflect, and sit by the ocean. Although I’m not a fan of beach life, this is pretty good, and it’s a perfect way to recharge before the next few days of travelling. I get up early and watch the sunrise, I am joined by a man who tells me he is a soldier guarding the beach, we exchange pleasantries and for some reason he thanks me for telling him my name, I’m not sure why. At 7 he leaves, I assume it’s the end of his night shift, he tells me to be careful on the beach, careful of the people from the town who walk along here during the day. I guess crime maybe a problem, there’s a marked difference between this environment to that of the town and the villages we’ve been visiting in the last few days. This is a tourist place, with tourist prices. Over the past week I have been very surprised by the disparity of cost it’s as if there is a two tier system, I’m struggling to understand how it works. It has not been cheap, yet a lot of the people earn very little. As a rough gauge, I paid for dinner for 6 people in Dar at a posh restaurant and it cost me around $100, and in Kikole the average yearly wage is around $250, it doesn’t add up.

So I sit on the beach all day there’s no trouble, I watch local men sift the beach for shellfish, I am passed by a group of girls singing, a group of boys with sticks doing what boys with sticks do. A few people have come to sell their wares, some brightly coloured woven mats and small carvings. Yes today I am a tourist, it’s a far cry from the past week.

I am struggling to absorb my experiences, I have recorded many hours of material, and when I get home I will start condensing, sifting, chopping, carving, sculpting and making sense of it all and then sharing this journey as a radio programme, I feel heavy with responsibility but excited at the prospect of being able to get creative.

Day 7, Kikole forest

I wake up (not so early!) this has been the best nights sleep I have had since leaving London. As I get up I can a screeching sound in the middle distance. Jonas says this is a hyena. We go to the village for our breakfast – ginger tea and donuts. Our host asks me what religion I am. I say ‘I suppose I’m Christian, but not practising’ he says don’t you worry what will happen when you die? I say ‘ this is a big question – and will take a long time to discuss’ People are obviously very religious in these parts and I respect that, and am happy to wear long sleeves etc, but I did find one of the songs performed in Ruhawte quite troubling – apparently it’s meaning is that you catch AIDS from women who where revealing clothes. But as far as I’m aware you catch AIDS from people who have AIDS, and their mode of dress is unlikely to make much difference.

After breakfast we pack away our camp for the last time and drive the 6km to the forest with 3 of the villagers. We have a good walk through the forest. it’s very beautiful and we see many mpingo trees, young seedlings and older specimens marked to be harvested, we notice damage caused by elephants and fire. We are led to the trees that have been harvested and stamped with the FSC mark, the first tree we see has been cut into logs, I ask Martin how many flutes he thought he could make from this one tree. He estimates roughly 200 to 300, I ask how many days work this would be for him – he estimates about 5 years, the villagers are astonished.

We head back to the car, Salim has collected some elephant dung for a friend, I think it is for medicine. We head back to the village and pack away our camp, say our goodbyes, pay our dues and head back to Kilwa. On the way we stop at a carvers, his work is much simpler than the work in Mwenge in Dar, but I really like it. He’s made cups and bangles and wine goblets. We talk to him about mpingo medicine, he says he’ll make some for Martin from the leaves of the tree if we call back on Monday.

So we reach Kilwa – have lunch and then I interview Jonas. Jonas is a very knowledgeable and hardworking man, he teaches 6 villages about forestry management and seeing the work in Kikole it’s obvious he does it well. This marks the end of my offical recording, and I’m feeling relieved, and happy it’s gone so well. We head back to the hotel and I have the best shower I have ever had! Later that evening we meet Jonas and the district forestry officer in a bar for dinner, before they arrive, Martin remembers that he’s left something at the hotel, I say him and Salim should go back and I will wait for Jonas, Salim says he can’t leave me here on my own as it’s not safe. I guess this is because I am a woman, I don’t like the idea that I am not safe for 10 minutes on my own here, it’s not something I’m used to, and it makes me value the independence I have at home.

Day 6, From Ruhatwe to Kikole village

I wake up early to hear the sound of a mother hen and her chicks pecking around my tent. – definitely free range! After a short while I hear the sound of sweeping, I emerge from the tent to see school children sweeping around the trees nearby. Salim tells me that it is customary in Tanzania for the children to clean the school each day before lessons.

We head back to the village for breakfast – we have to eat discreetly as people are fasting. So we sit inside and eat chipati and drink tea. Afterwards we go to the village meeting house where about 20 villagers have gathered to speak to us. This is a very good interview, I’m particularly pleased to meet Ameen Amsham who was in my last programme ‘sounding post’. After the talking Martin shows the group his flute, once again everyone is delighted. They ask him to play, then another flute player from the village appears, he says he plays the bamboo flute, I ask if we could see it. He returns and finds the fluteplayer who Martin gave the flute to last night. After a few tonal adjustments they play the flutes together – it sound fantastic. After this we put a way our tents and have lunch. We then ask if we can take some photos – I thought people might not like this too much, but everyone is coming up and asking for their picture to be taken. One woman even guides me to what she knows to be a good place to take a picture – I think they’ve been through this routine before!

After lunch we hit the road and move onto Kikole, the next village, this village has just made their first harvest of FSC mpingo – a great achievement. This village has a different feel to it than Ruhatwe, we go through the same procedures of being welcomed and signing the vistors book. I interview a group of the villages and then we set up camp on a hill with a lovely breeze next to the village dispensary. After dark we return to the village. As we arrive Jonas hears an announcement being made on a loud-hailer saying that Martin has come to perform his flute. It’s much more chaotic here and many people surround us. Martin’s hand is swelling from a mosquito bite and I think he’s finding the experience rather uncomfortable, it is very dark and we are surrounded by about 50 people. Martin plays but people talk over the performance, it is less respectful than in Ruhatwe, when he stops playing the flute is passed around and people try to play it – I think this is a bit distressing for Martin, Jonas says that people thought playing would be easy but when they try they realise it takes some skill.

After dinner we head back to camp early – Martin and I are both exhausted. As I am falling to sleep there are sounds of animals near by I’m not sure what it is – maybe a monkey, again the sounds of drumming and singing in the early hours as the villagers break their fast.

Day 5, Mpingo Conservation - Ruhatwe village

Today we are going to the African Bush to visit and camp at the villages. We are borrowing tents from the hotel, the tents have been sent all the way from Arusha, in the North of Tanzania, luckily they have arrived and are waiting for us. We set off early at 9 and meet Jasper Makala and Jonas Timothy at the MCP office in town. I’ve been particularly looking forward to meeting Jonas, as he was so good in the recordings from the last programme. It seems there are one or two formalities to sort out before we can go into the bush. This part of the adventure is quite amusing and just a bit stressful. Firstly we visit the District Forestry officer to gain permission to go into the forest, we sign his visitors book – Martin plays him his flute – this part is all very jovial. We then have to go on to meet another official, we queue in a line huddled on a couch. I’m beginning to feel a real need to speak more Swahili, - at least somes Swahili, I’m getting very confused by the variety of different greetings I have heard so far. I get my small phrasebook out and practise saying ‘What a beautiful day!” “Ni siku nzuri sana!” The man in the queue next to me laughs at my attempt.

The Official we are waiting for is delayed so we head off to the market to buy some food for the trip, however, before we get there we have a call telling us to go to the immigration office to have our visas checked – the mood here is different – much less jovial. They take a look at our visas and tell us we have the wrong type. Luckily I am carrying a copy of our application for a press permit – the one that both Alan and I have made various trips to the embassy with back in the UK. They tell me we’ve done it wrong and if we want to continue we have to pay $200, we hand over the cash fill in yet another form, they hand back our passports (phew!) and then we’re on our way.

The market is in a large shed like building – there are lots of different stalls selling rice, and vegetables, there are lots of flies. We buy plenty of food and then head to another shop to get some tins of sardines, tuna and corned beef – plus plates, cups, thermos. We are heading back to the car when I get a call from Katie in London saying the mattresses we ordered haven’t been included in our tent packs. This is quite funny there’s been so many emails flying back and forth about this arrangement – luckily there are some spare at the MCP so we return to the office to pick them up.

Finally, we are on the road - after about 30 minutes Jonas points out a rather uninspiring looking tree by the side of the road – mpingo! We get out and view it, We then go on to an unmade road which is really rough – the 4x4 dips and rolls through more dense woodland, some areas are scorched by fire, some bereft of trees. But much of it is lush and it’s a very beautiful place to be. We go though several small hamlets until we arrive at Ruhatwe Village.

The village consists of several converging roads lined with houses mostly constructed of mud and wooden poles. As we drive through everyone stops and stares, some people wave. We stop in what seems to be the centre of the village and get out of the car, we are immediately surrounded by groups of inquisitive dusty children, we head to the house of the village chairman who takes us to the village meeting room to meet for the official welcome and signing of the visitors book – all the children follow us in – I get my recording equipment out and they are very excited but very well behaved however and sit in lines at the feet of the chairman at his command. I do a short interview with the chairman about mpingo with Jonas translating and then ask if I can speak to some of the children, 2 of the older of the group speak to me, they are extremely charming.

After this we go to set up camp in the school grounds. Once the tents are up we return to the centre of the village and take our food to the woman who will be cooking it for us later. Again we are instantly surrounded by the children. Martin goes to take out his flute, I rush over and rather sternly warn him not to play without permission as I had a sudden realisation on the way, these villages are conservatively muslim and this is holy month – Ramadan, so people are fasting. I have remembered that sometimes this also means not playing music! (good time to plan the trip Nina!!!!)

Anyway we ask Jonas and he says it’s ok – the children enjoy the playing and we have a small sing-a-long.

Jonas suggests a walk around the village, all the way around we are followed by the children – I am trying to learn some of their names there are 3 in particular stick very close. I think they must be about 5 years old. We view the waterpump – and see some women getting their water for washing. Apparently the water for drinking is another 30 minutes walk from here across a field. They have plans for a new well, closer but they need to raise the funds. We also see the dispensary. The sunsets and we make our way back to the centre. There is no electricity in the village, so it is very dark save for the light of candles at the doorways of the houses and the cooking fire where a group of women are cooking our food in the open-air.

My trying to remember the names of the children is rapidly growing into a schooling in Swahili. I am surrounded by about 15 children, I am trying to say ‘What’s your name?” Jina lako nani? And ‘My name is Nina” ‘Jina langu ni Nina’ for some reason, probably as I am overwhelmed by the experience and very tired I am finding this unbelieveably difficult. The children press into me as we repeat the words over and over again, there is much laughter. One boy in particular becomes my teacher, by the light of my head torch it’s as if he is pressing the words into me through his emphatic and expressive pronunciation, he hisses the words, quickly repeating ‘again, again, again… very good’ I think I will remember this lesson and this boy as long as I live, what I can’t quite believe is I don’t remember his name. He said he would like to be a teacher when he is older and I think he has given me an insight into his own schooling. I laugh at my feeble attempts at learning his language, he says ‘sister, why do you laugh!’ ‘ Because I think I am not good at this’ I say.

I am summond from the crowd of laughing children for dinner, we sit on a mat by the house and eat our rice, sardines and cabbage washed down with really tasty ginger tea.

After dinner Jonas tells me that our suspicions about music being restricted during holy month is right, but the singing group we have come to visit have agreed to perform after dark far away from the village. So we walk by moonlight to the corner of the school football pitch, as we approach a fire is visible it has been lit to warm the skins of the drums.

The music begins, their songs are accompanied by dancing, drumming and ankle bells. It’s really magical in the moonlight. After about 4 or 5 songs they stop and Martin is invited to play, this is equally magical and the group our spellbound. They ask questions of each other and then one of the men in the crowd come forward and plays the flute, he’s really very good. The best we’ve heard so far. Apparently there is a tradition of playing bamboo flutes in this village. After he stops Martin reveals the flute he has made especially for this trip and gives it to the flute player as a gift. Everyone is delighted. We head back to camp and I interview Martin about his experiences, he’s really impressed with the people here and the simple way in which they live.

During the night there is the sound of drumming and singing from different parts of the village – apparently this is the sound of people visiting different houses breaking their fast. It’s very atmospheric, and could in another situation seem a bit scary – but I feel safe in this village, the people have made us feel so welcome.

Day 4. From Dar es Salaam to Kilwa Misoko

Today we take the 6 hour drive from Dar es Salaam to Kilwa Masoko, but not before saying goodbye to Lara, who sees us off with a beautiful performance of a song, (lyrics by Yeats) she accompanies herself on her celtic lap harp (I can’t believe she’s been dragging it around Africa!) – her performance is really moving and a poignant gift to set us on our way.

Once packed-up and off we try and find a bank so I can change some travellers cheques. (note to anyone thinking of doing the same – you can’t!) Anyway we head to the supermarket to get some food for our journey. The traffic in Dar is terrible, as we queue people try and sell all sorts of goods to us from the road side – mobile phones – chargers, car parts- the works. We eventually get to the supermarket and Salim guides us around the isles. We get back on the road to more traffic jams and Martin starts to eat the chicken he has just bought, but a boy comes running up to the window of the stationary car and begs in good humour for a bite of the chicken. Martin opens the window and hands him the leg, the boy, grinning, waves and scampers off. Towards the edge of the city, Salim makes a quick stop to pick up his bag from his wife, we stop near his house, this is the edge of the city and accommodation looks pretty crowded here. Salim’s wife waves as she approaches the car, she is a very elegant woman wearing a beautiful red scarf around her head.

This time we are really off and soon come to the open road, It’s great to get out into the countryside after being in the city, all along the journey we see small groups of houses, Most of the people we see along the road are involved in an industrious activity, it seems everyone is moving and doing something.

After about 3 hours once we have crossed the new bridge over the river we come to the unmade section of the road. It’s really bumpy and hard work keeping any sense of centre, after a few hours the road surface improves, and as we contine we are excited to spot a few monkeys.

Eventually we arrive at Kilwa Masoko, we find our hotel – Kimbilio Lodge, a beach resort perched on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Once checked it is too late to meet with Jonas Timothy and Jasper Makala at the Mpingo Conservation Project HQ so we send word and have dinner in the bar of the hotel, we get talking to the friendly manager who is dutch, he is interested to hear about our project, apparently he runs a biofuel company which has acquired some forest land near by, he tells us there is an attached timber company in Arusha where the wood from the forest is sent to for processing and selling- I’m surprised he speaks so openly to me considering I am here to make a radio programme about forest conservation in the area, I am already aware from discussions in Dar that handing the land over for biofuels is not a particularly positive move – I make a mental note to ask Jonas more about this tomorrow.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Day 3. Mwenge carvers - flutemaking workshop

It’s the big day! The day to make the flute. Again I’m up at the crack of dawn – I interview Martin before breakfast – it seems this is the time when he’s clear in his head. At breakfast we get talking to Lara, a woman from Colorado in the States who is travelling through Uganda and Tanzania researching wildlife and conservation projects, turns out she also plays the celtic harp. She’s really interested in what we are doing so when James arrives, I invite her to join us for the day, we have so many cross-over interests, and it turns out she became a very useful member of our team, taking photos for us throughout the day.

So this is it – we arrive at Mwenge and Focus leads us to an undercover area where shortly a group of twenty or so carvers come to see what’s going on. Martin starts the proceedings by playing the flute he has brought with him. The carvers are delighted and cheer when he finishes, everyone is so interested to see a flute made from mpingo, although they use mpingo daily it’s not used for musical instruments here. So Martin gets to work explaining how it is made, and the carvers assist with the laborious task of making the flute by hand. Along the way there are many questions, people seem interested to know if they can make the flute here and how much it sells for. They are impressed with Martins craftsmanship and some say they are surprised to see a European man working with his hands, it seems many thought everyone wore suits and worked in offices. Martin is equally impressed with their craftsmanship and by lunch the outer body of the flute is being turned, the man operates the device with his feet and a large bow, he is working with great accuracy.

After lunch the precision work of making the blow-hole and the fingerholes begins, many of the carvers see that this is the problematic part as you have to be able to know the notes and hear the tuning. Martin agrees that the carvers would need to learn to play the flute, lots of the carvers take it in turn to try, there is one tribe who make flutes from bamboo and they get quite a good sound. Around 4pm the final adjustments to the flute are made and the flute it finished. It’s by no means perfect and probably wouldn’t sell to Martin’s customers but as a first attempt it is very good, and the sound it fantastic.

It’s a brilliant achievement, everyone is delighted. Focus has arranged for a drumming group to come and perform which is a great way to end the day. Martin makes a gift to the carvers of some of the tools he has brought with him and also the flute that has been made. We leave the remaining pieces of mpingo with them and they are going to make some carvings for us to take home which we will pickup on our way home at the end of the week.

So we leave mwenge and head for a bar by the ocean to relax, celebrate and reflect. I interview James to get his view of the whole process, he has been instrumental in making this happen, and it is our last day with him as tomorrow we are travelling to Kilwa Masoko, where the Mpingo Conservation is based. Both Martin and I are really sad to be saying goodbye to James, he has become a good friend in such a short space of time.

Day 2. Mwenge carvers

I wake up early at dawn, hearing the distant sounds of the call to prayer and the crow of the cockerel – definitely not enough sleep. After breakfast James, car and driver Salim arrive, I record a short interview with Martin, he has a lot on his mind – the making of a flute is a huge task and we’ve a busy day ahead.

We head to meet Focus at Mwenge, when we arrive we find him in a meeting with his business adviser, one of the very few women I’ve met here so far. She is passionate about the carvings and talks of plans to arrange a gallery near by. Martin shows them both the flute made from mpingo that he has brought with him and plays, it’s a very special moment and they are a delighted audience.

First on today’s agenda is to get some wood. Yesterday we arranged to buy a log of mpingo from Focus which now needs to be sawn into the right shape billets. The workshop where it is to be done is a precarious place, full of sawdust, sharp blades, and scary looking plug sockets, we leave the wood in their hands and follow Focus to meet a man who is turning the wood. I interview him about his work.

I interview Focus and other members of the association and discuss the history of carving in Tanzania which is fascinating. Afterwards we have lunch together, there’s something about being here that feels very familiar, and much more so than when my recent trip to Greenland, I think this might be because I have so many African neighbours back in London that the culture here is someway reminds me of home.

After lunch we return to the workshop where the wood has been sawn. It’s been done and now the terrifying part of boring a hole in the wood, there’s a lot of creativity going into this process from each angle, Martin and the carvers are coming up with ingenious ideas on how to get the work done, but this part of the process is extremely worrying, Martin monitors the electrical supply to the drill whilst the man operating the drilling equipment builds up a sweat making a hole. It works, and luckily no-one has been hurt!

So at the end of the day we have the basis of the flute ready for tomorrow’s workshop. We say goodbye to Focus and go in search of a cold beer! Martin requests a quiet place, and James and Salim take us to a bar overlooking the Indian Ocean. We go for a stroll along the sea wall and as we walk we meet two men from the Masai tribe, clearly identifiable by their robes. James is Masai and stops to talk to them. Some men nearby start laughing and apparently say they can’t believe a Masai is speaking English. It has been so interesting talking with James, I’m very grateful he can speak English. I think he has given Martin and I such a remarkable insight into Tanzania, we have been very fortunate.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Recording trip to Tanzania - day 1

We approach Tanzania at dawn, above the clouds on our left Mount Kilimanjaro is visible as the sunrises and the plane descends into Dar es Salaam. It’s 7am when we arrive, the weather humid, but not too hot. After some delays we leave with the pre-arranged taxi for CEFA hostel where we are staying. The trip to the hotel is exciting – so many new sights – bicycles laden with goods such as crates of eggs stacked higher than the cyclist, women carrying heavy bags of flour on their heads.

We arrive a CEFA and whilst waiting to check in I get a call from James Laizer from the environmental/social consultanting company Kilimanyika, who along with his colleague Paul Harrison and has been helping to arrange our trip. James suggests we go and meet with him and Focus Senga the Chairman of the Mwenge Carvers Association to make plans for the the making of the irish flute and my recordings, we arrange to meet him later that afternoon.

After a short rest (not enough!) we have lunch and get talking to Daniel, a young Chinese man who is working and living in Tanzania for 3 months. When we tell him we are here to make a programme about making an irish flute from mpingo he becomes very interested. It turns out he has been researching the possibility of exporting mpingo to make Buddha heads in china. From the sounds of things he’s reached a dead end – too many restrictions and it’s too expensive. We discuss how mpingo is used for steering wheels for Mercedes and edgings of snooker tables – what a crime!

So off we go to Mwenge to meet James and Focus. Mwenge is the area where the carvers work and sell their carvings (which are made from mpingo) The area is made up of many ramshackle units situated along a busy main road. There are many people sitting outside the units ushering us into buy. So we meet James who takes us to meet Focus in his shop (more about both of these gentlemen later). The shop is jam packed with carvings of all different sizes, they are amazing and deserve to be displayed in a gallery where you can be properly appreciated.

We are here to see if we can gather the tools and materials for Martin to make an Irish flute from Mpingo over the next few days. We follow Focus, and as we move through the dark cramped carvers quarters everything seems very alien, but Focus moves with slow determination, a man on a mission. He has a great presence and a natural sense of authority, it’s obvious despite our not understanding Swahili he is respected by the carvers we meet.

Once we have seen some of the tools we go to the shopping centre which is a marked contrast to the market and appears just like any other shopping centre you’d get in any part of the world, apart from, they take your bags away when you enter. The tools are very expensive here, but we may have to buy some if we can’t find what we need elsewhere.

We leave Focus and go with James to meet Steve Ball for dinner. Steve along with James, is one of the founder members of the Mpingo Conservation project, and is now the International co-ordinator, he is off to the UK on leave, but luckily we crossed over for a day so we could meet and discuss the issues surrounding using mpingo. I think this was a very illuminating meeting for Martin.