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.