Tuesday, 1 September 2009

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.