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Published: September 18th 2018
The Tengeru Cultural Tourism Programme is an organisation for tourists to experience local communities of the locals and culture of the Meru people of Tanzania, this is where we spent most of today. 65% of their profit goes into local schools, orphanages, women's projects and tree planting projects, so it is all good.
Glyn found this place when researching coffee tours, as it also does this plus a village tour. The guys at Hekima House had no idea where it was situated, but sorted us out a lift there and as always, it was down a very long and bumpy dirt track including such a steep part that I didn't think the car could make it back up!
The building itself was home to Mama Gladness, who owns the business and it was very beautiful with a well kept garden in bloom. There were many places to sit with furniture made on the premises and a treehouse. We were made very welcome and Mama shook our hands and kissed us on both cheeks - not air-kisses but actual smackeroos. We met Rubén who was in charge and our guide, Eli. Everyone told us we were most welcome many times
as we were introduced to various other staff. It had the atmosphere of a commune, but without the religion and everyone was softly spoken.
We were served ginger and lemongrass tea and given peanuts as Eli told us a lot about local culture, agriculture and the environment.
First off, 'coffee' in Swahili means 'slap', so ask for a coffee and you could get a smack in the face. The word to use instead is 'kahawa'. The area is evergreen, so whatever time of year you come, you will see greenery meaning that they don't have seasons for growing crops and food is growing all year around. People come from Kenya and Uganda to buy food.
Eli is part of the Meru tribe which is a local tribe, there are 129 tribes in Tanzania but there's no tribalism or fighting unlike some other African countries, it is deemed rude to ask another person what tribe they are from. 75% of the country speak Swahili, the remaining only tribal languages and kids learn English in school.
The Tengeru Cultural Tourism Programme began in 1996, until then tourists only came to Tanzania for the safaris, mountain climbing or beaches;
they never interacted with the local people - a lot of tourists still don't. One of their aims is to educate tourists about Tanzanians rather than our pre-conceived ideas from international media, which is never very good.
We had a long chat and it was very interesting,then given a choice of three coffee farms to walk to. We opted for the one that was the middle distance away and started our walk along the avenues of banana, avocado, passion fruit and mango trees. It was shady, but occasional hot sun meant we wore our hats and Eli asked Glyn if he is in the military (no) because his hat has a camouflage pattern. In Tanzania, if you wear camouflage or soldier gear and are not in the military, you can be arrested. Glyn's never been arrested in a foreign country before, so it would be an interesting addition to our travelblogs....
There are 10 types of bananas, not all being the dessert bananas that I'm used to. They use them for porridge, various savoury dishes, beer and wine. They didn't have any of that for me to taste, but I'm on it! The bark is also used for
thatching roofs. The banana tree only fruits once, then the trunk is cut down so a new shoot can grow. The trunk is chopped up, soaked and fed to the cows; nothing is wasted.
Walking through very leafy areas, over a river on a very rickety bridge, we climbed up to the coffee bushes that grow alongside banana trees as apparently they love each other. The banana leaves shade the coffee but I don't know what the bananas get out of this arrangement. The coffee plants are pruned twice a year to keep them in good condition and so that the berries are human height to pick. They begin green, turn yellow and are picked when red. Eli peeled a ripe bean and the inside was white and slimy.
Coffee had originally come from Ethiopia in the 15th century. A goat farmer called Haliday noticed that his goats got very happy and funny when eating coffee berries. When they didn't get the berries, they were miserable as they'd gotten addicted quite quickly. So he picked some for himself and boiled them, but was most disappointed as he did not get happy or funny. However, he accidentally dropped a
bean in the fire which roasted and gave a great aroma - ah! Now he knew what to do. Catholic Missionaries brought coffee to Tanzania in 1891 and they have been growing it since, people who own coffee farms have a good living and nice homes.
Coffee is grown in cow manure and takes three years to mature when it produces white flowers. After 4 days, the flowers drop and berries start to grow. If you look after your coffee bush, it can live for 100 years, so many are passed down the generations. The berries are dried, fermented, peeled, roasted and ground. Quite the process!
Men tend to sell coffee in the markets whereas women sell their bananas. Glyn loves coffee and I love bananas, got the gender thing traditionally correct, unusual for us! All crop diseases are controlled by local remedies and goats no longer get to eat them. Sometimes bush babies (small primate) eat them, but they have such small appetites, it isn't a problem.
Walking back to the house, Eli explained the difference between 'Jambo' and 'Mambo'. The former is a greeting and the latter more like 'whatsup' and we were advised not
to use that. We came across a sausage tree that I recall giraffes chowing on in the Serengeti. The fruit (that looks like sausages) isn't really edible and given to chickens who have diarrhoea, I've never seen a chicken with this affliction, can't be good. Also, women use it to help induce pregnancy - Eli says it works.
When we got back, Eli asked if we wanted to learn about Methane Gas. This is something I don't get asked a lot and Glyn said we are happy to learn anything. So we were taken to three Friesian cows who didn't have a lot of space to roam and subsequently were a bit moody. Their dung and pee is collected and mixed in a nearby tank, then piped to a mostly underground vessel where something happens and gas is made. This is piped to another place where any water is removed as it turns the gas flame yellow and this is bad - it should be blue. Then it is finally pumped to the 'kitchen' which was a gas ring on a log with a gas light that needed fixing. They like having gas as there's a lot of electricity
rationing in Tanzania and it cannot be depended upon.
So on with the coffee making. Eli brought us a shallow bowl of white dried coffee beans and had us peeling them, it was slow going. He asked if we could think of a better way to do this and we suggested some sort of machine, but only the likes of Starbucks have that luxury. So we carried on peeling, thinking we would be there for a week, until Eli admitted he did have another way and took us to a huge pestle and mortar. The pestle was almost my height and took both hands to use whilst the mortar was on the floor and knee high. We all had a go and it was a lot quicker as the shells break easily but the inner beans stay whole. Eli separated the chafe from the beans by shaking them a lot on the shallow bowl and blowing the crap away.
Next he collected a ceramic bowl and put it on the gas, stirring the beans inside until they were roasted to a dark brown. They looked like coffee beans now, but did not smell of them. Then the beans
were poured into another mortar to be ground into coffee. Doing this requires singing to take your mind off the repetitive work but Eli said he had a bad voice, so he called a lady to come and help. They both had a pestle and ground at the same time in a rhythm. Rubén and Mama Gladness came out to join the singing, Rubén was clapping and swaying, really getting into it!
And finally, water was boiled with the coffee added and Eli poured our coffee. Now we had been asked if we wanted strong, medium or weak coffee and Glyn chose strong. I went with that too as it would be a nuisance trying to do both. The next question was did we want Tanzanian strong or British strong - Glyn went for Tanzanian as when else would he ever get to try this? (Answer: at home as he bought some beans). I was dubious, at home I hate strong coffee as it tastes like melted earwax. My dad claims that he does not know what earwax tastes like, but I don't believe him, everyone knows what earwax tastes like: just like a Starbucks expresso. Anyway, I was
surprised to like this coffee, it tasted like strong coffee (not earwax) and I had a second cup, much to my own surprise. Glyn was in heaven!
We carried on chatting with Eli about social stuff, world politics, Africa, what a backwards buffoon Trump is and world languages / regional accents. I really enjoyed it. We were called to lunch and made to go through a hand washing ritual despite me having just washed my hands after using the loo.
People were working nearby and listening to reggae, a singer called Lucky Dube. Eli said he was murdered by terrorists, I asked why. Because he murdered other reggae musicians he believed were in competition with him including one called Senzo. The South African reggae music scene sounds very harsh, the worst that happens in (awful) British pop music is that an artist may bad mouth another on Twitter.
Lunch was the best I have had in Tanzania, all grown locally and cooked by Mama Gladness. There was too much, including chapati, rice, chickpea stuff, savoury banana, beans, nightshade (not deadly), fruit and meat for Glyn. I was stuffed!
Afterwards Rubén told us all about The Tengeru
Cultural Tourism Programme, what it did, how it began, etc. He asked us to spread the word, to help get more foreign tourists to visit and stay in contact. We are happy to do that. Then he said that part of our payment would go into planting a tree during the rainy season. We got certificates to prove we have a tree in Tanzania and are welcome to be there for the planting (we wish!) and can come and inspect the tree at any time! Eli photographed us as we received the certificates, not sure what they will be doing with that.
Some guests from Uganda arrived so we withdrew to the treehouse and chatted with Eli for sometime about various things. As well as being a guide, he has a farm that a trusted servant looks after. He has one young daughter and he walks 7km each way to get to work at the programme. Ultimately he wants to be a safari guide, it's not easy to get those jobs as you need a lot of knowledge, but he has been studying hard and reading English books to improve his English, which is already very good. Safari guides are paid very well plus tips (unless you work for a company from India as they tell their clients not to tip because the guides are paid enough). Safari guides have lovely homes and their kids go to the best schools, I can see why he would want to do this. It seems a great job looking at animals all day but you have to put up with tourists, this is where I would fail!
At sometime after 3pm, our driver turned up, with Elieza, the guy from Hekima House in the passenger seat. I think that they were both curious about this place as they'd not heard of it before. Whenever a guests wants a cultural tour they send them to Moshi which is much further away.
We chatted and Elieza asked what we did for work. When I told them that I'm a Design Manager and mentioned that I do websites they asked me my opinion on theirs and gave me a phone to look at it. It's pretty good for UX as it doesn't take many clicks to find what you would want. But I advised them to get customer reviews and various other things, babbled on about keywords and google analytics. They have so much competition from American, European and Asian companies, they struggle. On returning, they valued my help so much that the $50 dollar round trip was now $35 and the lift to the airport tomorrow is free!
When we returned, I was seated in the head honcho chair in the office to sort google analytics, only it came up in German. I started sorting it and Eliaza filled out company info. The Internet began to give up, so Glyn and I are both his Facebook friends and he will message me for help, which I'm very happy to do.
I have been promised banana beer, but we can always go for a wander to find it. I'm quite happy at Hekima House, relaxing, writing this blog and now that I'm done, carry on with my book.
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