Friday, July 1, 2016

Mto Wa Mbu

On Monday morning, we left Karatu.  That meant saying goodbye to our housemate, Allison, and sports volunteer, Chris, and to Janet Bayo and Agnes and her husband, who had cooked for us. I think we all really enjoyed being in Karatu, largely because of Tumaini, but also because there is a community of volunteers that welcomed us in even for a short time. We also enjoyed staying at the volunteer house, a great environment for us.

In two cars, with all of our luggage, we traveled to Mto wa Mbu, a small town between Karatu and Arusha, where we had agreed to shoot some footage at an orphanage called Children Concern Foundation. Gloria Upchurch, through A Global Connection, had donated playground equipment for the orphanage, and she had requested we go there.  Two other Bay Area women have been involved with the orphanage as well.

We toured the orphanage, which had moved to this site about five years ago.  Children are referred to the orphanage by a government agency.  They range in age from 6 to 18.  Children at this orphanage go to government schools, although they are hoping to start a school on the site.  Some of the children are also getting vocational training.  There are separate buildings for the boys’ and girls’ dorms, and there is a dining hall and kitchen. In addition, there is an administration building in which there is a large classroom where the youngest children (those not yet ready for primary school) have class. In the middle of the campus is a playground, with swings, teeter totters, a slide, and a jungle gym.

This was our only experience with an orphanage and with children referred to an organization through the Tanzanian government. It’s clear that the organization is well run and the children are well cared for. It’s also evident that the support of the U.S. donors helps a great deal.

We had planned to find a place for lunch in Mto wa Mbu, but before we had a chance to do that, Bayo arranged for us to take a tour of the town and have lunch at the end of the tour. The town is attempting to increase its potential as a tourist attraction and, indeed, it's a fascinating place. We looked up as we got out of the car, only to see what must have been hundreds of storks in the tops of the trees. We learned later that they are in the process of migration. That, in itself, was amazing! But the town is known for its banana production – and especially for red bananas.  We learned that bananas are used for eating, for cooking and for making banana beer. Red bananas, like the yellow ones we know, are used for eating. It is the green bananas that are used for cooking.

Our tour was through a banana-growing “forest” where we learned about banana cultivation, the flowers at the ends of the stalks of bananas, and the fertilization of the land – with elephant dung - to prepare for growing bananas.  The town depends on bananas because they are not seasonal; they grow all year. That means continuous revenue for the town.  In addition, we learned that one banana plant will only grown one bunch of bananas.  After that, it is cut down to make way for a new plant.  Our walk through the forest including the precarious crossing of a plank over a river, and took us to a workshop where several people were making articles out of wood.  There was some ebony and another kind of wood. The products – statues, masks, salad tongs, etc. – were beautiful, but we had seen most of the items in other stores, and no one wanted to buy anything.  Then we arrived at the place where we had lunch.  A variety of foods were being cooked outside over a fire. After a short wait, the cooks served our lunch – an array of food including two kinds of rice, ugale, a meat stew, vegetables, salads, and much more. It was an amazing spread – and delicious!

After the meal, we went to the Maasai market in Mto wa Mbu, where a number of us made purchases of items to take home. The market is a tourist paradise, with masks, wooden statues, beaded jewelry, shukas, and other items for sale.  It is also a place to bargain – and we did just that.  Our suitcases became much heavier before we left the market.

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