Art & About in Arusha

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Bwana Asifiwe

So much for chilling out! Today was go, go, go! But fascinating & fun. We started, as you do, with breakfast. I must say, though I did enjoy the indulgent breakfasts on safari, it is nice to just have a bowl of cereal! Although Katie’s home-made raisin toast is rather delicious too. We headed off early so we could drop Harry to school on our way. He attends a small British school, where most of the children are ex-pats. The lessons are in English but they also learn Swahili.

Our first port of call was the Shanga Bead Project (www.shanga.org). Katie had told me about this place before we came & I was really looking forward to seeing it. Shanga is the Swahili word for beads, and it is a private company which employs mainly deaf & mute women (but also other people with & without disabilities), where they make hand-made beads & jewellery.They also support the children of the workers, giving them scholarships for schooling. 10% of the profits goes to this (they call it Pink Balloon).  We had a tour of the workshops, and then were led to the shop. So many temptations!! Their methods are very manual & labour intensive, but the results are very beautiful. I may possibly have purchased one or two (or several) items, but they were just too nice (and inexpensive), to refuse.

They also had a tanzanite showroom. Tanzanite, apparently, is a mineral found only in Tanzania (hence the name) which (allegedly) sparkles more than diamonds. It is remarkable in that any individual crystal shines in 3 distinct colours (blue, red & violet) depending on which way you look at it. We saw a demonstration of that & it is quite impressive. But with a price to match. Pity, they were very pretty. And sparkly!

Shanga has a lovely garden, with groups of large couches covered with luxurious cushions in a vast green lawn surrounded by huge trees (surprisingly, quite a few Australian natives such as Silky Oak). We had a cup of tea & watched monkeys jumping from tree to tree. It felt very ‘colonial’.

Not far from Shanga was the Cultural Heritage Centre. This is a large complex consisting of shops, a cafe & a large art gallery. We made a beeline for the gallery, which was very impressive. A very modern curved building, there were several levels connected by a circular ramp. There were paintings & sculptures, featuring works by local artists or depicting Africa. They varied in style & content, but it was a very comprehensive display and contained many very beautiful & impressive works. We particularly liked the wildlife paintings and had fun showing off our vast knowledge of African wildlife to Miriam.

We passed through the shop but were running out of time so were saved from the danger of spending any more money. Though we did browse a while in a rather nice bookshop and may have bought a book. Though as we were with Katie (a resident) we got a 15% discount, so that was a nice surprise.

The drive home took us through Arusha itself. The traffic is almost as bad as Nairobi, except that the road is only one lane wide (in either direction). There are fewer signs in English than in Kenya, but otherwise it is similar, with people walking everywhere, hand carts, motorbikes & pushbikes, and countless small shops. But Arusha is also a tourist town, as a starting point for safaris to the Serengeti & the so-called northern circuit, so there are some very smart-looking hotels & restaurants.

Katie had a bit of shopping to do. First we stopped at a quite modern shopping centre, with a supermarket, a wine & cheese shop, restaurants & cafes, even a Woolworth’s. Then we visited a corner vegetable market, which was quite different. As soon as we got out of the car we were mobbed by several women offering bananas and avocados. Katie shops there regularly so seems to have it all under control. The veg looked really fresh & the sellers were very friendly. Have I mentioned how good bananas are here? They are tiny (about 3 inches long) but are soo sweet. The best bananas we’ve ever eaten. Luckily they are also plentiful! Especially here in Tanzania,  there are banana palms everywhere you look.

Tonight Mchungaji Joseph & Mama Mchungaji Joseph (aka Joseph & Martha) came to dinner. If you remember she is the one with the wonderful singing voice, and as promised she brought me a couple of her CDs. Can’t wait to listen to them when I get home! It was an interesting dinner party. Firstly the conversation – their English is quite good, but  Martha especially is not all that comfortable. And Mike & Katie’s Swahili is impressive, considering they have only been here a year, but they still struggle somewhat. So they all slipped between the two languages freely, it was fascinating to watch. And Mike quizzed Joseph on some of the finer points of grammar. Then there is a difference between Kenyan & Tanzanian Swahili – some of the few words we had learned are not used here (e.g. they say Hamna Shida, instead of Hakuna Matata).

Secondly the dinner was held entirely by candlelight, as we had no power. All of Tanzania is on hydroelectric power, so in the dry season (i.e. now) there just isn’t enough power to go around, and it is shut off for part of every day. It seems likely there would be some sort of schedule, but no-one knows what it is, so you never know when it will go off, or for how long. Fortunately the Taylors have a gas stove, so we we didn’t have to eat our dinner raw, and they are well supplied with solar powered torches. After only 2 days we are already used to the power cuts, you just carry on as best you can.

Joseph & Martha are only recently married, they told us about a recent journey that they had taken to meet various relatives. They had to walk for 4 hours from the end of the bus route to their destination, as there is just no public transport (and back again). They didn’t seem to think this was anything unusual.

We are settling nicely into life here, getting to know the kids, chatting to Mike & Katie, and learning to understand the Tanzanian way. It feels a hundred miles from our game drives and tented camps, and was it less than three weeks ago we were in Dubai?

One thought on “Art & About in Arusha

  1. Hi Shelley,
    So great to hear about what you’ve been up to with the Taylors. Please pass on our love to them. We’re very much looking forward to seeing them and doing the things you’ve done ourselves.

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