Monday, 13 August 2012

Camp Tanzania: Coffee, school and daily life...

After a couple of days on Safari, our Tanzania expedition was about to get a bit more emotionally challenging.  We headed for Meru Camp, a small semi permanent camp in a village at the foothills of Mt Meru. We had already done plenty of hard physical work at Ndarakwai wildlife reserve, so it wasn't the physicality of the project work that caught me off guard, it was the realities of daily life for our village neighbours. The camp was located on a plot of land owned by a local elder who also had a small coffee plantation.  The community was surrounded on all sides by fields of maize, bannanas and other cash crops that were being produced on a small scale to sell locally and also further afield. There is no running water in the village, and we soon got over our initial shock at being allowed just 3 litres a day to wash in, when we realised how precious a resource water is in the area.  Children and women walked passed our gate carrying buckets of water on their heads up from the river at the bottom of a steep hill. It was back breaking work, and the water is not clean or safe to drink, with other villages both up and down stream. 

We were able to see first hand how Jackson, the youngest son of the landowner, picks his father's coffee beans and processes them to be sold at market (and to Camps volunteers!).  This was very exciting to me- I'd already noticed how good the coffee was at breakfast, and to see the production of one of my favourite weaknesses from start to finish was magical. Tanzanian highland coffee was always one of my favourite blends but now that aroma is even more evocative.  

 The beans are picked by hand as they ripen. 

 Ripe coffee beans look like red berries. 

 The crop is tipped in to a machine that pulverizes the soft outer flesh, revealing a small light brown hard bean. 

The beans are dried for several weeks, before being ground again to remove a thin outer skin.  

 The outer skin is seperated from the beans by hand. 

 The beans are roasted over an open fire, before being ground up by hand in a pestle and mortar. 

 The finished product, organic, fairtrade coffee. 

Our community work for this part of our expedition was in the local primary school.  Camps Interntational have a longstanding relationship with this community and it was great to see the work done by previous students over the last decade. The school itself is a far cry from European schools, but it is impressive that in Tanzania which is a very poor country by any measurement,  most children attend primary school (apart from the Masai, who are often reluctant to send their children to state school). Classes are huge, with 40 children being the norm. Classrooms are dark, crumbling and leaky and there is no glass in the windows. Paper and pencils are in short supply.  Basic primary education is funded by the government, but is desperately under resourced.  Parents must find the money for school dinners, books and uniforms, and this can be prohibitively expensive for the average family.  When we were there, the harvest had not been gathered and a lot of the village children were on free school meals.  I didn't get to see this, but our students reported that they were shocked by how small the portions were. 

 The school playground.

 Classrooms- we were building the foundations of a verandah outside the front of one of these classrooms, to allow students and teachers to work outside on hot days. 

Everywhere we went in the village, the local kids greeted us with a mixture of curiosity and excitement.   A strangely lovely experience. 

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