Saturday, 22 September 2012

Camp Tanzania: The warmth of Tanga

After the trials of the mountain, Camp Tanga, situated on the coast 7 hours from Moshi, seemed to us a tropical paradise with a warm welcome and a gentle pace of life. The camp itself is within a small fishing community called Mwambani, outside the main town of Tanga.  At high tide the surf of the Indian Ocean roared up the beach just metres from our tents. All of camp life took place beneath the shelter of an ancient baobab tree.

We stayed at Tanga for a week, and the bulk of our work there was in a primary school a couple of kilometres from the village. We were involved with renovating a dilapidated classroom, laying a new concrete floor, repairing brickwork and whitewashing the walls, as well as having fun with the school children, teaching them English and learning Kiswahili in return.

Learning to carry buckets of sand to mix the cement the traditional way!

 Making the concrete mix for the classroom floor.

Whitewashing the walls of the classroom. 

 On either side of our room, noisy lessons were taking place in packed classes of 40 or more children. Education to primary age is a right that all children have in Tanzania, but parents must still pay for books and uniforms and with family incomes desperately low,  the children do not take their education for granted.

Every day, on the walk to and from the school, we were accompanied by inquisitive and friendly children who grabbed our hands and walked with us.  The enthusiastic response we received from the community in Tanga was unlike anything I've ever experienced before.

In Mwambani village we learned how to make chapatis and local sweets called visheti with the Mamas (village mothers). We also laboured on a local building project funded by Camps International, helping to build a traditional house for a family from the village. The house was constructed from timber and a mud mixture that set hard in the sun, before being thatched with woven palm leaves. We found that although village life appeared to be a tranquil paradise, with low incomes and very little in the way of a welfare safety net, life is a daily struggle for the people of Mwambani. 

 Mwambani Village. 

 Learning to roll out the visheti before deep frying them and tossing them in caramelised sugar!

A villager's fishing boat.  These beautifully hand made wooden vessels sail in high winds and skip along at speeds that racing catamarans would be proud to attain. The crew must lean out,  unsecured, on the outriggers to prevent the entire set up from cartwheeling.

The tide is in- boats moored along the shore waiting for their crew. 

At low tide the Mamas headed out to tend lines of farmed seaweed.  

Seaweed farming was developed by the village to help dwindling incomes as fishing revenues decline. Most of the seaweed farmers are women, but some of the men from the village have started to get involved too. We helped out with tying fragments of seaweed on to lines and staking them out in the soft mud. It was enjoyable work for us to sit in the warm sea and chat- but a daily chore for the mamas that earns them just a few pence per sack of dried seaweed.  Due to the way that the market is managed, it has not been possible to cut out the middle men who manage the export and reap the profits. Seaweed is an important ingredient used in many shampoos and cosmetics, oriental food and vegetarian gelatin.

The seaweed is dried and bagged, to be sold on the international market. 

The generous welcome and lush tropical setting at Tanga was in sharp contrast to the harsh realities of daily life for the people that we met. Infant mortality is high, when faced with healthcare costs many people would rather feed their family and risk their own health, and household budgets are entirely given over to paying for essential food. However, everyone we met had a gentle and happy philosophical take on life, from which we stressed-out "mzungus" can learn a great deal (literally "aimless wanderers" - white people).  I will take away a happy glow from Tanga that will always be with me, a glow that can be summed up perfectly by just one of the heavenly sunrises that took place every morning over the Indian Ocean.

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