It was 4:30 AM and Suzanne and I grumbled and rolled over – someone was shouting into a megaphone “Wake up! Get out of bed! It is time to pray!” We had become accustomed to the call to prayer in Turkey, and compared to this guy on the megaphone, the singing in Istanbul was like a lullaby. Apparently in the Moshi countryside they are not so polite – rather than singing a nice song, they just yell at you through a megaphone when it is time to wake up and pray. Anyway, once the lunatic with the megaphone finished walking through the neighborhood yelling at the faithful, the dogs and roosters kept the noise level going until sunrise. All four of us have begun to use ear buds and the MP3 players on our phones to drown out the early morning noises.
Our host at the coffee farm guided us around the farm and explained the process from germinating the coffee plants to roasting and brewing a cup of excellent arabica coffee. We learned that coffee plants don’t begin full production until they have been in the ground for five years, and they need to be retired after 50 years. Since I’m coming up on my 50th birthday in a few months, I can sort of relate. The farmers each cultivate a few acres of land and on a good year net about $500 per year for the family. The land is intensively cultivated and among the coffee plants are food crops such as banana, beans, avocado, mango, and corn. Our guide also explained that the farmers have stopped using insecticide because of the expense and have begun using a solution of fermented plants from the jungle that they learned from their grandparents. It is cheaper, healthier, and effective.
Patrick and Alex learned how to pick ripe beans, remove the bean from the fruit, soak the bean to remove the carbohydrate slime, and dry them in the sun until they are in a condition to sell to buyers like Starbucks as “green beans”. Of course the locals keep some of the beans for their own use, so our guide showed us how to roast and grind – African style. The dried green beans are pounded in a wooden mortar to remove the husk, once the chaff is removed the beans are roasted in a clay pot over a cook fire until they are a dark brown. Then back to the wooden mortar to grind the beans to a fine power. The smell of freshly ground roasted arabica coffee was heavenly. Using the same cooking fire our guide boiled water then filtered it through the coffee powder and we all enjoyed a steaming hot cup of coffee.
During our walk around the farm our guide also pointed out a very useful plant. I can’t recall the name of the plant, but it is planted on property boundaries to mark the edges of one’s property. The leaves can also be marked with a small stick to write notes. A sprig of the plant is placed above the door of a house if the owner is currently away, so visitors know to come back later. The most colorful use is in the case where you drink too much banana beer and happen to pick a fight with your neighbor. The next day the offending neighbor picks a sprig of this plant and ties a knot in it and offers it with their apology – the knotted plant indicates the apology is heartfelt. If the leaves are knotted another way and laid on a foot path, this incredibly useful plant signals the direction to a house serving banana beer. So it is useful to get you in and out of trouble with your neighbors.
The Second Chance School was a real eye-opener for Patrick and Alex as they compared the resources available here to those back home. The school is currently supporting two cases for very poor students. One of the missions is to prepare poor preschool children to enter kindergarten at the government school – similar to the Head Start program in the United States, but much smaller in scale. This is important because the environment these children come from does not prepare them to be successful in the first couple years of grade school. The second mission is to provide poor high school children who did not pass their first set of exams a second chance to improve their academics and pass the tests and progress on and graduate from high school.
During our tour of the school grounds we visited the girls dormitory, a couple of classrooms, the principles office, the computer room, and a steel safe where the exams are stored. The entire annual budget to operate the school is less than $20,000.
After visiting the school, a local guide took us for an eleven kilometer walk through a couple of villages, to a park where some of the original forest has been preserved, and then into Moshi town.
Along the local roads the environment is a mix of small manually worked farms of about a quarter acre each. Chickens, goats, and cows meandered about. We passed termite mounds reaching 8-12 feed above the ground. Occasionally we passed a larger house/compound surrounded by ten foot concrete walls with embedded broken glass on top. We passed a local “pub” where several men with cold beers sat in chairs set out on the dirt in front of the shop. About every 10th house was made of sticks and mud. We crossed a bridge with a very small stream flowing underneath. Our guide said that during the rainy season the river over-flows the banks and muddy water floods into all the houses near the river. The roads become deep mud that is impassable by car, motorcycle, or bike. The only way in or out is to take off your shoes (so they don’t get sucked into the mud) and wade out. As we approached the forest park we passed a high school and Patrick and Alex got a lot of attention. The kids all wanted to talk in English and asked how come they were not in school.
At the forest park entry gate the attendant took one look at me (white guy with a big camera) and decide that the price to enter should be double. Our guide had to go into negotiations and threatened to call her supervisor to clear up the price, after about ten minutes of negotiation we made it through the gate. Unfortunately the monkeys that are usually the star of the wildlife show in this park were hiding out at the very top of the huge trees. We spotted a few of them but they moved off quickly and I never managed to get a picture. We were all very impressed with the huge trees, the cool swinging vine, and an occasional butterfly.
We exited the forest into a strikingly bright green rice field. It was very picturesque and startling to step out of the shade of the forest into a neatly arranged and intensely green rice field. The camera doesn’t quite capture the effect.
We cut across the rice field, through a few more dusty roads, up onto an abandoned railroad track, and entered the hustle and bustle of Moshi town. Our guide warned us to keep track of all our things as we crossed the street and entered a local market where people sat on the ground next to blankets covered with wares such as fruit, vegetables, shoes made of old tires, fish, used clothing, and goodness knows what else. I didn’t feel comfortable whipping out my gigantic camera – so no pictures.
Our guide asked if we wanted to ride the local bus home, it would be very cheap (~$1 US for all of us) and we would be able to get close to the locals. I had been on the roads enough to have spotted a few of these local buses on the road – they are the size of a minivan and are often loaded with dozens of very hot and sweaty people. I had spotted these busses careening down the streets with the doors open (to allow for breathing) and an indeterminate number of people stuffed in and hanging on. We had just walked 11 dusty kilometers in the heat of the day, and I was trying to anticipate how the family would react to that type of bus ride. I decided that none of us really wanted to get THAT close to locals – so I opted for a private car to take us home for ~$10 US. While our guide arranged the ride, we negotiated for some local art work made from cut banana leaf that was small and light enough for us to fit in our packs and ship home.
Back at the Honey Badger Lodge we changed right into our suits, ordered a cold beverage, and cooled off in the pool. There was a group of about 10 nurses from Sweden lounging around the pool too – they were in Moshi volunteering at a local clinic. We found out later that the Swedes had invited the local nurses from Moshi to the lodge for dinner. The owners of the lodge decided to prepare a feast of traditional African dishes and a special drumming and dancing program. That night we sampled BBQ goat, boiled banana, kava cooked a couple of ways, vegetable soup, and several other dishes that I can’t recall. I liked almost everything – except the goat which tasted fine but was very tough. Before the performance started Patrick and Alex took the opportunity to learn some of the drum beats from the owner of the lodge – and I think they learned that it is not as easy as it looks. The dancers took center stage and demonstrated their moves, but most of the evening involved bringing the whole group up and getting us moving to the beat. We all took our turn on the dance floor and did our best to keep the beat … at least we had fun.