Musings on Africa ~ Tanzania

Africa.  What else can you say? It is certainly a place like no other.

Driving around Zanzibar the past few days, the word that most comes to mind is ‘privileged’. Seeing how people live in Africa reminds me of how lucky we are to be born in a first world country.

I should probably start with the beginning of my adventure.  I left Perth, transferred through Doha (Qatar), and landed at Kilimanjaro airport after 20+ hours of travel. Getting a visa was quick and easy, and one of our safari guides was at the arrival area to pick me up. The drive into Arusha is long and busy.  I had no idea that it was a city of over a million people. The African Tulip hotel was a welcome sight! It is a very nice boutique hotel.  Breakfast and Dinner are included with the room. A fabulous Indian man runs the hotel, which meant… Indian food options at every meal!  Yum!  Dinner, a glass of wine, and off to bed.

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The next day, I went on a coffee tour and waterfall hike with two other people in my photography safari group who had also arrived a bit early. Oscar explained the different kinds of coffee- Arabica and Robusto.  The Arabica arrived in Tanzania from Germany, believe it or not, though it was of Ethiopian origin. It grows on the hillsides, in this case the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

The most surprising thing to me about Tanzania was the greenery.  This is the ‘short rain’ season, meaning that it rains for a day or two.  The ‘long rain’ season sees rain for days on end.  The dry months of especially July and August are the ones I was more familiar seeing ~ tan grasses everywhere.  Not so now… it is GREEN and really beautiful! The hillsides are actually jungle, and the same plants grow that you would imagine in a jungle area:  bananas, papaya, pineapple, mango, as well as the crops like maize and beans that are staples of the diet.

Oscar explained the 12 steps of making coffee.  They do all hand-picking and processing.  As the fruit starts to ripen and turn red, they pick only the ripe ones. Once they go through all the plants over a week, it is time to start with the first plant again as it will have newly ripened berries. The berries are opened to reveal the seed or coffee bean.  The fruit is fed to the animals, cattle or pigs or goats. Next the beans are soaked for 2 days.  The rotten beans will float, and are discarded.  The good beans sink in the water. These are then dried in the sun.  The dried beans can be stored for a long time. Next, the beans are husked to get the inner seed (here with a huge mortar and pestle!), which is the coffee bean as we know it.  These guys actually roast them over an open fire in a charred pot!  According to Oscar, this coffee is never bitter.  Coffee becomes bitter when the beans are roasted commercially in something with a lid, which causes moisture in the beans and the bitterness.  Also, they pick out any bad beans at every step, so no rotten or diseased beans end up in your latte. The roasted beans are ground with the same large mortar and pestle. The ground coffee is boiled in water for 2 minutes, then strained and enjoyed!  I am not a coffee drinker, but this was really tasty and indeed not in the least bit bitter.

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Oscar also explained in great detail how their livelihood is being threatened by GMO and pesticide-enhanced beans being grown en mass in the lower elevations.  The same middle-man buys all the coffee and markets it in Europe as Free Trade coffee. They tried all the growth enhancers and pesticides, and felt over time that it was making the people sick.  Now they shun the chemicals and have gone back to organic farming. Same story everywhere it seems.  They only sell their coffee to visitors now, not to the middle man.

Day 2 was pretty quiet.  I wanted to catch up on emails, laundry, photo editing from Australia…  sleep…  More attendees arrived, and we did go to a store that displays mining techniques and sells Tanzanite.  This is a mineral that is found only in Tanzania and is (according to the propaganda) 1000 times more rare than diamonds. It is very pretty, and shows colors of blue, violet, and magenta. After being assured that the mining was safe and fair, no blood-diamond stuff, a few of us bought our souvenirs.

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