It’s been several weeks since my shul, Musar Avicha, (as with all the other houses of worship in these environs) was reluctantly closed for business. Sooner or later, the virus and our consequent forced isolation will go the way of all viruses (until it returns in some mutated form), and we will return to our assigned seats and resume praying together. That means we’ll be singing or reciting the repetition of the Amidah Shabbat morning. Matai timloch b’tzion (when will God rule over Zion?). Even here in the Land, we sometimes get somebody doing it in Ashkenaziz, when it becomes Masai timloch b’tzion. What, you want an African tribesman to rule over us? Vas is daz?
You can take it as a given that I never expected to come upon the Maasai, just as I never expect to meet up with any Eskimos or Bushmen, given my choice of travel destinations. (Versailles, anybody?). But there we were, our little band of adventurers, entering a Maasai village smack dab in the middle of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where they are permitted to live and raise livestock. Unlike the Hadzabe, with their ever-dwindling number, there are LOTS of Maasai – as in several million of them spread out throughout Tanzania and Kenya. And we know – because they know – a lot about where they came from and when they showed up (a couple hundred years ago), displacing some of the local population. Like the Datooga, they speak a Nilotic language, meaning they started out a long time ago in the region east of the Nile.
All that aside, they are more than willing – for a small fee – to welcome visitors to their midst and show them/us around. Yes, they still raise livestock, they still live in huts the size of a medium size bathroom, and their adolescent males still have to demonstrate their ‘manhood’ – although no longer by killing a lion. But they at least have a toe (maybe a foot) in the modern world. For example, they understand what money is all about and are willing to do what it takes to get some.
There is a lot of preening and showing off for the jeep loads of tourists who arrive at scheduled times; for example, the jumping up and down dance that the men do.
But after a while, there’s business to transact. One of their men will take charge and bring one or two of us into his miniscule living quarters and explain what life is like, a family sleeping, preparing meals, and eating in that small space and thinking nothing of it. (English is useful in this part of the world.)
After a few minutes, allowing my eyes to become adjusted to the dim light sufficiently to take some photographs, I looked down to my left. Was that? Yes, there was a little lamb curled up in the corner. (Some of you will be familiar with the old meise about the guy who goes to the rabbi, complaining about how crowded his small home is.)
After a while, our ‘guide’ took us outside and brought us to a display of local crafts, no doubt to the ones made by his family. He quoted us an outrageous price for one piece we liked. Whether he meant this as a starting point for negotiations, we’ll never know, because Barbara just said no, and that was the end of that. Our man was unfailingly polite and continued taking us around to their place of pride, the local school, a bunch of youngsters learning some basic English in a somewhat larger hut than the one he lived in.
After which, we were free to wander around and take LOTS of photographs. (Barbara did wind up giving our host a few dollars, more as a tip than anything else.)
Take my five dollars!
Take my shirt and collars!
Take my heart and hollers!
“Everything I’ve got belongs to you!”
We were told to bring some money with us. Not shekels, not Euros, not American Express Travelers Cheques. U.S. Dollars. Some of it was to go for tips that weren’t covered in our package. But in case we wanted to buy something, although we did not know what. In a way, it’s ironic. They’re talking in The Land and in The States about a cashless society, in which you purchase everything by waving your phone or wristing your Smartwatch. Try that in Tanzania, where ‘cash and carry’ rules supreme, and ‘cash’ means pictures of an American president, which you ‘carry’ in your wallet. (Yes, there is a local currency, but what tourist is going to have that?)
We did have a number of opportunities to exhibit our collection of presidential images. There was one afternoon set aside when we weren’t going to be going to be hobnobbing with any the local tribes or counting the stripes on the zebras. We were definitely going to a shop with the work of local artists and (maybe?) a stop at a coffee plantation. Or we were free to hang out at the Oldeana Mountain Lodge and investigate their swimming pool. Barbara decided on option1, and I took a chance and got back in Modi’s Land Cruiser.
Even if there was only a possibility of getting to the coffee plantation, I would take the chance. Wineries I can get to, but a coffee plantation? It was now or never.
But first, the local artists shop, or should I say, one of the local artists shop, for there were several of them with identical merchandise. WELCOME TO SCHLOCK CITY. TOURISTS BEWARE. There was no sign saying that, but there could have been. Make that, should have been. I ran in; walked around once, just to be polite; and scurried out. A few of our group, for reasons I do not try to understand, took a lot of time eyeballing the merchandise, even purchasing a few items.
However, it turned out to be time well spent. One of our guides had tried to reach the coffee plantation by phone, to no avail. Just as we were getting back into our vehicles, we got a call back. Sure, come right over. YESSSSSSS!!!!!!
Here in The Land, there are wineries large and small. The smallest ones are usually described as ‘boutique’ wineries. But there is one category even smaller than that, the garagiste (the name says it all). I don’t know much about the coffee growing economy in in the Kilimanjaro region, but the place we wound up at – traveling for quite a while on another unpaved back road – would have to be considered the equivalent of a garagiste. Maybe the grower had another grove of coffee bushes hidden away somewhere else, but the growing area we saw would probably fit in a mid-sized Israel apartment. No matter. The owner did everything himself. (Okay, it was his daughter who served us the finished product.) We could see the berries on the coffee plants, trimmed to fit under the shade of larger trees. We could see the various machines that were used to turn the berries into unroasted beans. And we could watch as the owner roasted the beans himself, a process that takes forty minutes.
Brandon Treger (of Power Coffeeworks), if you could only see this. You have a specially designed coffee roaster which can handle huge quantities of coffee at a time. Your device is computer-controlled, and you can use your phone to time the roasting process to the second. Look at what this guy is using, laboriously cranking the roaster for a good forty minutes to make one batch.
It goes without saying that they were willing to sell a 400-gram package of their product – even throwing in a brightly colored cloth bag just big enough to hold the plastic-wrapped coffee. In case you had even the slightest doubt, of course I purchased some – just as I purchased two bags of Kilimanjaro coffee at the hotel (one for me and one for Barbara of The Levines) and one bag of Rwandan coffee at the airport going back. I thought of them as souvenirs of our trip, but I’m sure glad I brought them back. Otherwise, I would have nothing to drink in this period of enforced isolation.
It took no effort to persuade me to buy the coffee; in fact, I would have begged them to let me have it. But sometimes the shoe was on the other foot. There were young men (there always are) out there, trying to sell us something of dubious quality, which we would never want or need. In Morocco, it would be fake leather wallets; In the backwoods of Tanzania, it was bracelets and necklaces made with plastic beads. Understand, these young men were not beggars, nor were they thieves of any kind. They were just persistent.
Even if we wanted a necklace as a souvenir, we had no idea what the real price should have been after all the back-and-forth negotiations. And fear of being a freier was uppermost in many of our minds. And we couldn’t even ask for advice. Who always (I mean always) got overcharged? Cindy, our den mother. She, at least, had brought a quantity of greenbacks with her, figuring she’d spend them as part of the experience. Barbara and I – and I suspect some of the others – had brought enough for tip money and a little bit extra. And so….. I’ve got five dollars (see above). What can I buy with that?
To be continued…..