By Stephanie Amaya (First Fifth Global Advocate)
One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do thus far is not adjusting to the African lifestyle, it has not even been leaving my home, family and friends behind (though it was tough, I admit), it has been the key focus of all nonprofits: fundraising. Being present in Africa and adjusting to the lifestyle here, I have become an observer of the local people, culture, beliefs, traditions, and habits. Everyone so very colorful, happy, simple, embracing, charming, and creative. This is reflected in the jewelry, footwear, art work, clothing and the list goes on.
Literally, my inspiration. I thought it would be a brilliant idea to somehow offer local African made items to the states. How could I possibly do that? My wheels started turning and through brainstorming with ex-housemates, I came up with the idea of having an online website where I could post pictures of locally made artisan items. People need to see the wonderful things Tanzania has to offer. Authentic, quality, original, one of a kind items that are all hand-made by local communities and artists. It was the perfect way to connect the US and Africa where I would be helping out the local communities and local shops and at the same time fundraise where the profits made will go to my project at St. Timothy’s Boarding Home. I was on a mission to find the best things Moshi has to offer. This was the fun part. I met local business owners and local artists who became more than just business partners, we became friends. It was a quid pro quo type of situation. I then had a thought, it would be absolutely amazing if there was a way to get to the source directly. Where I could interact with the local communities where these businesses get their merchandise from.
How was I to do that? I thought to myself, “well if it’s meant to happen, then it will.” And it did.
Things in life sometimes can be serendipitous. I believe that every single person that you happen to meet serves a purpose in your life, whether small or big. We had two girls from Canada living in Abu Dhabi come stay with us. We befriended each other and immediately became a tripod. On a hot day, after work, we decided to go to the pool in town for a little R and R. We were poolside talking when this tall guy with a quite impressive mustache walks in and sits down to the left of us. We eventually started to talk and found out that they were three British doctors traveling by car from England to South Africa and they were currently passing through Tanzania. We hung out, talked, and decided to have a big group dinner inviting all of our friends the next day. We ended up being a group of 10 having nyoma choma (African BBQ) at Chagga Grill. They then told us they had met an expat the previous night who had invited them to his house party. They suggested we go, and obviously, we all went. There I met so many interesting people from different parts of the world. I also met a girl who is working with a local Maasai group in Msitu Wa Tembo.
Exactly the person I needed to meet!
She invited me to go to her workshop on the following Saturday and of course I agreed. We met at the truck stop at around 2pm. The idea was to get on the back of a truck and take it through the TPC plantation to the village. We stood there with a box of tomato seedlings each that we were going to give to the mama’s to plant at their home. Finally a truck worthy enough of our presence showed up and we hopped onto the back along with 15 other people. It was a hot day and thankfully I wore sunblock though I wish I had brought my glasses to keep the dust and particles from getting into my eyes. It was a bumpy and dusty 45 minute ride through the plantation. I had never seen the whole plantation, only the beginning part when I’d go to St. Timothy’s School. I was impressed at how beautiful, green, and well maintained it was. Even the roads were smoothly paved. To my surprise, the plantation is almost like a small town, with houses, a hospital, and a post office for its employees.
Finally, we reached the end of the plantation and cross a small narrow bridge over a river. I look to the horizon and see a beautiful trail of blue mountains. We reach the village and jump off the truck and walk over to the community meeting spot. I was excited to meet the Maasai woman for the first time. When they see me, I can equally see the excitement on their faces to be meeting me. They all walk up and embrace me, greeting me and shaking my hand one at a time. I couldn’t believe I was there meeting all these exotic women from one of the biggest tribes in Africa.
They were all so colorful and had amazing pieces of jewelry. I wanted all of it! They took out the jewelry they had and started dressing me in it. I became their dress up doll. We all laughed and who I assume to be the tribal mama leader kept holding my hand and talking to me in Swahili. After three months of living here I know a little bit of Swahili but definitely not enough to speak fluently but somehow we understood each other. I was invited to their home to meet their community out in a rural part. It was a long walk from town, but I didn’t care. We walked through the green fields with the blue mountains staring right at us. Huge baobob trees were all around us and I saw flora I hadn’t seen before.
We started off with just three of us and as we progressed into the field to the Maasai village we kept expanding. We had two Maasai girls and a grandmother walking with us along with a few dogs. We reach the village. It was impressive to see first hand their living conditions. They lived in nature, in hut houses, with the most minimal things. Everything they needed they had and nothing more.
They would spend their days herding the animals, taking care of the little ones, and making jewelry. Quite the simple life, and I appreciated every bit of it. They showed me their jewelry with such pride and confidence, by far these pieces were the nicest I had yet to see. It was exactly what I had been looking for but I couldn’t find it at the local shops. I bought a few pieces and I told them I had an idea of using Maasai fabric to make scarfs and they suggested I return on Wednesday since that’s when the market is open. I agreed, and left with a huge smile on my face, my idea was becoming a reality.
My website is up and running and I have all kinds of different artisan Maasai items including the scarfs I had made. All items are a direct donation to my current project at St. Timothy’s School. Feel free to browse around! https://tzheritage.blogspot.com
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