Sunday, January 16, 2011

Toward Machame

Last week, we went with a friend of ours, Peter Ray Mwasa, to visit Machame. Machame is one of the villages heading up the mountain toward Kilimanjaro. Due to the altitude and tree cover, it's a pleasant place to spend time when it's too hot in Moshi. Plus, Peter's friend kept a small lodge featuring local food, Mbege (the local drink) and a tour of the nearby waterfall, so we had stuff to do. When we arrived, we were led into a small gazebo covered in banana leaves where the feeding and drinking would begin.

Peter knew we were interested in local stories and legends, so he asked if someone was available who knew the Chaga lore. Like the Massai, the Chaga are a fairly large tribe in the Kilimanjaro area. They have adopted a lot of modern ways, such as Western clothing, going to Christian churches, etc., so we were interested to learn more about their pre-colonial lifestyles.

Soon after the initial drink of tea and soup (banana gravy soup is the best way it can be described - Townes had 3 bowls...), the storyteller arrived. He was 89 years old and claimed to be the great grandson of the famous Chaga chief. We knew for certain that he was old. But if we needed more proof he showed us his identity card, yep, born in 1912. Additional proof, having his grandson literally yell the questions in his ear, and to top it off he spoke such an outmoded version of the Chaga dialect that our host could only understand 50% of what he said.

Not to miss an opportunity for so much Chaga wisdom, we asked for tales of how Townes could become a good man in the Chaga tradition.

The answer, from what I understood, was to drop him in the jungle for 7 days without food and if he makes it back, he's a man. Certainly, there are days when this method sounds attractive, but we may wait a year or two.

The rest of the day involved hiking, watching traditional methods of roasting, pounding and drinking coffee (no filter, lots of sugar and teeth covered in grains), as well as a taste of Mbege the local brew served in a calabash mug the size of which would be the envy of any beer-loving German...

Overall, it was a fantastic day. The food and company were great - and heck, Mbege was much better than I had expected. Thanks to Peter for a great outing!

Pounding the coffee before roasting:

Townes and his favorite waterfall activity, throwing stones:

The storyteller and one of his translators:

Mbege, the local brew

Our host preparing the coffee beans,

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