Visiting a typical African rural dwelling and experiencing at close quarters the life of the local people around the Kilimanjaro mountain offers a varied experience.
The journey starts from near the base camp of Kilimanjaro. Often, it rains here which may even turn into a heavy shower. But the weather is unpredictable and the rain many cease and a mist may form. Soon the sun could shine. African people are probably used to these all-of-a-sudden changes.
On the way to the rural houses are areas resembling places like Kattappana, Nedumkandam, and Elappara in Kerala. There are houses of local tribal people among the small farmlands. Children play on the premises, while dogs and hens wander about. Peace of the rural area prevails everywhere.
An inaccessible waterfall
On the way to our place of stay was a waterfall. The path to the waterfall cuts across the compounds of several houses. But soon the terrain becomes freshly cut up earth. The rain makes the place slushy. A landslip may occur anytime. Even a powerful machine like the Land Cruiser struggles to negotiate this stretch. Expert drivers may have to reverse the vehicle several times to make the vehicle turn at the bends along the road. Many would panic as a deep gorge opens wide on side of the path.
About a couple of kilometres along the path, the vehicle stops. Travellers have to then trek another kilometre through dense forest to enjoy the sight of the Marangu waterfall.
Returning to the dirt track, the route takes visitors again to a firmer terrain. The path leads to the house of a typical African farming family. Travellers can mingle with the local people, learn about their life and customs as well as enjoy the cuisine.
Many of the local people, especially the youngsters, have learnt English and can converse easily with tourists from all over the world. This makes things easier for everyone.
Visitors are welcomed warmly in English at these houses, which are built on a raised ground about four-five steps from the vehicle path.
One house is let out as a homestay for tourists where they can live as neighbours to native people of the African heartland. The main old house covered with sheets on the premises is often converted into a kitchen. Firewood is used as fuel in the kitchen and the room adjacent to it turned into a goat pen. Modern-style wash room is added to the structure that serves as the kitchen for the benefit of tourists.
A striking aspect of a visit to such a rural dwelling is that the residents are very culturally advanced. Travellers from around the world regularly come calling at these houses and the inmates have friends in several countries.
A platform where food is served is located on the premises, which are surrounded by abundant pepper, cardamom, and coffee plantations. The air is unpolluted and the purest one could breath, making the mind calm.
From the premises, the roar of the Marangu waterfall can be heard in the distance. The Kilimanjaro peak is also nearby.
Many of the houses hosting travellers would have a woman in her forties as the head of the family and three or four teenagers, many of whom would be fluent in English.
The food and coffee ceremony
A typical rustic African lunch comprises a soup, followed by rice and several dishes. A dish closely resembles 'sambar.' There is chicken curry and items similar to 'mezhukkupuratty' and 'cheerathoran,' all with an African flavour. However, the taste is entirely different from Indian cuisine. After lunch, fruits are served.
The next event is coffee tasting. The world's finest coffee beans are grown in Tanzania. The production is 30,000-40,000 metric tonnes a year, of which 70 % is Arabica variety and the rest Robusta. Around three lakh people are engaged in coffee farming and related work in the country.
There are around 2,000 coffee farmers near Kilimanjaro alone, most of whom belong to the Wachaga tribe. Coffee and banana are the main crops here.
The coffee ceremony involves roasting coffee beans grown on the premises, powdering it and making coffee to taste.
This event is held on the small platform on the premises. The earthen stove is lighted to roast the beans, and a traditional grinding stone used to turn them into a powder. When the visitors powder the coffee, the residents gather around and sing songs that they create on the spot. The African rhythm is pleasant to hear, but several English words creep in. Some lines of the song go like, "Baiju from India…making coffee…"
When each visitor grinds the beans, the lines of the song change accordingly.