Magical, Musical Materuni

January 2016

The corn on the cob is a little bit sweet and a little bit tough, the orange tinge comes from the spices it has been cooked in. Knowing it is a welcome gift makes it taste like the best corn in the world. I am eating away while sitting on a simple wood bench under a corrugated metal roof that makes a lean-to addition on a building. The building is mud and sticks with a smoothed exterior finish that is whitewashed.

Vicky is beside me enjoying her corn as well. We were already full after having not one but two mandazi, (man-dah-zee -local doughnuts). They were offered up out of a pale carried by one of the local women. Each mandazi lightly sugared and skewered on a toothpick.

This is our new village, Materuni (Mat-eh-roo-knee). My first opportunity to be with the newest group in their village. This village is high in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, the earth is reddish brown and the constant rain makes for a cool, lush and green hillside.

The women humble me with their many signs of hospitality. As our 4×4 pulled up to the whitewashed building with its lean-to, the women came out to greet me. All 19 of them. I opened the door of the van to singing and cheering as they paraded me into the little front yard. Swinging and swaying as we sang and walked to the lean-to.

They are proud to show me their locally grown coffee. They want me to understand the process all done by hand. Picking, sorting and roasting the beans. Sorting looks a lot like panning for gold with shifting, picking and tossing the beans in a large flat wicker basket. That ensures the husks are separated from the beans. They ask me if I have a roaster at home. I say no…does anyone in Canada? They ask me if I have a grinder at home, that I can manage. So off my beans go to be roasted over an open fire being stirred and fussed over until they turn the dark brown we so often see poured from a package. My package of precious beans is presented about 30 minutes later in a simple plastic bag yet the aroma comes right through. That is going to make a fine cappuccino back home.

We settle in. The meeting begins with updates on the project so far. The women are around me in a U shape leaning in, nodding and asking questions through Vicky. We present information about what the other groups are doing, how pleased we are with their dedication to learning, what my visits are like when I come to their homes.

It is important to remember that I am like a dignitary when I visit the village. I know enough about the culture to understand the women would go to extremes to ensure my status is honoured. In the past at other villages, women have borrowed money from the village money lenders just to get me sugar for my tea or to buy some liver to cook for me. I would remedy this by slipping some money back to the women through an intermediary before I left. So the lesson to the new women is that my visits are all business, about 30 minutes long at each home and strictly about what we need to learn and what they have to teach me. They nod in agreement, business, right!

Now, try as I might, there is not a goat farmer amongst them. No one wants chickens either. Materuni is known for its pork. They have a consistent market and there is a new sausage factory in Moshi down the hill. The majority of them want pigs, please!

When asking about the risk of having too many businesses of the same type in one area, Vicky reassures me. There is no way we are going to flood the market with meat to crash prices, supply is too limited each year. Demand is high. Pigs are quite disease tolerant so the village will not suffer a catastrophic animal event. Finally, the dense vegetation means that farmers are less reliant on purchased feed so expenses are kept low and consistent. Think ‘free range’ pork. Finally, local knowledge is strong. There are many people in the region who will know about solid husbandry techniques (which I look forward to learning in time).

The highlight of the meeting is giving them an update on their proposed business plans. Due to the generosity of our donors we are able to approve our new Group D women, 8 business loans. One potato and bean farmer and eight pig farmers amongst them.

My request is to squeeze the best price out of the pig resellers, feed suppliers and transport trucks. We have some serious purchasing to do and have purchasing power of this group to do it with. The women nod and think about this idea for awhile.

The steep mountain side is covered in lush green vegetation rising up from reddish earth. This place is very hilly with random paths of packed earth trails twisting off the main road up and down the valley.  Word got out that I am visiting so a few people have wondered over to lay around on the grass and peak into the lean-to. No doubt listening in on the big event of the day.

Lastly, there was a special request from Vicky to change our budget to ensure that two more women from Materuni get something, anything to help lift them up from poverty. There is a widow with 5 children and a young married woman with three. She would not ask unless it was desperate. They too, are at the meeting. Carefully, I broach the subject about getting them some support. Do we want to meet with the village leaders separately to discuss this matter? Or do we discuss this openly with the others present? They choose the latter which makes me happy.

As great kharma would have it, a special request had come in from Canada three days before. The wish of a dying man to make an impact and support the women in this project, some how. He left behind his wife and teenage daughter plus a generous donation to the project when he passed away a year ago. The widow and I had been chatting via Facebook about his wish earlier that week.

Vicky and I agree that in order to expedite the two most needy women in the village that a part grant, part loan would be given to the two women. They would be given a pig business that is ¾ funded. ¾ will not burden them or worry them, ¼  to keep them accountable to the group. With lots of support around them we are confident that they will be successful.

When we describe this situation and the wish of the dying man, the women are compassionate towards his family and joyful for the support of the two neediest. I try not to cry which is not always locally acceptable in these circumstances.

I ask if the two women have any food at home today to feed their families. They say no. That won’t do! I open my wallet and give them each 40,000 Tsh ($15). Vicky knows that this is not such a good idea in front of the others. For they too, might not have food at home. I ask who needs food, a few more do so my wallet gets cleared out to give a few simple meals. In the end, I have bent the rules about accountability and giving. I do leave them with a final thought, I tell the story of how even in Canada there are food banks for those in need and maybe one day Materuni can have one supplied by the success of these women. They clap and nod, ndiyo (yes!).

The meeting wraps up with the women insisting that they sing and dance with me. We shuffle around in the traditional dances of the Chugga people, round in round in a type of two step while arms wave and bums sway. Ana in the middle keeping the beat and leading the verses.

We take as many woman as we can in the van for a free ride down the hill. Past all the lush green hillsides, children wave at us and locals stare at the van full. It is one on top of the other as we bounce gently down the hill. At my feet, fresh corn, yams and avocados, plus those aromatic beans- gifts galore!  The driver stops to let the women out then dashes over to the butcher shop to get some of that fine Materuni pork wrapped up to take home before the final descent to town.

32 businesses, four groups and five years of bringing more smiles to rural women. Enough to make a pig snort with approval.

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