Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Sunday, 27 December 2009

My wedding jacket

I saw part of my wedding suit in Dar es Salaam recently. For some reason I cannot explain, the jacket is in Dar while the trousers are at Butiama.

For no good reason I tried to wear the jacket and after a few minutes of considerable effort that reminded me of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro I managed to put it on, leaving a gap of a few inches between the single button and the button hole. I knew I had outgrown the jacket, but what I was on my wedding day and what I have since become could not have been demonstrated in a more striking manner.

I don't consider myself overweight, given my height, but the fact that I fitted into that jacket when I got married is amazing. There ought to be a law preventing people who have not reached their body's expanding potential getting married. Such a law would be particularly relevant for people who marry their partners for their bodies.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Letter from Butiama: Married life in the village

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011. Publication date: 15th May 2005.

When an old man of the Zanaki ethnic group approaches his home after dark, he begins to sing at the top of his voice his kibanziko, a song usually sung when an old man has had more than enough to drink, and whose purpose is to alert everyone, from as wide an area as possible, that the head of the household is returning home. Any man at the house who cannot satisfactorily justify his presence will know it is time to leave, quickly. Every old man his his kibanziko.

No self-respecting elder of the Zanaki tribe will be caught sneaking upon his wife trying to catch her in the act of committing adultery. It is behaviour that is frowned upon.

Ginga Kihanga, 93 years old, told me elders 'scare' away 'intruders' rather than risk confrontation that may lead to serious injury or even death.

This does not mean, however, that no one was caught in the act in the past. During colonial times,* those who were caught were humiliated in public, stripped naked, lashed by strokes, and made to pay a fine of two cows. The exception was when the Chief was the complainant; he was free to impose any fine.

The kibanziko serves another purpose. Kihanga said normally acts of adultery were committed in the bush, some distance from the matrimonial home. The biggest insult that any Zanaki man can suffer is catching the pair at his house, so, in fact, the singing is aimed at preventing what otherwise can be a huge embarrassment in the community.

It is likely that this leniency stems from the old tradition of arranged marriages. Young men were married to young women because their parents said so, not because they wanted. However, before parents concluded the marriage arrangements, the newly-weds would already have had separate relations with other partners. And it is probably in suspecting that the newly-weds were likely to retain some attachment to their pre-marriage partners that Zanaki society came up with a safety valve called kibanziko, to give room to old lovers by minimizing the risk of confrontation with the husband.

Normally the kitungo was someone's first choice in marriage, but had to be set because of the arranged marriage. Since arranged marriages were compulsory, they only succeeded in bringing together two individuals who had no affection for each other. Consequently, relations between the two were more like those of adversaries than partners. The man ordered around; the woman, within limits, remained relatively stubborn. Relief was sought in one's kitungo.

As with many other traditions, the kibanziko is also falling victim to the passage of time. Today, the young arrive at their homes in the evenings unannounced. I also suspect they cannot sing as well as the elderly.

Who can blame them? In most songs that young people listen to nowadays, the 'singers' rarely sing, they spend more time talking.

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*Before 1961

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The late Alex Nyirenda Remembered

It is the first death anniversary today of Brig. Alex Gwebe Nyirenda who died in Dar es Salaam from throat cancer.

At the eve of Tanzania's independence, Brig. Nyirenda hoisted Tanzania's flag (then Tanganyika) on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro as the Union Jack was lowered at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.

Lt. Alex Nyirenda, with Tanganyika's flag and the Uhuru torch, at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the eve of Tanzania's independence, 9 December 1961 (Photo courtesy of Tanzania Information Services)
Two years earlier on 22nd October 1959, former President Julius K. Nyerere, in a speech to the Tanganyika Legislative Assembly, said the following:
We the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was before only humiliation.
That candle (which came to be known to Tanzanians as the Uhuru torch) was placed on Mt. Kilimanjaro by Nyirenda, and signalled Tanzania's long and unwavering commitment to the liberation struggle of those African countries that remained in the early sixties under colonialism and white minority rule.

Brig. Nyirenda was the first Tanganyikan in 1958 to graduate from Sandhurst Military Academy in England. He also became, prior to independence, the first African to become an officer in the King's African Rifles.

He was also related, through a common ancestor, to former Zambian President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, which is a stark reminder to Africans that they are often closer to each other than artificial boundaries would indicate.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Visitors to Butiama

I had the privilege recently to host at Butiama doctors from the Medical Women Association of Tanzania (MEWATA) who had just completed a visit to the district of Tarime.
I remember only two names: Dr. Brenda, because she mentioned her name as she was about to pull out a donation for the Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial Library comprising former President Julius K. Nyerere's 8,000-plus book collection, and Dr. Lillian, because she called me to inform me of their intention to visit Butiama.
Dr. Lillian, (second from left), and Dr. Brenda (right) with their colleague (third, from left) donating to the Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial Library
During their visit, one subject that came up in conversation was what has been known for a long time as female circumcision, now known as female genital mutilation.

I feel it is rather difficult to influence those communities that indulge in the practice just by attempting to isolate one link in a chain of events that revolve around the transition of a young woman from one age group to another, a transition that allows acceptance into the next group and recognition by the community.

A member of the community who does not go through this transition becomes an outcast. The only possible means of avoiding this transition is by avoiding the community itself.
In front of the Mausoleum of Mwalimu Nyerere
A Masai friend told me that a Masai woman who skips that stage cannot get married and that remains true of many ethnic communities throughout Tanzania. Changing attitudes among these communities has to involve a dismantling of deep cultural roots and traditions that have solidified with use over centuries, no doubt a difficult task.

The continuing migration from rural to urban areas will eventually create a new generation of individuals whose links with these traditions will be severed and the practice will die with time.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Transition: Kim Magomelo

I have just received the sad news that my friend, Abdulahakim Magomelo, known to many as Kim, died today in Dar es Salaam. He called me last week and informed me that he had been ill for a while with heart problems.
Kim with his son and daughter in Dar recently.
I believe I have known Kim for close to twenty years. He is famous for having been one of the few first Tanzanians to have launched a music and disco entertainment business for various events, including parties and weddings.

During my recent Mt Kilimanjaro climb, I had intended to keep the event, private, as last year. He, instead, suggested that since the object was to raise money for charity it was imperative that the event should be publicized as much as possible to raise awareness so that individuals would donate to the cause. When I was away from Dar es Salaam, he co-ordinataed most of the work involving seeking sponsorship from the various partners. He also provided excellent ideas and contacts for the actual publicity that unfolded.

He shall be remembered as a person who had a wide range of friends and contacts in government, business, and the entertainment industry. He also had a wry sense of humour. When he talked to me last week, while informing me of his illness, he joked that he had seriously wanted to see the end of this year.

Friday, 11 December 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 10 of 10)

Wednesday October 7
What should be the shortest walk of the day usually becomes a difficult one because the toil of the past week and the strain and pain on the thigh and ankle muscles converge to remind me that I did not spend enough time on exercises to strengthen my muscles.

Gerald walked ahead with Ben, the assistant guide, while I walked behind with Yahoo and Notburga at a slower pace. The trek of the final day is mostly through dense forest, rich in vegetation, a variety of flowers, and bird species. The car was driven up a few kilometres to meet us before we reached the gate. We met only a sprinkling of climbers this morning unlike the huge crowds I saw on the last day during last year's climb.

As Gerald(left) and Yahoo (right) observe, Notburga registers her name at the offices of the Kilimanjaro National Parks Authority at Mweka Gate.

At Mweka Gate I indulged in a what might become a tradition with each successful ascent from Kilimanjaro: the consumption of the contents of one bottle of Kilimanjaro Lager. I read a report somewhere of someone seen wearing a t-shirt with an image of a bottle of Kilimanjaro Lager and the words: "If you can't climb it, drink it!" I have climbed it and drunk it for the second year running.

Monday, 7 December 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 9 of several)

With Gerald Hando (left), at the summit

Tuesday October 6 (continued)
With the energy boost from the Red Bull I surged past Yahoo, Ben and Notburga who had stopped at Stella Point for a rest. Gerald Hando was nowhere in sight. I careered past several other climbers dragging themselves towards Uhuru Peak.
Yahoo (left) with Gerald Hando taking a stroll around the summit. Mt. Meru is seen in the background.
I felt I was high on whatever combination of items they packed into one of those cans; I didn't want to stop lest I lost the momentum and as I approached Gerald, who has stopped for a gasp of air, I told him I would walk ahead to Uhuru Peak so that I could take his photo when he arrived. He insisted that we remain together, so I stopped.

With Gerald (left) and Yahoo (right)
We reached Uhuru Peak just before 09:30 a.m. and Gerald explained later that he was overcome with such emotion that it took some effort to retain composure. It is a feeling that I too experienced during my first climb, and appears to be something felt by most first-time climbers. One of the guides told us a group of climbers broke down and wept uncontrollably on reaching the peak.
Gerald powering up for the descent and his show at Clouds FM, 'Power Breakfast'
One thing I do not recall seeing at the summit last year are monuments (crucifix type) of climbers who reached the summit but died in the process. Someone said there were several of those at the summit. I also noticed several along the Lemosho route. Most are of porters.
Allen, the harmonica player and mountain guide (seated in front), joins us for a photo with an unidentified guide (in brown coat)
We took the customary photos and had left within 30 minutes. Yahoo, who had joined us, walked ahead to meet Ben and Notburga who had remained at Stella Point for a rest before turning towards Barafu Camp.

Later, we teamed up with Yahoo and my most difficult part of the Kilimanjaro trek, the descent, began. Gerald and Yahoo would rush down ahead towards Barafu and frequently had to wait for me as my thigh and ankle muscles strained to cope with the rapid descent. I had suggested that they should not bother waiting for me but Yahoo insisted they would keep me within sight.
A view of Mawenzi Peak taken during the descent
On reaching Barafu Camp at 1:00 p.m. I was extremely exhausted. I applied some heat cream on my thighs and legs and got some relief. We rested for 2 hours and embarked on a 6-hour trek from Barafu through Millennium High Camp (at dusk) through a rocky section to Mweka Camp.

Next: The last hop

Friday, 4 December 2009

On Kilimanjaro again (Post 8 of several)

Tuesday October 6
About an hour into the climb towards Stella Point, I walked ahead with Yahoo and Gerald because it appeared Notburga was having trouble keeping up with the pace. I was worried she might decide to give up and turn back, but she didn't! Before dawn, she and Ben, the assistant guide, not only caught up with us but walked ahead of us and it took us considerable effort to catch up with them.

It was time for us to reflect on the Swahili saying: "Kutangulia si kufika." (Being ahead, doesn't mean getting there). Not the best translation, but it carries the meaning. From then on, we remained within sight of each other. She eventually reached Stella Point at around 8:00 a.m., a formidable feat in itself but Yahoo, noting that she had some difficulty with her breathing, suggested she should turn back, only a short distance before reaching the peak.

About an hour after we left Barafu Camp and throughout most of the slow trek during the night we kept hearing, periodically, the sound of a harmonica played downhill behind us. That someone had the energy to play a harmonica under those conditions not only seemed incredible to us (in fact Gerald, thought it an insult), but it reminded me of reading somewhere that as the Titanic was sinking a pianist kept on playing the piano until the Titanic - and the piano - was eventually drawn under the Atlantic Ocean. The sound of the harmonica evoked that scene on the sinking Titanic, a bad omen for our attempt to reach the peak.

The name of the harmonica player was Allen, a guide from Zara Tanzania Adventures, the same company that Yahoo worked for, who was leading a Spanish couple. We could hear him from a mile away because he spoke endlessly and when he was within hearing distance he spoke at us, but particularly with Yahoo. When he stopped speaking, he played the harmonica.

Mawenzi peak, just before sunrise
Day broke before we reached Stella Point and we had made such good progress that some of the climbers who seemed miles ahead were at a shouting distance and it appeared possible, as Allen had predicted, that we would surpass those who had started earlier. In fact we did on the final stretch from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak.

At about 4:00 a.m. before reaching Stella Point I suddenly became extremely exhausted. Midway through I had consumed the contents of one of my cans of Red Bull and Gerald also asked for one, but the energy from the Red Bull ran out about 40 metres short of Stella Point. In mountain distances, 40 metres can as well be 40 kilometres.

I paused, contemplated and did what appeared to be inevitable in the circumstances. I drank my second can of Red Bull, got an extra boost of energy and 'rocketed' towards Uhuru Peak.

Next: At the rooftop of Africa