During our safari we went on a cultural tour of Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito River). The town has around 120 different tribes living in it, and is a very busy place with many tourists visiting or passing through on the safari circuit - very different to the last time I drove through about 21 years ago when there were only dirt roads, and loads of Maasai milling around the local open-air markets. Today most of the Maasai have moved out of the town in an effort to maintain their culture/way of life.
The first part of the tour was to walk through some of the banana plantations while our guide, George, talked about the farming practices and the uses for the bananas.
Here are a few facts that I remember:
* Mto wa Mbu grows 30 species of bananas
* a lot of the bananas are exported to other countries
* there are 3 categories of bananas grown - for fruit (sweet), for cooking (starchy) and for beer, and
* bananas begin their life growing downwards towards the flower, but turn upwards to face the sun as they mature.
downward facing young bananas
We visited a family's home and looked at the construction of the house - a wooden frame, mud walls and a banana bark roof.
The mama was preparing the maize for cooking, and there were a number of very keen chooks hovering nearby.
Some of the houses in the village used rice husks as a roofing material.
We stopped and watched some carvers at work, and there of course was the opportunity to purchase something.
our guide George
The process of making banana beer (mbega) was explained to us as we sat in a local pub. It is a beverage made and enjoyed by the Chaga tribe. Millet is used as the fermentation process. The beer has a thick layer that needs to be skimmed or blown off the surface, and it has a rather smokey flavour due to it being boiled on an open fire for hours during its preparation. It takes up to 7 days to brew (3 - 4 if the weather is warm), and has a shelf-life of 2 days.
It was not a flavour enjoyed by all... or in fact by any of us.
We continued to look around the village until we ended up at the markets. They were much nicer than the market in Arusha and Tengeru (they weren't as oppressive or crowded).
The tour ended with a local lunch which was delicious, although we suspect that it was here that Colleen developed a bout of food poisoning that plagued her for the remainder of her stay in Tanzania.