Sunday, February 6, 2011

Travel TidBits: Streets of Moshi

The Streets of Moshi

Moshi, Tanzania, is a city with about 150,000 inhabitants and it is located in the Northern parts of Tanzania. It is situated at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and is considered together with Arusha, about 70km from Moshi, the starting point for climbing “Kili”. Moshi has several colleges and the school that I am teaching at is situated adjacent to the Ushirika college campus. I work and live at GTHA where we have the class rooms and a 3 bedroom house for the max 6 volunteers. Monika Fox from Canada, who founded the GTHA women’s Empowerment school about 2 years ago, is also living right here at the School. The area around us [about 3 miles from downtown] is a quiet residential neighborhood with only small stalls that sell bare essentials and so we need to walk to town for our other needs. Besides the main roads that are paved, the local roads are dirt roads that are rocky and ungraded. There is much foot traffic with very few cars. Everyone walks here since the local income is minimal and owning a car is mainly out of reach of Moshi’s population. Our students may walk for an hour to come to school or take the local dala dala, minivan transportation for 250 TSH = $ 0.25. The dala dalas are the most used public transportation and are always packed to the gills. Often, people are handing on the outside. I have only used it once so far but we had to wait several dala dalas before one arrived that could take in 2 more people and we were standing crouched over since the dala dalas are not high enough to stand up straight. Thankfully we had a careful driver who would not just speed over the speed bumps!

After teaching today, I needed exercise and grabbed my camera and went to town. The walk is slightly downhill and through single-house neighborhood, all gated and with shrub hedges for privacy and for protection. It seems everything is gated here and most properties have night guards as has GTHA. Sometimes I wonder are we fenced in our fenced out? Life seems restrictive. Everyone – or at least every woman – adheres to the rules to not go out in the evening alone or even in groups. This does not only apply to foreigners but also to local women. Margaret, our cook, rushes home around 6:30p so that she can arrive at her place after a 40 minute walk before darkness. On my way, I greet fellow walkers on the red dirt road with ‘Jambo” often responded with a bunch of Swahili and smile as I walk by. The response may also include some English words since we stand out with our light skin here in a city with very dark-skinned Tanzanian. I have noticed that both the Kenyan and Tanzanian people are very dark-skinned which by now I am accustomed to. As I approach the down town area, the traffic increases with cars, trucks, dala dalas, busses filled to the gill and with loads of sacks and goods strapped on the top. The local bus depot is always buzzing with crowds with large packages, bundles tight with strings, suitcases to bring the goods from town to the villages in the surrounding areas. I can photograph only in a limited manner since people here are not keen of being photographed. Local women carry their load on their heads and they walk gracefully and with ease in their long skirts.

Moshi has about a handful of downtown streets, which are paved, but the sidewalks are not (!) - lined with small stores and lots and lots of street vendors. Most ubiquitous are women and men sitting on the sidewalk with old foot-powered sewing machines, the kind our grandmothers had.

The local clothes seems to be fashioned right here on the streets. It’s a colorful scene since specifically the African women wear colorful dresses and hair coverings typically includes a long skirt, blouse of the same or other color and fabric, and a scarf or turban for the head of the same fabric. It is printed cotton fabric in bright colors suited for the hot temperatures here in Moshi. Most men wear Westerns style trousers and shirts and the younger generation has adopted jeans which seem to me to be too hot for this climate. But we also see Masai in their colorful red blankets, the traditional dress of the Masai. The shoe vendors are plentiful offering some new but mostly used shoes carefully restored and polished with lots of black shoe polish. It is striking how many men just ‘hang out’ on the street. Tanzania has a high unemployment rate of about 50% which might explain the multitude of idle men on the street.

The women, of course, are at home tending to the children, and those in town are busy with their shopping list to get back to their homes in time for dinner. Different from other countries, I am not hassled on the streets of Moshi, everyone is friendly, a friendly “Jambo” or some words in English with a big smile.

After a cold drink and a muffin at the Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge, a favorite hang out for foreigners, I continue to the Women’s Coop.

With the help of Monika at GTHA, 4 women have a small store to sell cosmetics, shoes, and fabric that Christina fashions into dresses and pants. I marvel at the colorful prints of the Kongas, large pieces of fabric that are used as wrap around skirts. These prints all have a beautiful wide border in coordinated patterns. To support these women who have previously graduated from GTHA and are now practicing what they learned, I buy 4 Kongas since they will also make nice table clothes.

On my way back to GTHA, I go up a side street to reach the little supermarket for tomatoes, tea, tuna and jam, and go to the bakery where surprisingly I can get a good freshly baked brown bread and some yogurt. These are the staples that make up for my breakfast and lunch. As dinner is cooked by Margaret, I don’t have to worry about lugging more food home. Then it’s off to the 3 mile walk home. At the big roundabout, I hear band music and see a wedding processing approaching with young men on a pickup truck playing the brass instruments.

As the crowds thin, and my path goes uphill again I think of all the women that need to carry much heavier loads home to feed a whole family! I leave the crowded streets, pass though a lovely plant nursery and uphill on dirt roads greeting passerby’s until I reach my home in Moshi, ready for a big glass of water to quench my thirst.