A day of rest is a rare occurrence for us here at FAME. We are typically working six days a week seeing patients either here on campus or on our mobile clinics to the surrounding villages and the days are long. I also make sure that we get out an evening or two each week to feel a part of the community and share in the activities here. We had originally scheduled today to be a full day of clinic, but given the number of patients we’ve seen to date, it was felt to be unnecessary and the decision was made that we would start again on Monday. I must admit that we were quite aware of this change of schedule well in advance of our decision to go to the Sparrow last night and it just may have played a role in that decision, but regardless, the late morning awakening for everyone was a much appreciated luxury as it was sadly needed. Everyone in the house was a bit on the slow side this morning.
We had made plans to pick up Annie at around 11 am for a short trip into town to buy fabrics as everyone (other than me) had plans to have clothing made by our friend, Teddy, who has been a great resource over the last several years. Unfortunately, she was out of town today for a funeral and wouldn’t be back until the middle of the week, but at least we could take care of purchasing the fabrics with Annie and would then go to visit Teddy with enough time to have things made before everyone went home. I had been introduced to Teddy, who is an incredible seamstress and has provided a wonderful service to my past groups, by our FAME’s previous social media director, and she has remained the only person we have used ever since that time. A visit to Teddy’s is like a social event for all. She now has her own shop on the other side of Karatu and even though I’ve had little interest in making clothes for myself along the way, I have always looked forward to my visits with her.
Having Annie along with us for any visits to town or with Teddy, though, is essential given the language barrier that exists is most situations including these. Having skirts or dresses made requires more than just a cursory knowledge of the language, otherwise things can come out much differently than one anticipates. Despite my having now spent over two years of my life here in Tanzania, my Swahili remains only words and phrases and I am nowhere near being conversational. I have often said that I am language handicapped and I am convinced that the older one gets, the more difficult it is to pick up a new language. I am either living proof of that hypothesis, or it is just another excuse of mine for being totally inept in something. Either way, having Annie along makes all the difference in the world and not just for that reason alone.
After taking care of our shopping spree for fabric in town, during which time Peter and I hung around Turtle as neither of us were having anything made, we departed up the Gibb’s Farm road as we had made reservations for lunch there today. The Gibb’s road leads up and up out of Karatu into the hills above town and ends at the Farm which borders the NCA. In fact, hikes into the NCA, either to the elephant caves or even further to the crater rim, leave from just next door to Gibb’s. I had given a little history of the farm previously, but it remains a working farm with large plots of every fresh vegetable and fruit one can imagine in addition to their acres and acres of coffee plants. It also has a dairy and manages its own livestock, builds its own furniture for the rooms and, of course, grows its own coffee.
Just before the Gibb’s farm is the village of Tloma where there is a very dense population of the Iraqw tribe, not a huge tribe as they go in Tanzania (there are 120 tribes in Tanzania), but one of the main populations here in the Karatu district, making up probably close to half of the patients we see during here during our FAME clinics as well as our mobile clinics. Most of the staff at Gibb’s Farm are Iraqw and, early on, most of the workers on the farm were all Iraqw as well from the local villages before it became the resort it is today. Traditionally, there have also been a number of woodcarvers who have had shops along the upper parts of the Gibb’s road. These carvers are all from the Makonde tribe of southern Tanzania and are the traditional wood carvers here, having been making masks, bowls and utensils for many years and now carvings of animals and similar more popular items for the tourist trade.
One of the wood carvers, George Bias, had been here in my early days at FAME, though he apparently went home a number of years ago and his shop has been abandoned since then. Mbuga is the carver who I have dealt with during my more recent visits and his shop is well stocked with lots of carvings and even some paintings. Walking from FAME through the brick quarry and along the Tloma village road, it has often been quite convenient to stop there and check out his many carvings. We stopped today and, though Mbuga wasn’t there at the time, we did manage to each find aa few things. Next door to Mbuga is our new coffee supplier, who we had met last September during a wonderfully informative visit that took us from the coffee plant to the roasted bean with an extra bonus of stingless bees and their special honey. Lunch was awaiting at Gibb’s though, and the thought of our visit there was far too powerful to delay us any further.
Not wishing to be redundant, I’ll refrain from repeating my flowery descriptions of Gibb’s Farm and telling you that it is one of the most remarkable and peaceful places on earth and rather tell you that on our arrival, we were led to the mostly lovely outside table already set for the six of us (Dr. Anne was with us). In the past, Sunday brunches were buffet style, though during the pandemic, brunches were changed over to a fixed menu for safety reasons and have remained so despite the relaxation of restrictions throughout the country. Our table was set with more silverware than I’ve ever seen for a lunch and we sat underneath an incredible pergola with hanging plants and flowers all around us. Lunch was a delicious as you might imagine and each course was truly scrumptious including dessert that consisted of a rice pudding, fruit compote and two small scoops of homemade coffee ice cream.
We sat for the longest time, completely relaxed and bathing in the wonderful ambience of such an incredible place as Gibb’s Farm. It is truly impossible for me to fully convey the experience of being in such a place other than to say unforgettable. I wish everyone could have the chance to experience such an afternoon as this as I have no doubt that it would surely cure most of the world’s problems. And if this wasn’t enough of perfect afternoon for us, Natalie and Alex had brought their swim suits with the hope that we would be able to take a dip in the new infinity pool built here a few years ago and after checking with management, they were fine with them using the pool with no charge.
The pool looks out over the very same view that you see from the veranda, with the endless coffee fields stretching as far as you can see and the distant mountains towards Mang’ola. Though the pool was reportedly very cool (I was sitting in the shade the entire time talking with a friend), it was clearly refreshing as both Natalie and Alex enjoyed their time in the water while Savannah sat on the edge with her feet dangling. That is until a spider decided to threaten her life, or at least it seemed so with the scream she let out, jumping up in a flash. Yes, there are some big bugs here in Africa and I’m sure some of them seem even bigger than others. It was again a great ending to a simply lovely time at Gibb’s.
We were heading to a football match that was being held at the Black Rhino Academy in Karatu, but it wasn’t starting until around 4 pm meaning that we still had time to stop and visit the coffee supplier on our way home. We had only planned to stop for a few minutes, but it was impossible not to be totally captivated by his home and his children as we all looked around his very simple operation, all powered by hand. We ordered our bags of coffee, twelve half kilo packages in total with nine of them whole bean and three ground. His coffee grinder is the absolute best, being powered by hand and collected on a sheet of brown paper, then put back in the same plastic bag and sealed. The consistency of the grind is amazing and far superior than anything you can achieve with a store bought power grinder, brewing the most flavorful of coffee considering also the beans from his fields.
We also tasted the honey that he collects from the numerous beehives that are hung along the front of his home and contain a variety of stingless bees whose honey is twice as expensive as that of the African bee. His two young children won over Savannah almost immediately as they were coloring stickers and placing them on her arm. After a bit, this evolved into a game of stuck in the middle with a soccer ball, and though I think Savannah had just a bit of a height advantage, she managed to make the game quite even as it should have been. During this entire time, his wife was inside the house madly sewing very cute kitenge cloth bags for each of our half kilo portions of coffee so they could be given as gifts. We had found this gem of a coffee supplier during our last visit here while walking to Gibb’s and they are such pleasures to deal with. When I later mentioned this to Leonard in Arusha, he told me this is the only person he buys coffee from given the quality of the beans. I should have guessed this was not a new discovery, even though we liked to think it was.
With the football match underway, it was now time to make our way to the Black Rhino Academy, where one of the very best pitches (fields) exists in Northern Tanzania. The Black Rhino Academy is an international school in Karatu that was the dream of Caroline Epe, who has been an integral part of FAME since the very beginning, having initially served as volunteer coordinator when I had first come in 2010, but moving on quickly to development and then finance within the organization. Her dream, though, had always been to build an international school in Karatu that would rival those found in Arusha and it sure does. She also created a sports center, hence the football pitch, that has hosted important matches in the recent past. It is a truly amazing facility with locker rooms, stands and the most amazing grass.
The game tonight was between the FAME staff and a team put together from the coffee plantations. There were many fans in the stands, though we ended up sitting near the team benches and obviously cheering for our FAME team, who ended up winning the game 4 to 1. I left the game a bit early with Alex, Savannah and Anne as one of the fabrics that Alex had purchased ended up having significant slices through it that had apparently come from the factory like this as we found out when we returned it to the fabric shop, who gladly exchanged it as this seems to have happened before. We made it back home shortly before Natalie and Peter made it home after walking back from the stadium. It had been a wonderful 24 hours that had started at Happy Days the night before, foosball, The Golden Sparrow, sleeping in late, buying fabric, The Gibb’s Farm, coffee purchases and ending up at the football match. Though we had packed in quite a lot, it really didn’t seem so and we all spent a quite evening as tomorrow we would be starting another week of clinic.