You all knew that I had to write at least one post about food stuff while in Tanzania. We are on afternoon break from staff meetings and I have just posted some photos of the Mwankenja children sorting through their family’s corn harvest on my Facebook page. (I’ll put them here as well.) Everybody grows something around here and if you don’t, the rest of your family does. In our host’s house, it is corn for which they own a plot of land near the university. The corn is dried and turned into corn meal for Ugali, the Tanzanian staple food. And of course I have already posted about the chickens running around. The eggs are fresh and tasty.
In Amani’s family both the rice and cornmeal they use comes from the family farm, as do the groundnuts (peanuts) and a few other vegetables. There are virtually no supermarkets in this country. “Supermarket” is a term they use for the tiny corner grocery where you buy your soap powder and bottled water. Produce,on the other hand, is pretty much always bought and sold on the street. Whatever you don’t consume yourself you barter for something you do. The other day, on the road back from Matema, Dr. Mwankenja slowed down for a speed bump in the road and was immediately offered bunches of bananas by children who ply their wares where the cars have to reduce speed. We bought some bananas from one teenager for about 20 cents a pound, the average price in these parts. And they were truly fresh from the tree that morning. Another few miles further and we stopped again because an aquaintance of the family had learned how to make yogurt. Her teenage daughter stood waiting by the side of the road for us with three jugs of the fresh stuff. The good provost had called ahead and they were expecting us.
It seems that all fresh foods are handled in that manner. Watermelons from a neighbor. Pumpkin greens from the shack down the street. Potatoes from the uncle who lives near Tukuyu. And lots of things are bartered rather than bought.
The Mbeya region is known as the bread basket and vegetable garden of all of Tanzania. And there is hardly one inch of space that is not used for the cultivation of anything and everything. As I look over the mountain from the porch where I am sitting I see yellow patches of wheat and every shade of green imaginable for the vegetables that are in season right now. Right in front of me are the neighbor’s cornstalks. To the left of that are a couple of banana trees trying to flourish. And our host’s chickens are clucking behind the house. You’d never know I was on a college campus. But I am. I am in a place where God gave a fruitful earth and a good climate, but also created a people who have to struggle hard every day putting food on the table for themselves and others. There is no quick ride to the store and “I’ll be right back with a roasted chicken and some broccoli.” There are only the hands and the backs of this people earning their food by the sweat of their brow.