The focus of our formal research project here in the town of Arusha has provided some material for reflection and verbal illustration. The last three days we have spent working with translators in chaotic informal marketplaces. The colours, the sounds, the smells, the people and our interactions with them have inspired this piece of writing. At times I have felt naked without my camera in such a culturally attractive setting. Over the years though, I have learned that human interactions form a similarly beautiful picture in our minds, as the photos we might capture on film. For that reason, there are no photos from our time in Arusha, just the survey material we collected and the connections made with translators, vendors, and our overwhelming surroundings. No matter how beautiful I might think a woman with fruit being carried on her head, or a child playing in perfect 4pm sunlight is – I chose to refrain from putting a lens between myself, and the staggering backdrop of Arusha’s marketplaces.
Our informal market research brought us to the weekly Kisongo market. Potentially the largest informal marketplace I have seen, it had never ending lanes of fruits and vegetables, used clothing and shoes, as well as a smokey alley of livestock and butcher storefronts. This narrow alley, full of hanging meat, small smoking fires and busy with Masai men, is where we first spoke to a butcher. We learnt in the following days that Masai men are trained from a young age to properly slaughter cattle, and that they use psychology to calm a goat before it will be killed. One vendor told us that it would take two or three regular African men to wrestle and kill a goat or sheep, but because of Masai men’s relationship and knowledge of animals only one man is needed. Once killed, nothing will be wasted, even the goat heads will be used in soups. I made sure to give the living ones a few pets before they knew their fate. Speaking to the vendors taught us a lot about how far some of them come to buy and sell, even from nearby Kenya. It was humbling to discuss how the development happening in Arusha, largely due to Asian and Arab investment and the growing tourism industry, is effecting these vendors. Although it is very common to see Masai men wandering the streets of Dar or Arusha, this was the first time I had been able to see Masai women in their traditional dress, with their beaded jewellery and body modifications. As I have been practicing one tribal dialect of Masai language, with a friend from Zanzibar, I decided to try it out here at Kisongo. I got some confused faces, some replied with the appropriate greeting, and one woman smiled from ear to ear saying ‘Asante Mama!’ She also taught me a very long handshake, likely the common handshake for her village. Handshakes are very important here. To say I am thankful for the style of education, and work I have been able to participate in, would be an understatement. The rare opportunity to see culture and humanity beyond their surface level, often commercialized appeal, has been invaluable to my outlook on travel, human connection, and life.
Click the link to read a short article on the recent expansion of Arusha: