June 1, 2012

I paid 110 dollars to sleep for one night in this hut.

Barbaig hut in Tanzania

I came here on a tour organized by a guy in Babati. You can spend one night with a BARBAIG family, a tribe that still has costumes from 2000 years ago. They are similar to Maasai, in my poor opinion. Like them from fighters they became farmers, they have these large holes in the ears, they always carry a stick and a blanket around their body. Like the Maasai, women take care of the animals, the kids and the kitchen, while men are at the pub getting drunk with the homemade local beer.

It was a weird experience. I slept on mountains without water nor toilet, in the desert with beduins and camel people, but I was never so happy to go back to town. Because it was heartbreaking to see how they live. How the children have a dirty face and snot from the nose all day, with feet so full of soil they don’t feel anything, they don’t know if they’ll have enough to eat this year because it didn’t rain enough during the rainy season.

My guest, Mr. Heluku, is quite rich, because he could afford 2 wives. The first is about 80 years old, and she gave him 3 children, that are now adult and live on their own; the second is 24 years old, and children are 2, 4 and 6 years old. He is roughly 70. He’s good looking, with one blind eye. Haule, the guide, says the women are not jealous. Mmmm…

We walked one hour and half to get here. There is no chance I’ll fall in love with this guide. He’s 57 and 20cm shorter than me.

The hut where I’ll sleep is usually occupied by the head of the family. Because I’m here he’ll sleep in the kitchen with the guide and the older wife. The bed is made of many sticks in a line, with a piece of goat leather to soften them. There are no windows nor doors. If the dogs came in during the night I have to hit a stick on the floor and they should go out. But I can sleep serene, around the huts there’s a fencing of bramble and they will close the entrance with branches for the night. The hut where I’m sleeping is half my room and half kitchen, then there’s the young wife’s hut with the children, one hut for the goats and one for the cows. Mine was built in 1982. I can’t believe a mix of branches, soil and straw could last so long.

We lit a small fire in my hut because it’s a bit cold. The man of the family is not here. The two women are cooking. The middle kid is keeping us company. He speaks little Swahili, so even the guide finds it difficult to talk to him. But he enjoys a lot scribbling in my notepad with a pen.

The youg wife put the herd to pasture, the youngest daughter on her back. She doesn’t seem happy. Haule says that they are actually happy, with their cows and their few fields, without water or electricity. A goat turned to look at me and pooped. I thought they did small excrements because they come from a small hole, but no, 4-5 tiny shits come out at the same time from the hole. Interesting.

At 7.15 the husband finally arrives. With three friends. All drunk. They were at the local pub drinking beer. They come into my hut and start talking, about nothing, explains the guide. They are drunk and talk nonsense. After a while the dinner is ready. We eat in the same place. I’m sorry the food that we brought now has to be shared with three more people. I don’t know if there will be enough for the children. First eat the men (with the foreign guests, in this case), then women and at the end the children. If there is something left.

After dinner they decided it was time to go to bed and they left me there. Pee and teeth two meters from my hut, change of clothes and into the sleeping bag I go. The kitchen is on the other side of the wall. I can hear them as if we were in the same room (there are actually just some sticks separating us). They are singing some songs coming from a small radio. I am alone in my large bed done with sticks, they are 5 people in a bed of similar dimensions. The radio must be the only electronic device they have. Now they are singing something different from what comes from the radio. The husband last night didn’t bother coming home. He was out drinking with his friends and he probably slept at one of them, like they are doing tonight in his home. It’s hard to find him sober in the afternoon. The excuse is that he has little to do now that he’s retired. I don’t know if he ever really worked in his life. Children at 3 years of age put the herd to pasture, there’s not much more to do. And when they have nothing to do they get drunk. Like Mtombu men. Beer is cheap anyway, 0,30€ for half a liter. And with one liter you are drunk. I hope I won’t get fleas or lice. Here everyone shaves their hair, to make it quick. I would have some trouble getting rid of parasites. The radio is now off and they keep singing. Children too, their own way. I’m almost sleeping. The alarm is in 11 hours. Good.

June 1, 7.36 am. Breakfast time. I didn’t sleep bad, considering the conditions. I woke up a few hours after we went to bed because one of the dogs was eating my shoe. And every time I wanted to change position I woke up, because the sleeping bag is too tight.

The men are in the husband’s hut (where I am still inside the sleeping bag), women and children in the kitchen. Breakfast, as to say. Some bread and tea. When I finally make them understand that I need to change my clothes (they are not used to it, they sleep and walk in the same clothes until they’re worn out), I go to the kitchen too. There’s a tiny kitten. The youngest girl had her legs wet of pee when I saw her outside. I tried to tickle her under the feet, but I guess she doesn’t feel anything.

The oldest wife is washing her face. Adults sometimes wash, at least face and hands. Children are left to themselves and keep their snot and soil in the face. I wonder if this kitten is happier than Cagliostro (my pet). This might not have enough food, but it’s free to roam. The elder woman is now washing cups for the tea in the same water where she washed her face. They use the same water over and over because they have to walk long distances to fetch some water. I would do the same.

The elder woman didn’t want the youngest to use the pen. It seems they want to keep children away from me, I don’t know if they are worried they might bother me or because they don’t want them to get interested in something they can’t have.

Barbaig family in Tanzania

Barbaig traditions

After breakfast we make a circle: it’s me, the guide (that is also interpreter), the husband and a friend. They tell me about their tribe.

They have a religion and three times a year they meet by a fig tree to pray and celebrate (= get drunk, I translate).

They can marry women from different tribes, but the women will have to live according to their customs. Once weddings were arranged, now the man decides. When they are 20 year old, 17 for girls. When the boy finds the one he likes, the two families find an agreement on how much a girl can be worth. It’s usually one cow and one bull (or the male of the cow, which I can’t recall how it’s called right now). The richer a man is (hence the more cows he owns), more wives he can have, up to a maximum of 10. Celebrations last 3 days. Children are usually given birth at home. There’s no register. If love ends they can divorce; the woman goes back to her parents or other family members and can re-marry. Children stay with the father. When a rich person dies, they dance in his honor every night for 9 months. They practice circumcision, for both men and women, even though it’s forbidden in Tanzania. They do it every 3 years, and it’s another occasion to celebrate. The one of the boys. Women celebrate female circumcision by themselves. The operation is done by a local “specialist”. They have a council of the elderly, that fixes disputes between the families and takes important decisions for the community.

When they celebrate they slaughter a cow or a goat, it depends on the occasion, and they make a special beer, made with water, honey and some roots they ferment in 24 hours near the fire. They drink one at a time from the same large glass. The second round they drink from a different container. After the second round they are already drunk enough and they start singing and dancing. Women can also drink, but not too much because they have to cook.

They showed me how they use the bow, they staged a fake fight with sticks, they showed me how they grind corn to make the flour they use to cook ugali, their main dish (that I don’t like particularly), with a stone, like they did thousands of years ago. And how they make the skirts for the bride, with goat leather, trimmings and beads, that she will have to wear her whole life, to show she is married.

I asked the husband why he doesn’t want to live in town. 1. Because in town you have to buy everything while here they usually get enough to live. 2. because in town there are many different tribes and mixing together they risk to lose their traditions. I think of my dialect that is less and less spoken and I think they might be more clever than us.

We take a walk nearby. We pass by a primary school, where of 6 classrooms only in one there’s a teacher. I don’t know if the others are on their break or where. The second and third class have to share the room because there are not enough. So one class has the blackboard on a wall, the other on the opposite wall. The vice head-teacher forces them to smile at my camera. Probably a bit of the money I paid goes to them to let me have a nice experience.

We leave the school and the two Barbaig take me to the pub where they meet their friends. They take a beer to let me taste it. One sip burns my stomach. They finish that and buy another one because they are thirsty. They drink it in two minutes. We go back to the huts. A man along the street stops me and wants to jump with me, the way Maasai do. Lunch. We go back to town. And I can finally wash my hands.