One of the highlights of our trip to Tanzania in 2011 was the opportunity to visit and interact with the people from the village of Ilkiding’a in the foothills of Mount Meru. During the planning phase of our trip it was agreed we wanted to visit an area that would take us off the beaten path and provide an opportunity for a more intimate exposure to the local people and their culture.
Our day began at Mountain Village located outside the city of Arusha. After traveling a short distance on a paved highway, Kileo (our guide from Thomson Safari) pointed the Land Rover north and we found ourselves on a series of unimproved roads and trails enroute to the village. The red clay roads were rutted and took us past numerous single-room dwellings and agricultural fields. A typical sight in Tanzania, we observed numerous people walking along the roadside as they hurried to get to work, school or some other location. Our visit occurred in August, so the region was extremely dry and our vehicle created a large plume of red dust as we moved through the area. I recall feeling rather guilty knowing we were “dusting” everyone we passed, but based on the lack of reaction by the people, this seemed to be something they accepted as the norm.
The road continued to narrow and was nearly a “two-track” trail by the time Kileo pulled into a small clearing and announced we had arrived at our destination. We were quickly met by our guide for the day, Eliakimu, a member of the Ilkiding’a village. We accompanied Eliakimu a short distance to a traditional round house where he shared a wealth of information on the area, the people, their form of local government and insight into the cultural traditions of the region. At the conclusion of this discussion, we accompanied Eliakimu on a hike which took us through a series of small coffee and banana plantations and finally up a steep hill to open fields where maize, beans and other crops were being cultivated.
Along the route children ran out to greet us shouting “Jambo, jambo” (Swahili for hello). The children were extremely curious, and while certainly not the first visitors to the area, it was evident visitors such as our group were the exception rather than the rule. This scenario repeated itself as we continued our trek and it was clear we were definitely considered something to “check out”. Despite their relative isolation from the rest of the world, the children were familiar with the wonders of the digital camera and they were quick to express their desire for us to take their picture. An opportunity to catch a glimpse of their image in the viewfinder of our cameras was like magic to them and that simple gesture quickly brought a big smile to each child’s face.
When we first met Eliakimu he indicated his role as the Cultural Program Coordinator was to help bridge the cultural gap between his people and visitors from the outside world. Despite being in the 21st century, he explained many people in the area had very limited exposure to visitors from other countries. By exposing people of differing cultures to each other, it was his hope it would create trust and open doors to the people of his village that might otherwise remain closed. By understanding a little more about each other…..the world gets a little smaller and its human inhabitants a little closer. I thank the people of Ilkiding’a for sharing their time and space with us. I also thank Eliakimu for a wonderful day…..you are a great ambassador for your people.