Kathleen tells...




There's something I'm missing on the way. Books. And bookstores. Or libraries. In Tanzania they barely read. That is difficult for the bookworm in me. Yet the absence of books does not mean that there are no stories. On the contrary. It seems as if daily life here is full of stories that everyone, both young and old, knows or creats by themselves.


We spend a few days with Cleophar, Linus and Einoth on the road. The two boys around the age of 20, soft eyes and a waking look, member of the Chaga tribe. Einoth as young, somewhat timid, in jeans and orange pullover, a Maasai girl. All three of them have a walking stick in one hand, their mobile phone in the other. They studied forest management and love to show us the secrets of the Rau Forest, a rainforest south of Kilimanjaro National Park. We store the bicycles against the aerial roots of a giant ficus. Above our heads monkeys with a white-black head swing through the trees and make loud cries. Cleophar tells the story of the climbing plants. 

Once the plants were looking for a king. After some deliberation they thought it logical that the baobab would be king, because it was big. So they went to him to ask if that was what he wanted.                          The baobab was shocked. 'I can't be a king at all, can I?'        The plants didn't know what to do. If the baobab didn't want it, who would be king?                                                                           'We want to be king,' said the climbing plants.               'You? But you are far too small, aren't you?'                                   'We want to be king on one condition. That we may climb higher and higher than the tallest plant.'                                                        And so it happened.

 Our further stay in the forest is rich of similar stories, about the thorns of the acacia, which the Maasai use as toothpicks and which communicate with each other through their roots. About the magical tree, which grows again and again when it is cut down... Sometimes they are stories about the medicinal effect of a plant, sometimes about the history of a flower and so on. 'Look here', says Cleophar, and points to a thin trace in the mud on the path. 'of a centipede.' And, of course, another story rolls out of his mouth.


With each story the forest becomes more lively and a logical order unfolds in the green wilderness. It all seems very simple, and self-evident. And it is. In places like this, there is no place for complicated terms that will make you crack your head.

A few days later they want to show us how to make coffee, an activity they have learned from their ancestors. In the midst of banana trees and coffee plants, they skim the coffee beans by hitting them with a heavy stick in a kind of wooden djembe without skin. During the beating there is rhythmic singing, to support the physical effort. The text sounds repetitive.

'What do you sing,' I ask. It's about the coffee, about the wish that the beans let go of their skins as soon as possible, about how delicious the coffee tastes after a long day working on the field. 

And since we are present in the village today, they improvise on the spot some more strophes about us, the guests on the bike, who will soon be able to enjoy the coffee. Every now and then the men pass on the heavy stick to each other, to divide the forces. The singing and chanting continue, with some humour in between. Superb in its simplicity and light character, despite the physical effort.


The complex stories of the world news do not reach us. We are not mourned by that. Instead, we get a bath of stories that are directly related to daily life here, to what is under the wheels of our bicycles today. An ode to the bridge of the village, a motivating tune when the pile of logs on the head weighs heavily, a story about the ancestors... Everything can serve as a narrative. The songs and stories are a source of wisdom, of knowledge transfer, of creativity and of connection in daily life.


And sometimes they also have a therapeutic function. Like in an organization in Arusha, which works with children and young people with mental disabilities and where we stop by bike. Between the mango trees and passion fruit plants is a large round open hut, with all kinds of simple and colourful drawings on the inside wall of the thatched roof. 'Every morning we meet here to share stories with each other,' says the psychologist on duty. 'Everybody may have their say,' says the psychologist. 'Sometimes this is a story that stems from the drawings in the hut, sometimes a story about a nasty experience, sometimes something between fantasy and reality. What is said does not matter. Logic doesn't have to be there. If you want to sing your story, you can. Do you want to add some rhythm to it and dance a little bit to it? Fine. In this hut you can tell your story as literally and figuratively as the opening of the day. And all the other people present are your listeners.'


All these stories wake up the child in me again. I am very grateful to the Tanzanian people for that. No matter how many holes there are in the dirt road, which sometimes make cycling difficult... No matter how hard it rains,... You can always come up with a song or story about it that you can put completely to your own will. The rain doesn't disappear with that. But creating and singing does pour a light and playful sauce on top of it. It can be that simple.