Part II of our FEATURED TRAVELLERS: Allan Moore & Zuzana Capar
After seeing the wildlife of this beautiful country the couple head out on their next adventure; volunteering & taking a beach retreat on the Spice Island of Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Our next stage started with a 24 hour train ride from Dar to Mbeya. It was a good thing that we took the advice to rent an entire compartment for ourselves with space to spread out, store all our gear and actually lie down to sleep. We were met in Mybeya and taken to the Zion Home which is fully supported and operated by the Olive Branch for Children run by Deborah McCracken and her husband Puteyei. It was an incredible experience and I would highly recommend any one looking for an NGO to support or to volunteer that you consider this organization. The work they do is amazing! Our jobs, and even living quarters, were actually quite different and as such we have written about our own experiences separately.
Through the Olive Branch for Children, I had the opportunity and the pleasure to work as a volunteer with a group of vulnerable women from Azimio-Swiswi, a village near Mbeya. I was teaching the women to weave on portable looms and materials brought from Canada. The three-week training consisted of a step-by-step, hands-on in-service and “lessons” in planning a project, calculating, measuring, dressing the loom, increasing precision, beginning and finishing a project, creating different patterns with multiple colours, maintaining materials and tools and pricing products. During this time, we were able to build additional looms and to improve the “technology”, often wildly improvising on the spot. The women were very enthusiastic and acquired the skills very fast. They wove 25 pieces, including wool scarves, kikoys, placemats, belts, handbags and even a vest, using a variety of materials. We were all thrilled with the progress and celebrated every new pattern and finished piece. Our time together culminated in a “fashion show” which was a lot of fun. The challenge included finding materials available in the Mbeya area and creating articles suitable for the local markets. My translator-interpreter and assistant, a young man from the Zion Home TOBFC, became quite proficient in weaving himself and was a tremendous help throughout the whole time. He continues to support the women and expand their work. With some additional pieces and materials from Canada to arrive soon, the women will have 6 + looms available and will hopefully become independent and make a better living by running a self-sustainable business. I will certainly follow their progress and success closely and support them as much as possible. It was a very rewarding and unforgettable experience!
About a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah McCracken, the founder of the Olive Branch for Children, while she was back in Canada and we soon discovered each other’s passion for theatre. Even though I emphasized that my experience was only with the technical side of theatre, Deborah nevertheless thought that it would be fun for me to come to the Zion Home and “direct” a play. I later learned that I would be working with nine children for three weeks. Despite over 30 years of teaching and hundreds of drama productions under my belt, I arrived this past October, anxious and feeling terribly unqualified and ill prepared for the task ahead. And then I met the kids!
After three weeks of work we were ready to put on a rather experimental production which the children called “Lost in the Woods”. The production was a little unusual in that it grew out of the foundation of a few simple ideas and some very short narrative style fables, myths and legends. The story of Pandora’s Box was, for example, one of the stories used. The premise of the play was that the nine children went off one day to play football but got lost and had to stay the night in the forest. Fortunately, a local Shaman sees the wondering group and decides to help them find the courage she knew was inside them by leaving them a magic bag. Inside the bag the children first found some matches to build a fire and then a few small objects which triggered some childhood memories of stories that they once knew. By telling and acting out these stories they kept their fears at bay and survived until they were found the next morning.
This production was quite the creative endeavour for the kids as they were not presented with a typical script with characters and lines. Instead they were given only the outline as stated above and asked to take the narrative fables I brought and collectively write a script and improvise ways of acting out the stories and the moral messages they conveyed. Despite some early reservations all nine of them rose to the challenge. Perhaps the most fun was the story of “The Tiger and the Well” which told the story of why tigers are not found in Africa. For this the children had to become an elephant, hippo, tortoise, giraffe and a tiger. They were great in their portrayals and they won a huge round of applause from the audience.
I thoroughly enjoyed my three weeks working with these vibrant and creative children and I was very proud of our production. It was an incredible learning experience for all of us. Perhaps the best compliment we all received was Deborah’s decision to present the play to all new volunteers when they arrive. My understanding is that they have performed the play three times since I left. If one is ever looking for a volunteer opportunity, I can highly recommend choosing the Olive Branch. Its ok, you don’t need to know how to direct a play.
We were sad to leave our new friends, but it was time to start the third part of our journey: five days on Zanzibar Island. We stayed two nights in Stone Town, an exotic, historical town with unique architecture and culture and an influence of a mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our way to our very last stop, a resort on the North East coast of the island, we took a spice tour on a farm where herbs and spices are organically grown that ended with a wonderful lunch. The last three days at the Zanzibar Retreat, we relaxed on the white sandy beach, soaking up the sun and snorkelling in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
We must thank Original Trails for arranging a wonderful, customized trip. The accommodations and guides that were arranged for us were excellent. Everything went like clockwork and we felt safe and well taken care of every step of the way. We finally flew back to Toronto after six weeks with thousands of pictures and memories to last a lifetime.