Thursday, 6 September 2012



Meru Camp and Mount Meru

We were given a warm welcome by the locals at this camp as we were taken down to the river to be shown how to wash clothes in the traditional African way, which was rather impressive. It was good to see so many people had come to watch and help, the children were really enthusiastic at helping us and exchanging songs and clapping games etc.

The first morning at Meru Camp my half of the group were invited to be shown the process of making coffee. The owner of the coffee and banana plantation also owned the land the camp is on, and was very keen to show us his traditional way of making money. We started by picking the red berries and washing them to soften their skins, this allowed for them to be 'peeled' by the machine shown below.                                    

The machine removed the skins of the berries allowing for  the beans to be separated. Before the beans were ready for roasting they are dried for 1 week to 1 month (however the ones we used had to be dried for almost 6 months as it had been a 'dull and cold' winter by Tanzanian standards). The ore-dried beans were then pounded in a giant wooden mortar and pestle to crack the now brittle hard coating off, this coating was then separated by throwing it up in the air as shown to the right. Now the fun could begin!

 A fire was then lit and the beans slowly roasted in a pan. To cool the beans quickly they were thrown around on this wicker tray again. The beans now could be smashed up into a fine powder for us to sample. Many of us bought some coffee but unfortunately the price was very high due to the longer then usual drying times.

For the rest of the day and the next day we worked on the nearby school preparing the ground for a veranda to the classroom and sanding the window frames for glass to be replaced. This involved breaking up rocks from behind the classroom, digging the trench, filling the trench with the rocks and filling it back in with soil and water. We were really pleased to get the preparation job completely finished and the pupils even turned up to see what we were doing even though it was a Saturday.


Packing was next on the agenda, ready for our 'adventure' aspect of our expedition which was climbing Mount Meru (4566m). We were dropped off at Momella Gate (1500m) met our guides and set off slowly up to Miriakamba Hut at 2500m taking in the beautiful scenery that keeps on drawing people to this area near Kilimanjaro. The second day of climbing took us up through the clouds and rainforest layer absolutely brimming with life. After a light dinner at Saddle Hut (3500m) we climbed Little Meru (3820m) at sunset as seen in the picture on the right.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Back From Tanzania: 1st Pictures: Ndarakwai

     After an overnight flight from Heathrow to Nairobi, and then in the morning onto Kilimanjaro Airport, we arrived at Ndarakwai Camp just in time for lunch. After lunch we were shown the place where we were going to be doing our first project of the environmental section which would be waterhole maintenance. The picture to the left was taken on this recce walk on the first day showing Kilimanjaro behind the acacia trees of the savannah.

     The first day of project work consisted of getting very muddy from the splashing from the hoes, forks and spades removing sediment and grasses from the bottom also and widening the channel.  This meant that in the dry season more water volume would be allowed to get though the channel and therefore get to the drinking places on the watering hole. Also in the rainy season the water would be more likely to  run better 
 and not flood and block the flow in places. The picture above shows a section of the channel after we had done half a day's work on it, the picture to the left shows some zebra who probably weren't that grateful at the time from the amount of sediment we were stirring up, but probably appreciated the water levels going up. We spend the morning of the first and second days there, and the afternoon of the first day clearing vegetation from a nearby stream and the second afternoon clearing poppies.

     The picture on the right shows us clearing an area by a small river of the invasive Canadian Poppy. This plant is taking over from established plants in the ecosystem which is causing a problem for the animals who eat the threatens plants. Not only do the animals have fewer plants to eat but also eating the poppy by mistake leads to illness.


On the third day we further helped the animals in the national park by making paper from elephant dung we had collected earlier to be sold at a tourist office to make revenue for anti-poaching measures. To make the paper we first began to mash up the boiled dung as well as some used paper pulp. We then squeezed the water out of the dung a few times to remove the excess water and then combined it with the paper pulp. This was then added to PVA glue and water in an oil barrel which was scooped up in trays and flipped over to onto a table and sponged the excess water off (seen in the picture above right) and left to dry as seen in the picture to the left.


Later that day we set off to see the Maasai a 45 minute trek away. There we were introduced to the wives of the chief of the 'boma' (or village).  We asked them some questions such as the roles of wives and husbands food etc. The answers were that husbands look after the money and the cattle and the wives are left to do everything else at the boma that their husbands have delegated. After the questions we were grabbed by the arm by some of the women and led to various areas to shown how to make their famous jewellery. We all made a small bracelet with wire and a string, and then were given the opportunity to buy some of their proper necklaces and models. That concluded out activities in Ndarakwai Camp, we all had a good night's sleep ready for the early start the following morning.

    The next day we went on Safari starting from Arusha. From there we travelled through the villages and towns where we saw scenes such as that pictured on the right where you can see a market with a Maasai person in the background. We then passed through Tarangire National Park seeing some of the wildlife that Tanzania is famous for and the locals are so proud of such as elephant and wildebeests as you can see below.

The next day we  climbed up to the crater rim of the ancient Nogrongoro caldera, and descended into the crater itself. We were told by our driver that the occupation of safari guide was one of the most sought-after jobs in the country. It wasn't hard to see why the country's scenery and wildlife was such a good tourist attraction and source of employment.  The Ngorongoro crater is also a wondrous display of biodiversity which is valued and treated with respect. The famous elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo and lion are all located in this one national park and we were lucky enough to see elephants, buffalo and even a few lions on our day there! It was an amazing experience and one which made the whole group appreciate Tanzania's natural environment and its value to the local people.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Piano Marathon Review and Thanks

     Tuesday 5th June started for me at 08:00 in Leamington, we arrived at Evesham Tesco just before 10:00. We had a nice chat with the friendly Tesco staff and were assured that the enormous quantity of charcoal not sold during the Jubilee weekend was going to be moved out of the way of where the piano was going, which it was, only leaving a few racks of flowers to contend with (as seen in the last picture). Just as this obstacle was being moved out the way Vale Pianos turned up and offloaded their wonderful Kawai digital piano. It then took us just over an hour to set up the area with all the signs and the infamous computer with its webcam and dongle, more on that later....
      Everything was set up by 12:00, the piano was working, the information was displayed, I was fed by the Costa Coffe shop, the only thing not ready was the computer which took over half an hour to reboot after not turning on properly. So I started anyway and about half an hour later I was told I was being streamed live to this was not to last, unfortunately. We had been misinformed from the dongle company that uploading did not count towards out download usage of 0.25 GB, so after just over 1 hour of streaming we were cut off. Still I ploughed on, 'egged' on not least by my egg mayo sandwich but also by the support of the Tesco customers. Hours 1, 2 and 3 flew past as I was constantly hearing money clink into one of the collection jugs expertly held by my committed parents.

     Hours 4 to 11 slowed down a bit and I had started to ache, require breaks and, most importantly, I had finished all the custard creams we had brought! As the rain began once again and hour 12 approached it was encouraging to see somewhat unlikely groups of teenagers giving so generously. 12 completed hours passed (seen in the photo) and thus I was into new territory, passing my previous 12 hour length of piano marathon, and it had turned into Wednesday 6th June. Of the hours that followed between midnight and the 04:00 sunrise were the most difficult. The bright lights of the foyer should have been enough to keep anyone awake, but if it hadn't been for my father constantly talking to me and buying me bits of food from the shop I think I would have fallen asleep. Hours went by with no donations, the most interesting thing at about 02:30 was two policemen going into Tesco to buy some food, then returning at about 03:30 to buy milk and kindly give a donation.
     As the sun rose on the second day I realised that there seemed to be even fewer people coming into the shop and how most were so groggy and disoriented. By 06:00 I had gotten through eighteen hours, or 3/4 of the total...and roughly the same proportion of a box of millionaire's shortbread squares. Customer numbers picked up, the sun shone strongly, and I was reinvigorated, if a little cold, playing once more with some conviction. It seemed to work as by about hour 20 (08:00) a large proportion of the customers were donating and offering words of encouragement. As the hours slowly approached 24 the donations seemed to rise exponentially and my lack of sleep seemed to be unimportant. Once the final hour came to pass Tesco kindly announced on behalf of me thanking them, Vale Pianos and the Tesco customers. 
     Then it was finally over! Vale Pianos swiftly took the piano before the rain once again started, my parents helped me to pack everything away and we were in the car before 13:00, where I could nap after 29 hours of being awake...and the car journey was followed by 13 hours' sleep that night. Resulting in me, today, the day after the 24 hours before, being refreshed but still feeling the pains affecting my shoulders, back of my hands, knees, back and wrists, reminding me of my struggles not so long ago. The donations have helped me to almost reach my final goal of raising the whole cost of the trip, and not a moment too soon as I depart in under 1 month's time!!!

     I would like to thank everyone who helped me along the fundraising journey, not only this event but for all the other events in the last 18 months. Without you I could never have gone on this charitable trip. Not only for the money but for the stories strangers and friends have told me, the encouragement I have been given and the phenomenal experience. During the long 24 hours the kind words from fellow piano players complimenting my playing (even offering me a job in a band!) or appreciative customers who enjoyed the music, kept my spirits up and helped me to look back on the event as being truly worthwhile and meaningful rather than simply a struggle of endurance.

     Finally I would like to say a special thank you once again to Vale Pianos for providing the wonderful digital piano, to Tesco for providing the venue, for all the kind donors during the 24 hours, the newspapers for taking an interest in the cause and finally to my parents who endured those 24 hours, helped with logistics and stuck with me in every effort to make this a successful event. Without these kind people the piano marathon could not have happened.     

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Last Two Hours!

Chris is now coming down the home stretch! Counting it down in minutes now. Everyone has been so kind and generous, we can't thank them enough. And thanks again to Vale Pianos for the brilliant instrument they've lent Chris.

There will be photos of the finale, and I will attempt a video.

This has been an amazing experience for all of us.

Diana, Alun and the still playing Chris