LTT only work in and around Babati Town in the Manyara Region of Northern Tanzania.
In 2004 the Arusha Region of northern Tanzania was split in half and Babati became the capital of the newly created Manyara Region. At the time the population was thought to be approximately 30,000 and has grown and is suspected to be around 90,000 at the moment. Even today it is a boom frontier town with new administrative blocks and an expanding hospital. The road to Arusha was completed in 2011 (save for 50 yards) and the impact has been immediate.
Babati is a transport hub. To the south Dodoma on the Cape to Cairo Road, and to the north Arusha, to the west are Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. As transport develops it will change the way Babati works and we wait to see the impact. But at the moment the huge trucks pass through town with their thousands of bottles of Coke, Fanta, Kilimanjaro water and beer and other such goodies. These will park up near the stadium and off load onto small carts that are then pulled by hand to their destinations.
The town focuses is very linear along the main tarmac road. The bus station is the first major destination. Large buses and dalla-dalla minibuses share the centre which is surrounded by shops and restaurants. tuktuks are now a common site, these 3 wheeled taxis are fun but a little dangerous and have often been seen over turned in the ditch! Along the main roads you can find the hardware shops, sunflower pressing factories and petrol stations, but behind this facade is the real life - the small shops, houses, markets, guest houses, schools, churches and bars. There are people walking hither and thither dressed in suits, casual and traditional clothing of the Maasai and Barbaig tribes. Every looks like they belong. Cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, cycles, tuk-tuks, carts, donkeys, goats, all share the road, no traffic lights, no lines on the roads, no queues. The rubbish is collected daily by hand pulled cart.
It was not always like this…
In 1928 it is written that to get to Babati one would travel west across some of what was the most concentrated game country until one reached Mtu wa Mbu on the shores of Lake Manyara at the base of the Rift Valley escarpment. One would travel to on to Karatu and along the wooded Mbulu Escarpment before descending down into Babati and its wondrous Lake. The town itself was just a handful of dukas laying on the flat shrub land which is surrounded on 3 sides by forested mountains concealing all manner of game, including “the unpredictable rhinoceros whose thunderous approach can send you shinning up a tress a score of times before breakfast”.
“The Fig Tree” bar, restaurant and hotel (three detached guest rondavals accommodating those incapable of getting home), on the Singu Farm, was the base camp for Baron Bror and Cockie Blixen. After his divorce from Baroness Karen Blixen (of “Out of Africa” fame), Bror left Nairobi and settled in Babati on land owned by Dick Cooper, one of his hunting clients. The homes might have lacked the finer comforts of life but the time spent there was idyllic and visitors flocked there including Denys Finch-Hatton, the then Prince of Wales (the current Princes of Wales’ great uncle). It was whilst at Babati that the Prince received a telegram to return home due to his father’s (King George V) illness.
Blixen often visited Mount Ufiome (just outside Tarangire) where they hunted lion and befriended Michaeli, chief of the Wa’Mbulus thought to be part of the Watusi tribe from Rwanda/Burundi.
Whilst at the Fig Tree Blixen wanted to open up this part of Tanganyika (west of Arusha) to tourism and he consulted the local white Babati farmers and the Governor of Tanganyika and the Commissioner of African Affairs were invited. They climbed one of the local hills and enjoyed the beautiful. The group was escorted not far from Singu House to a vantage point where they deliberated; the sight encompassed a breath taking view, at which no one could remain unmoved. The suggestion – to improve the roads and the postal services, build hotels and rest camps, and implement stricter controls of game poaching- met with loud cheers.
The Blixens later moved from farm to Ngasagu (don’t know where that is) once they earned more money, but as the marriage broke up (1932) Blixen went to Babati less and less, the sparkle had gone out of Babati life and Blixen’s favourite proverb could be applied. “Life is life and fun is fun, but it is all so quiet when the goldfish die”
(The man that women loved - The life of Bror Blixen by Ulf Aschan)
Today the people here are still amazingly friendly and jovial where respect plays a large and important part of life. Young people will use the traditional Arabic slave greetings of “Shikamo”, to their elders to which one replies “Marahaba”. It literally means “I will wash your feet”, and “thanks for the offer”
Babati has no western style supermarkets, chickens are sold live at the bus stand and the market is overflowing with organic fruit and vegetables over which you must haggle each day. There are a number of restaurants serving local food, mostly rice or ugali based meals (fish, chicken meat) with green cabbage, spinach and beans. Chapatti’s are also available with other Indian style street food (bajias, samosa). In town many people don’t cook at home so they eat out and the meals are very good value. The rice is locally grown in Ujuji and is beautiful and if it could be exported would be charged at a premium.
Babati has a beautiful lake 7 miles long and perhaps 1 wide. It hosts numerous families of hippos who share the water with local fisherman who fish from hand crafted canoes with nets. The use of drag netting in parts has caused over fishing which the council realised as being unsustainable. It is now illegal to fish for 6 months of the year. But what are the fishermen supposed to? So they continue fishing and everyone turns a blind eye. Babati is watched over by Mount Kwaraa, a large mountain covered in forest that provides much of the firewood. The higher slopes are a national reservation of protected trees and wildlife. It is rumoured that elephants live there.
The communities we work with are on the edges of town. Waangwaray is 4 km from to the East;, Sinai is 5 km north on the road to Arusha and Managha is 10km south along the road to Dodoma. Most of the community members are subsistence farmers but slowly the impact of town is reaching them and they are not as remote as they once felt they were.