Our annual Tanzanian staff visit turns up a strange coincidence…
Bowl stitched with thread and beads from Tanzania
Each year, in an effort to promote friendship and understanding between the U.S. staff of Thomson Safaris and Rick and Judi’s Tanzanian staff—the people who guide the trips, run the camps, and keep the vehicles in good repair—Rick and Judi offer a few members of the Tanzanian staff an all-expenses paid trip to the United States.
But this year, an extra-special connection was made.
Malisa, Louis, Hashim, and Rick were all sitting around Rick and Judi’s kitchen one morning, enjoying their coffee, when Malisa noticed something on one of their shelves.
It was a unique bowl, originally purchased in Tanzania. He asked Rick if he could look at it more closely.
Rick explained that he had bought the bowl years before, specifically because it had a crack in its side that had been stitched up with thread and beads. Liking the imperfection, he took it home and set it on his shelf as a decoration. He assumed, though, that such bowls must still be common where Malisa lives; why was Malisa so interested?
Because this particular bowl, as it happens, was handcrafted by Malisa’s father, who died over 20 years ago.
The wood—known as msesewe in Tanzania—comes from a tree that woodworkers are no longer allowed to harvest. Though Malisa’s father passed on his skills to Malisa’s brother, this restriction meant that no one in Malisa’s family crafted the bowls anymore.
Malisa shares the story of his father’s bowl with the Boston staff
In Tanzania, the bowls would traditionally be used to hold porridge, or possibly mbege (a type of beer—and given the size of the bowl, a serious quaff!).
Each artisan crafts bowls—known as “kitela” in the Chagga language—in a unique way, their different styles reflected in the different shapes of the bowls. That’s how Malisa was able to immediately recognize it; the only craftsman in Tanzania whose bowls were made in this shape was his father.
Though Malisa still has his father’s tools, it had been some time since he’d seen a new example of his father’s work. It just goes to show that even though we (usually) live worlds away from one another, Thomson Safaris and the Tanzania team are truly one big family!
Malisa sketched out the basic process of making one of these bowls, or “kitela.”