Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting a Slow Food community garden in Tanzania. I was in nearby Kenya for an interview and decided to visit a garden I helped to fund through the Gardens in Africa project.
To be honest, upon crossing the border from Kenya into Tanzania, I wasn’t sure if the garden was actually going to be there. I had no specific address and had never seen a photo of it. I gave my driver a printed email with the name of the village and off we went. Turning off the main road onto a dusty, red rocky path, we found on our way into the village of Maji ya Chai. Our jeep was grossly out of place among the goats, barefoot children and chickens scurrying across the rocky path. As we bumped along the road, we passed numerous orphanages and huts, missing roofs and walls. Lost, my driver asked a young local if he knew of the garden. Luckily, he did and with that, he escorted us to the entrance. We had driven right by it and completely missed it.
I hopped out of the jeep, greeted by a dozen women with big smiles, and to my astonishment, a large signpost in the garden with my name painted on it. It was jarring to see: a big sign with my full name in big block letters. It reflected, quite loudly, the gratitude of the community I was about to meet.
The women of the Maji ya Chai community garden are HIV positive. Most are widows, having lost their husbands to AIDS, and many of their children are infected as well. There is no infrastructure in the village. No running water, no electricity, no paved roads, no means of transportation. Children don’t go to school and life is the day-to-day activities of tending to the family hut and livestock.
Helen, the garden coordinator and ardent Slow Food supporter welcomed me to the garden and gave me a tour of the plots of food they were growing. She had come to the village with one mission in mind: to help the women of Maji ya Chai gain strength in mind and body through good, healthy food. And she’s succeeding. Many of the women who came to her with emaciated and weak bodies and depressed minds were now singing and dancing around me. With Slow Food’s support and Helen’s leadership, the people of Maji ya Chai village now have access to nutritious food and herbs that are giving them the strength to participate in daily life.
As we sat under a tarp snacking on homegrown peanuts and beet juice, I was in awe of how such a little garden could have such a large impact. One of the women broke out into a singsong prayer, and in that prayer, praised God for bringing Slow Food into her life.
Slow Food means different things to different people. Initially for me, it meant deepening my connection with my food and where it came from. For the women of the Maji ya Chai, it has meant finding hope and strength where there was none. The garden is their life, their source of nutrition and their source of community. Talk about impact.
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