31 December 2012

Tanzania: Smoke From Noel Bonfires

Moshi — There is a common saying which goes; 'there's fire where there is smoke ,' and at this time of the year smoke is filling Moshi town's skyline as fires blaze on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

And that has nothing to do with bushfires, though these also happen to be very common in the forested area; the ongoing flames are from the blazing bonfires typical for celebrating the season.

As for the related smoke, these may actually be a collection of exhaust fumes emanating from the thousands of motor vehicles currently choking up the roads in Moshi municipality and raising into the atmosphere.

The term 'Moshi' essentially means 'smoke,' in Kiswahili, though nobody knows for sure why this town which is the capital for Kilimanjaro region, ended up with such name. But it is not a farfetched one either, the Chagga who are among the native residents of the area have 'Moshi,' as well as similar sounding 'Mushi' and 'Mosha' in their dictionary of local surnames.

In Japanese, the term 'Moshi' is usually used when answering the phone similar to 'Hello' or 'Hi!' The Japanese also eat 'Mochi' rise as part of their 'New Year' feast serving. But back here Moshi is a town, albeit a cleaner one compared to Dar-es-salaam thanks to its microscopic population and dying industries.

Anyway at the moment Moshi Municipality is crowded, the bumperto- bumper traffic jams clogging roads and streets, as well as shops and market outlets filled, beyond capacity, while people have become series of phenomenon that keep posted on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter as well as in blogs and other online forums.

It is usual for Moshi's population to shoot up significantly during the last months of each year when people from practically all over the globe but with roots on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, make their annual pilgrimages to their homeland.

'Clouds do not always mean rain, but smoke is a sure sign of fire,' goes another proverb and even though December is a rainy season, the downpours are usually far apart and nothing compared to stretching strings of ceremonies that cloud the vicinity during 'Christmas' and 'New Year,' holidays in Moshi.

There are series of church-based ceremonies such as 'Holy Communions,' for the youth, then there are renewal of nuptials for couples on refresh matrimonial course, but the real business kicks into high gear when traditional festivals get observed in full effect, on the slopes of Kili. But other people use the end-of-year seasons to visit parents and relatives, or conduct annual family gettogether occasions.

This is a tradition highly observed by the Chagga communities and has helped them forge unshakable cohesion. It is also an occasion when new couples are made because of the interactions. During the 2002 Population Census, Moshi was reported to have 144,739 residents a number which rose to 206,728 in the 2011 estimations but once the results from last year's National Census get tabled the town hopes to hit 300,000 population mark.

The number of residents is an important component for Moshi which is on the fast track to become a City by 2016; In order to qualify for such high urban status a town must have a minimum of 500,000 population.

The anticipated 'city,' factor, with or without the expected number of people, is also likely to become an important campaigning capital for politicians vying for various electoral positions in Moshi, in the forthcoming 2015 General Elections.

Anyway the municipality is the headquarters for Kilimanjaro Region and being caught between the 'conserved,' lower slopes of the highest mountain in Africa and sprawling farms, Moshi's growth is stifled; the town covers about 60 square kilometers making it the smallest municipality in Tanzania by area.

And the town population may never change even if the census was to be conducted in December; this is because all the people that travel to Moshi at the end of the year do not stay in town but rather proceed to their respective rural villages.

During the day, many drive to town for provisions (after all, when it comes to partying, stocks of food and drinks never have chance) or to refuel their vehicles. Three decades ago, the heavy traffic, crowds of people and bustling business used to be the order of the day in Moshi and that would be throughout the year.

That was the time when, Moshi used to be the epicenter of cross-border trading activities with Kenya via the Tarakea-Illassit and the Holili-Taveta borders all being pivoted from the Municipality. In the hey-days, business people either legal or pirates would take veterinary and farm tools from Tanzania to Kenya and bring back cooking fats (Kimbo and Cowboy brands) and (Blue-Band) margarines, not to mention (Kiwi) shoe polish and (Colgate) Toothpastes.

Today all the goods once imported from Kenya are manufactured locally in Tanzania and those previously exported to Kenya are now being made right in the country and the death of such cross-border trade spelled the demise of Moshi.

Also the collapse of Coffee as the region's main cash crop drove the final nail onto Moshi's coffin leaving the limelight to go to Arusha, its immediate neighbor which now bask in the glory of tourism, trade and diplomatic business. But Moshi, which still attracts thousands every December, still have a chance as a holiday destination and an area that Tanzania Tourist Board can market as a potential domestic tourism vicinity.

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