In the shadow of Ngorongoro

For three days I’ve been living under the lip of the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  From the Oldeani Coffee Farm, we look up across a deep valley to the edge of the Crater. The Crater is in a heavily guarded wildlife preserve.  Many of the 150 people who live on the farm have never been to the Crater.  It’s reserved for those who can spend 500 US Dollars per vehicle and $100 per person.  Mainly well-heeled foreigners can afford to visit.  Tanzanians and poor foreigners just look longingly at it from outside.DSCN8683

Two of those poor foreigners are German girls living here at the farm and working for a year at the kindergarten.  They just graduated from college and are taking a year in Africa to volunteer.  About  halfway through their stint, speak fluent Swahili and dress like Tanzanians—long skirts which reach the floor and blouses which reach the collar bone.

They’ve explored every nook and cranny near the Guest House to find the best phone reception.  One is just outside the gate between the coffee trees.  It’s under a sign saying that these trees were planted in1927-28 by an Otto Koerner from Germany.  He was one of the many European farmers who discovered these “Northern Highlands” were great places to live and farm.

The temperatures here stays around 70.  It might rarely get down to 60 or up to 90, but that will soon pass and the temperature will be perfect again. We’ve had thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.  The locals say the “long rains” have started. These will really intensify in March and last till June enabling the farmers to get a good crop of corn and the coffee bushes to set nice plump berries.

July, August and September are the coolest months here and dry.  That’s fine for coffee.  Plenty of sunny weather that’s not too hot means the farmers can spread the coffee beans outside on screens and let it slowly and naturally dry.

I’m here to help reinvigorate this coffee farm.  We want to market their coffee directly rather than having it mixed with lower grade coffees. Don’t be surprised if you see Oldeani Mountain Coffee for sale soon.  You’ll want to buy some. Not only because the beans are treated perfectly but because of the community which treats them.

The farm is managed by three Brothers from a local Catholic order.  They don’t take any salary, but seem to be filled with peace and joy.  They have developed a variety of enterprises on the farm which provide nearly everything the farm workers need.  The farm has enough milk cows to provide milk for 150 people and enough sows to provide pigs for the farm’s families to raise for meat.  The farm provides a mill to grind corn flour to make the nsima (somewhat like fine grits) that everyone eats every day.

At the Guest House, all our food is raised on the farm, except for rice from the hotter lowlands.  For those of us who haven’t acquired the taste for nsima, there are plenty of potatoes.  For breakfast, the German girls especially like “American cake.”  It is dollops of doughnut batter slightly sweetened and slightly fried.  How it got its name or the recipe arrived here are lost in the history of Oldeani Farm.

Breakfast is preceded by the fascinating and ever-varying calls of African birds.  My favorite is the “Go Away” bird which says just that to anyone coming to an East African wildlife area.  The others say all sorts of things, but not in English.  One thing they all say in common: it’s time to get up and go get coffee.

Except it won’t be American coffee.  It will be very strong and always drunk with hot milk. East Africans (who grew the first coffee) can’t understand why anyone would pour cold milk into hot coffee.  They also like sugar in their coffee and can’t understand why we don’t.

If you ever want to see the wildlife of Africa, Ngorongoro Crater if the best place to do it.  And the best place to stay on your visit is the Oldeani Coffee Farm.  Soon you’ll be able to at least taste Oldeani coffee, even if you can’t come here.  That is, if I get back to work and help this community achieve its dreams.

As humble as rosemary

A few steps from my back door is a huge rosemary plant. It releases scents you can get nowhere else. Smelling rosemary seems to cause people to be mentally sharper.  I can sure use that. My rosemary bush makes no demands, though I do water it in a drought.  It seems perfectly fine with just supplying me with oxygen and delightful scents. That’s pretty humble.  Just produce benefits for anyone passing by and don’t demand anything or expect anything.


I don’t think I will ever be as humble as my rosemary plant, but I’m working on it. Being humble is not what the vast majority of us want.  Most of the world says: praise yourself, promote yourself, make yourself the center of attention, make everyone appreciate how smart and capable you are. Glorify yourself, the world seems to say.

I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. I need to be humble.  Every time I try to put myself first, something puts me back in my place and says, be humble.

That’s difficult for most of us humans.  We want to be first.  We want to be the center of attention.  We begin life as crying babies who are the center of attention for our parents.  Babies cry and smile and do everything they can to insure they stay the center of attention.  At some point, some of us realize the futility of all that.

We realize that peace and joy and love don’t come from putting ourselves first.  Those fruits come from putting first a goal larger than ourselves.

Instead we strive and strive to make ourselves great. Most of the world defines greatness as accumulation.  Accumulating money or houses or cars or adulation. All over the planet are people working themselves to death to accumulate all they can.

I’m pretty good at growing rosemary and strawberries and other crops.  I’ve had a lot of abundant harvests. An old story tells us of the rich man who had such abundant harvests.  He produced so much that he had no place to store it all.  So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his surplus. Once those were built, he promised himself that he would take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.

But then he was told: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

All over the planet people are living in this delusion.  We are so focused on producing more and more that we are generating millions of tons of carbon dioxide.  Many say those gases are warming up the planet.  The irony is that humble plants love carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide for plants is like oxygen for us. It’s not a waste product, it’s the elixir of life. Higher-than-normal CO2 concentrations dramatically enhance the productivity of plants.

By producing more CO2, mankind may be making the planet just a better place for plants.  We may be turning the entire planet into a paradise for plants. We may not like a warmer planet with lots of carbon dioxide in the air.  But plants will.

So all our striving to accumulate, all our striving to put ourselves first, seems to be producing a planet which is best suited for plants.  The lack of humility of man is creating an Eden for humble plants.

We could cease our striving for accumulation.  We could quit producing the noxious gases we are pumping into the atmosphere. We could focus more on humility and joy and peace.