Our first full day in Tanzania did not disappoint! First we got reacquainted with our friend Sam. We met Sam the last time we were in TZ in 2015. He and his friend Frank, ran after us on a dirt road yelling, “Are you American? Come have a drink with us! I’ll buy you a Coke.” and soon a friendship was born. Nearly four years later, we made contact with Sam again (thank you social media!) and told him to expect us. He has been a wonderful host showing us around Arusha.
Before arriving, Aaron asked if Sam could set up a chance for us to work with a local artist…you know how we like to do that sort of thing…and Sam promised to take us to the “batik factory.” Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect. “Factory” has a certain meaning. Hmmm? No telling what was going to happen, but we said “yes”. It’s the magic word that leads to adventure after all!
We walked with Sam along a big highway, then small but busy dirt roads, and then smaller and smaller roads covered in trash with the occasional mangey dog or scrawny chicken. Pretty much what you expect. So where is this “factory”?
We walked in and met John Mweta, the factory owner. He showed us his work and for a split second I thought we were just being asked to buy batiks, but then he came out with a white cloth with some outlines, a big pot of melted wax, and a charcoal-burning stove. Game On.
Meanwhile, we are kind of like the circus that comes to town. You can imagine not many white people (“mzungus”) pass this way. Little kids keep poking around the corner. Old men. Even the occasional goat. At one point a grown man yells “MZUNGU!” and runs away…he comes back with his granny yelling “My Granny! Mzungu! My Granny! Mzungu!”. She seems as uncomforable as we felt. We greeted her with our vast Swahili knowledge, “Jambo!” and that’s all we could do. I waved but I think she was blind. This is how the afternoon was spent on this otherwise quiet corner.
Next up we were invited onto the “factory floor” to start the dying process.
Now a moment to talk about tools. Aaron loves tools. Anyone who reads this blog, knows he is a little obsessed. So when John pulled out his homemade canting, it was like Aaron’s personal holiday. You have to admit, it’s pretty cool. This canting is used to draw finer lines and designs on the batik — just like we did in Bali.
Aaron knew he needed one. So he asked if we could make a canting when we were finished batiking. John couldn’t believe what the mzungu was asking for. He was probably thinking “weirdos” when we asked, but that’s never stopped us. John was unsure about making the tool together (apparently it takes a long time to make one) so he offered to sell Aaron the one we were using. We eagerly agreed.
Okay, back to the batik factory where John showed us the finishing touches.
John then crinkled the waxy cloth so it like a crumpled paper and adding some black paint into the creases. After the black dried, he essentially wrung out the fabric like you would a piece of washing! It was kind of crazy watching as the wax started to chip off until there was a mass of waxy shavings on the table below. If you’re wondering, yes, they do get reused. It’s Africa, everything gets reused. We could all take a note, eh?
All of this takes a while. We were there for hours while a radio played next door. It was football day (soccer) in Tanzania and we heard the local prison sponsored team vs. Simba (aka, the Lions). You’ll be happy to know that the world-famous “Gooooooooooooooooal!” translates perfectly in Swahili and we cheered along with our teachers. Simba ruled the day, but Sam was rooting for the Prisons. Sorry Sam.
The almost-final step is to melt the remaining wax with an old fashioned coal-powered iron.
That, my friends, is a most excellent way to spend the day!
John was the nicest, most patient teacher. SUCH a wonderful time – we won’t soon forget our batik factory tour and lesson.
Oh, and John is looking for new markets for his batiks. So if you’re reading this and have an outlet that might sell them, let us know and we can help you get in touch. Or you can just give him a call – his number is on the door. 🙂