We had just finished our second full day on safari, following the maze of roads through Lake Manyara and Tarangira National Park in northern Tanzania. As we left Lake Manyara, our truck began to splutter and lose power. Luckily, we were able to make it back to our campsite but our buzz was severely shaken, not knowing how long it would take to get fixed.
When we awoke the next morning, our guides were off trying to find a mechanic and a part in the small market town of Mto wa Mbu. We enjoyed a fresh breakfast of papaya, banana and pineapple and then embarked on a walking tour of the small town. Our guide was a man named Joseph. He was organizing cultural tours around his village and was excited to show us around.
Nearing the end of our tour, we stopped in to see a family. This family was part of the Makonde tribe. The Makonde tribe is one of the few left in Tanzania that works with real ebony wood, or so my guide book told me. This family had small statues, masks and salad spoons carved by hand lined up on the ground.
Now, being a somewhat savvy traveller, I had heard that the recent scam was to smear black shoe polish onto wood and pass it off as ebony. I voiced my concerns. They said they had also heard this and would be happy to assuage my fears. The young girl Winfrieda, who was studying tourism at a college in Dar Es Salaam, picked up an ebony statue and brought it over to me. Running a knife along the base, she dug into the wood. Inside the slit she had cut, the wood was still a dark colour. I was convinced. I negotiated a price and put the hand carved treasure deep inside my bag. When all was said and done, we got a call from our guide. The truck had been replaced, a new one driven out from Arusha. So, off we went on our trek to the Serengeti, with ebony salad spoons buried in my bag.