By Peter Muiruri
As East Africa’s premier tourism festival gets underway in Arusha, Tanzania, organisers have been working around the clock to ensure that visitors to the town get value for their money.
Dubbed Mashariki Holiday Festival, the ten-day affair that commenced Wednesday promises a rare treat to East Africans whose idea of a holiday is a visit to their upcountry abodes or the overcrowded coastal beaches.
More than 1,000 guests are expected to grace the event with many others participating on a part-time basis.
The event will be hosted every year in December by each of the East African countries on a rotational basis. This year, the bulk of the festivities will be concentrated in Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge located halfway between Arusha and Kilimanjaro Airport. Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge on the slopes of Mt Meru in Tanzania. [PHOTOS: PETER MUIRURI/STANDARD]
Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge on the slopes of Mt Meru in Tanzania. [PHOTOS: PETER MUIRURI/STANDARD]
"We want to celebrate East Africa’s rich culture in addition to championing the region’s economic and educational gains," says Pascalia Maingi, the festival’s spokesperson.
Among the activities to be featured include a game drive in world famous Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera on earth.
Eric Mutua, a Nairobi advocate and treasurer to the East African Law Society looks forward to fun galore as his family prepares to travel to Arusha for the festival. Maingi and his family love to travel for holiday and have visited such diverse locations including Thailand, South Africa, India, Seychelles and Zanzibar. This year, though, he had no holiday plans.
"I changed my mind when I heard of the noble idea of a retreat for East Africans in Arusha. We have taken a four-day package and hope to learn a lot from other East African cultures," says Mutua.
In addition, each of the East African countries will host a gala night to showcase its cultural legacy, political history as well as economic development. On such a night, the featured country will also present its popular meals.
A day trip to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro will showcase the rich traditions of the Chagga community, a Bantu tribe that lives on the slopes of the mountain. Visitors will get to know how the farming community prepares mtori, macharari and ngende — meals made out the 42 species of bananas grown in the area.
Guests can prepare to also indulge in ndafu, a goat roasted in its entirety and that marks the highest honour given to a distinguished visitor to Chaggaland. Such a meal is best washed down with mbege, a traditional banana brew.
Kenya will showcase her rich cultural diversity and enlighten other East African countries on the economic benefits accruing from the new Constitution.
Individual ethnic groups from Kenya will have a chance to showcase their past and current lifestyle that makes them stand out from the rest. As an example, many may want to know the reasons behind the flamboyant character and sense of style of the Luo elite, more so his polished and eloquent command of the Queen’s English.
"Besides culture, East Africans look up to Kenya as an example of what can be achieved when public resources are put to good use. This is the only country in the region boasting an ultra-modern superhighway," says Emmy Moshi of Mashariki secretariat.
Organisers have also invited the continent’s newest nation, South Sudan.
Speaking during the launch of the Mashariki Holiday Festival, Tanzania chapter in Arusha recently, Colman Ngalo, former President of the East Africa Law Society reiterated that the festival is meant to bring together a people who have a shared heritage despite being divided by political borders adding that culture has a unique way of uniting people in a way that no other medium can.
"East Africans should be ready to cast aside their many suspicions and stereotypes they have held against each other for years. We should not fear that such cultural integration would mean the loss of property or income for some. Putting material concerns before our togetherness will slow down our development," said Ngalo.