Volunteering in Art in Tanzania’s kitchen

Auli Rauvola has been volunteering with Art in Tanzania for three months. Auli is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Hospitality Management in Finland at Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences. Last autumn she had the idea to go abroad for volunteer work. She wanted to combine her studies and dream of volunteering, and found a way to do so by coming to Tanzania to work on developing the kitchen operations in our Dar es Salaam, Madale village volunteer compound.

Auli has comprehensive experience on cooking and kitchen management after working years as a kitchen manager and domestic science teacher in Finland. Here in Madale she has focused on sharing her knowledge with local women, who work in the volunteer house’s kitchen, to help them improve kitchen hygiene and learn new cooking methods.

Auli started by just following the daily life in the kitchen, which is run by Mama Nema with a help of 2-3 other ladies. The cooks start their work in the kitchen early in the morning by setting up fire for cooking breakfast for volunteers. All the food is cooked on open fire in a traditional Tanzanian way. During the day, three meals are cooked for volunteers; breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch is served at 1 pm and dinner at 7 pm. The working days can get pretty long, but the cooks know how to take it easy during the day. Chatter, laughter and even singing echoes from the kitchen all day long, and in-between preparing the meals the women can sometimes be seen napping on a bench outside.

Art In Tanzania Kitchen Mamas

Peeling potatoes for dinner

Auli tells that alongside with a language barrier a completely different working culture has been the main challenge in her cooperation with the kitchen staff. The Finnish working culture is very efficient and fast-paced, whilst in Tanzanian everything happens slowly, pole pole. Auli hasn’t survived without a few misunderstandings, but has been able to overcome them with good humour. At first when she started the kitchen ladies assumed that she was there to learn cooking skills from them. This proved to be a lucky misunderstanding, as that way it was easy for Auli to get to know the ladies and their working methods.

Auli soon noticed that the cooks had very good practical skills but the kitchen work was quite disorganized and illogical and also lacking in creativity and initiative. With no mutual language Auli started drawing things and showing pictures in order to teach how to cook new dishes. She gradually managed to introduce new cooking methods and hygiene policies. Auli tells the ladies now playfully refer to her as “the kitchen police”.

The food at the volunteer house is partly Tanzanian and partly western. The cooks like to stick to preparing familiar dishes whilst volunteers sometimes hope for more variation. For example Auli has introduced meat balls and other new dishes to the menu to bring more variation. Also, some local specialties such as ugali, a porridge- or dough-like dish made of maize flour usually served with stews, have been added to the menu for the volunteers to sample.

Meatballs in the making

Auli instructing Mama Nema and our employee Simon on making meatballs

During her time here Auli has learned the importance of positive feedback. She has come to notice that any small critique is easilly taken personally, and has had to find new, more positive ways to give suggestions. At first the kitchen ladies were reluctant to try cooking unfamiliar dishes, but when they were complimented they were extremely happy and have since cooked new dishes more often.

Even though the disorganization of the local working culture is a challenge, Auli says there are so many things western people could learn from Africa, such as taking it slow and not stressing about small things.  You don’t have to be efficient all the time, and sometimes it’s a good idea to stop and sit under a tree for a while! The relaxed and positive atmosphere has had an effect on Auli as well, and she says all the stress she had back in Finland is long gone. She also hopes to preserve some of the laid back attitude she has learnt here when she gets back to her ordinary life at home.

Auli with Mama Nema

Auli with Mama Nema

As Auli’s example shows, possibilities for volunteering are wide. There’s something for everyone regardless of education, interests or age. Only creativity is the limit! Information about Art in Tanzania volunteering programs can be found here, but like in Auli’s case, it is also possible to tailor your own project.

 By Maria Kuivamäki

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