A Journey To Harambe Market

The beautiful chirping of birds signal the rising sun and though life is a bit more subdued in these parts than what we are accustomed to, the human world also begins to come alive.  Soon this East African port town with its simple but beautifully ornamented Arabic-infused architectural styling gathers the first hint of warmth from the sun’s rays.  The dew begins to evaporate from atop the leaves of the various planted fruits and vegetables that service the wonderful human-made ecosystem that supplies the nearby outdoor marketplace.  What little is needed to be imported, sails into town through vibrant-colored ships, chugs into the area atop the local locomotive, or occasionally lands into the stamped-earth dirt landing strip.  However you find this oasis of spirit, by land sea or air, whether you are a tourist looking to glimpse into the wilds of Africa at the nearby reserve, a person of trade looking for a well of opportunity, or whether its been your home since the day you were born, one step on this land and you are family.  As the inscription on one of the walls of the Malimwengu Guest House proudly asserts, “It does not matter who you are or where you are from. We are all children of the world.”  This spirit of community and togetherness speaks to an evolved nature, our own human imprint on the world as we found it, as we struggle but strive to make it a better place for everything that possesses life.  And life is the crucial word.  Because as soon as I arrived in Harambe I knew, I had just begun to live.


Africa at Disney's Animal Kingdom


I still remember my first steps into Harambe back in 1998.  It was a vibrant town, filled with the most welcoming people you shall ever meet.  They carried their innate beauty with them as did their buildings painted with the most beautiful palate of colors my eyes had ever witnessed.  The streets were filled with impromptu celebrations of music as I wandered past the nearby shops.  Though in the digital age we have come to feel as if the speed of light is somehow not fast enough, just one glance at a man meticulously carving a wooden sculpture of an animal with his bare hands and his sharpened tool that too has seen the force of his mind in action, calls on me to as politely as one can do such a thing, stare in awe.  For a moment put aside the careful artistry of his craft and the beauty of his product because I’m in sheer amazement of the glorious animals he is replicating out of the love and heartfelt passion he has for the creatures who share in their existence with all of us.  I can already feel the energy and good will of Harambe quickly seeping into me, shaping me, molding me into someone more profoundly aware of my surroundings.  For as much as we all often think we have everything figured out, one look at the now finished wooden sculpture and I know there is yet much wonder left for me in this town, this nature, this Earth.


Elephants in Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom


You might have come to know Harambe from knowledge of its revered Harambe Wildlife Reserve.  After all most of us tourists, usually are attracted to Harambe with the idea of seeking out adventure by venturing out on one of the many Kilimanjaro Safaris.  And with good reason.  Seeing these powerful African animals up close is a life-changing experience to be treasured forever.  Learning about them, helping to preserve their habitat and keeping them away from those heinous poachers was once only the calling of those who work at the Harambe Wildlife Reserve.  But anyone who ventures out on Kilimanjaro Safaris knows that now it is their mission just the same.  “We are all children of the world,” indeed.


Harambe Theater


Having fallen in love with the culture, its people and the beauty of the nature that surrounds one in Harambe my travels to this part of Africa have become ever more frequent.  It has given me the wonderful opportunity to venture out into new areas that truly compliment the Harambe that I’ve always known.  Only recently did I get to make it out to the old fort that used to protect the colony back when Harambe was not self-governed.  Of course things are different now and the fort still stands mighty tall with vestiges of the past still lingering, including canons seemingly ready to be put to use should the need once again arise.  Luckily cannon balls have become a relic in this part of Africa.  The peace and harmony of the area has led to a repurposed fort-turned-theater that now shares in masterful storytelling of a wonderful African legend about a young lion cub.  Aptly named “Simba” (Swahili for Lion), he must find his path to greatness amongst trials, tribulations and the mystic beauty that is the circle of life.  Luckily my adventures in Harambe were far from over.


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In fact for months I’d been preparing for my latest trip and today I can tell you it was as delightful as my first trip into the dreamy port town.  I knew it would be a culinary adventure since I’d be traveling to the Harambe Market but what I found was a part of Harambe that called to me with its color.  The same people who had charmed me once before as a young and brash wanna-be-explorer were again all too willing to welcome me into their lives, to share in this delightful occasion.  With the dew now a distant memory as the swelling heat of Africa begins to reclaim its throne the once deliberate paced town begins to increase with locals as well as the curious in a wonderful bit of commotion.  They find a marketplace, established in 1980 just years before my first excursion through Harambe.  I approach the Harambe Market myself and can feel the buzz swirling around those gathered nearby.  The outdoor market has beautiful storefronts from several vendors with African cuisine that ranges from skewered chicken  to spice-rubbed karubi ribs.  But just as my mouth begins to water, I hear the sharp and unmistakable toot of what could only be the Wildlife Express Train pulling into town.  I rush along with others to the edge of the marketplace’s perimeter fencing to get a better look as the train steams on by.  The engineer smiles at our presence and we get a friendly wave from the conductor who is aboard the caboose and to say it makes my day would be an understatement.  I’m beginning to realize that I’m not just an outside observer in this land, I’m truly part of it and with that comes responsibility that I welcome with open arms.  For now the responsibility is simple – just smile.


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With the Sun almost about to rise to its peak, the crowd that had sat amongst the Harambe Market at the nearby hand-painted wooden tables under colored steel and aluminum shedding rise to their feet in anticipation of a special moment.  It’s lunch time!  The vendors in an orderly rush come together in front of the Ministry of Trade’s Market Development Office located right in the center of the outdoor market.  Then the young man who must be the Market Development Master brings the new day of business to order.  He recites a beautiful message talking of harmony as he and everyone who shall work the day welcomes us to Harambe Market.  A little girl who had been selected to help literally ring in the new day attentively awaits her moment when she gets to pull on the rope and have the bell reverberate the beautiful message we had just heard into our hearts.  It’s a simple moment but I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought it was magical once you see it for yourself.  Because the best part is that this scene though it felt like it had been debuted before my eyes is actually a ritual ceremony.  It takes place every single day and every day another lucky young person shall be selected and given a certificate so that they know that they’ve been a part of something special.  Harambe means, “to come together” in Swahili and now it is time.


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As my appetite comes into focus, I begin to make my way towards the window adorned above with the hand painted advertising that reads, “Famous Sausages, Now With Curry,” on the walls of the building.  But before I place an order, conversation breaks out between the others who are beginning to queue up for a bite of the promising deliciousness that awaits.  I flow in and out of these conversations until it feels as if I’ve met almost everyone at the market.  The sense of excitement displayed by those that are here sharing in this day is palpable.  I hear of travelers who have come quite the distance to see if this cuisine can live up to its exquisite reputation.  Others have a favorite vendor in their hearts so our conversations must take a brief hiatus at least until we reunite once again with food in our hands.  This community is what will stand out to be my most lasting impression of the day and that is quite the feat because the food that I was about to savor was to be quite a delight in of itself.


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Most everyone has indulged in a corn-dog before especially if you are from the States, but a Sausage with Curry that is really something.  I place my order at Boerewors and in moments my fresh to order food is ready for consumption.  The corn wrapped sausage can’t even fit on the plate it’s served on, it is so large.  That paper plate brings with it an accompaniment of vegetables including broccoli, red onions and cherry tomatoes with their flavor peaked by a vinaigrette.  My taste buds took a while to catch up to the uniqueness of this curry corn dog but though it wasn’t my favorite meal whilst at the Harambe Market, I could see it becoming a favorite for many.  It packs a punch of flavor, is easy to eat, even if the portion size is a bit too much for me and I bet it would taste great with mustard but I saved that for when I return again.  After all there is hardly a better way to assimilate with the culture of the area than to enjoy their food the way they intended.  I paired this meal with an exquisite African wine.  The Spice Route Chakalaka Shiraz blend was simply perfect and the attractive name didn’t hurt when making my selection from the featured South African wines.  It was savory and smoky but smooth with just enough sweet to be enjoyed even by the more novice of wine connoisseurs out there.  I would have easily had a second glass of this wine but quickly my attention turned to dessert and this dessert is great to the very last bite.


The dessert, was an African Milk Tart.  It reminded me of one of my Cuban grandmother’s illustrious desserts, her version of Arroz con Leche or rice with milk that normally she prepares with a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon on top.  But let’s just say after my first few bites I have a few requests for the next time my grandmother creates her sought after dessert.  What separates this Harambe Market dessert, is that its coconut-filled custard is surrounded by a round chocolate tart shell and then lightly drizzled with dark chocolate ganache.  It is my type of dessert, not overly sweet but more than enough to indulge the senses.  Normally I’d choose meat over dessert any day of the week but on this day I’d find myself choosing this dessert three times over the course of my African culinary adventure.


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Venturing around you shall find not only food but a rich history embedded in the walls of Harambe market.  Whether it be a portrait of Mister Mouse showing an African rendition of Mickey Mouse sitting back on a chair enjoying his morning cup of joe or the hanging sign advertising the work of Herbalist and Traditional Healer Dr. Jomo, you truly gain a better understanding of the culture and people of Harambe.  Even this former train depot where Harambe Market stands today tells the story of its vendors without ever uttering a word.  Just by looking at the buildings you can tell that Chef Mwanga’s Rib Shop must be quite popular.   His dry rub ribs command the highest price in the Market but Mwanga has clearly put some of the profits back into his shop.  Using the money to build his own separate food stand and even paid for its relative upkeep that has it shining with its bright blue and yellow paint.  As the sun begins to set in the sky it was time for dinner.


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This time I’d share in the feast with other long-time friends of mine who had just arrived into town.  We each grabbed some food and shared with each other, only heightening the community aspect of this outdoor market.  One of my friends gave me a taste of Chef Mwanga’s ribs and I quickly knew why it had some of the longest lines of the day.  I grabbed a Ground Beef Kabob Flatbread, on the recommendation from some of the friends I had made earlier in the day as I began to queue up for lunch.  It was ok, but I would have liked for the dressing to be stronger in flavor and dress up this otherwise plain dish.  Luckily what I chose to wash it down with, Red Sangria with Van der Hum Tangerine Liqueur was rather splendid especially considering the now cooling but still humid day.  Another friend offered a piece of chicken from their Chicken Skewer which was grilled just right and I still had dessert waiting for me of course.  It was a feast, a joyous time at the market that had the feeling of a celebration but with the night sky beginning to take over and the warm glow of the lights coming on at the nearby guest house I knew our adventure was coming to a close at least for this day.


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As the vendors shifted from cooking to cleaning duties they came outside and talked to the locals and tourists who still were finishing their last bites or otherwise not wanting this moment in time to ever end. They joined us in wonderful conversation, making sure our time at Harambe Market had been all we ever hoped for, even as their faces showed the marks of a long day of work.  I told them everything had been beautiful and I made sure to say, “thank you.”  As I walked away from the now empty market and back to my home for the night, I knew what my responsibility had become.  To share with others the love and spirit shown onto me on this day at Harambe Market and in my years of travels to Harambe with the hope that others can share in it to, no matter who they are or where they are from.  This place of mystic beauty has left an indelible mark on my life but the question is now – what imprint will you leave with yours?