Every time we visit the beach when it is low tide, we can see little rows of sticks far out in the water. If we walk closer we can see that there is seaweed strung between the sticks. We can see that they are seaweed farms. Women tend the farms, and we are curious why seaweed could be worth making farms for. What could you do with seaweed?
It turns out that there is a seaweed factory next door to the place we are staying, and that we can buy a tour for $10 a person (cheap, right?). The cost is in dollars because it is more for tourists, even though I’ve only seen a couple of Americans here in Paje.
When we joined the group I noticed that the guide and all the other tourists were wearing sunglasses. Down at the beach, the sun’s glare reflects off of all the white sand, and really blinds me. I wished I had had sunglasses.
Down at the beach, we got to walk out to the seaweed farms knowing what they were. My eyes had to work hard to ward off the glare. We learned how you plant and grow the seaweed. You have to place it in the lowest water, so that even when it is low tide, your seaweed must be at least half submerged in the tide pools. You tie the bundles of seaweed to ropes that are strung between 2 long, sharp sticks. The sticks are about 4 feet long. To get your seaweed nice and sturdy, you have to put at least 2.5 feet of the stick in the sand. You have to really wiggle the stick down, down all the way deep into the sand.
Tending to the seaweed while it is out in the water is hard work. You have to come when it is low tide, and maybe work out there until the tide comes back up. Every other day lots of green stringy stuff clings to the growing seaweed, and you have to get rid of it or else it will kill the seaweed. You have to clean what needs cleaning, plant what needs planting, and harvest what needs harvesting. They harvest the seaweed once every 60 days, 6 times a year. The interesting thing about seaweed is that the seed is the plant. You plant the plant. The seaweed tastes crunchy and salty, but also rubbery at the same time.
After all the arduous work of growing the seaweed in the blinding sun, you harvest the seaweed. Then you dry it out so that you can crack it. The climate here can dry clothes in 1 hour flat, so drying seaweed for 10-15 days will probably suck every last drop of moisture out of your seaweed. Unless it rains. Weather here is more dramatic and unpredictable than even Seattle! Without you knowing it, in 10 seconds it will be pouring so hard that it feels like the house is shaking under the pounding, smashing, crashing rain. It might last 1 minute. It might rain for 1 or 2 1-minute periods of pouring rain, until everything is back to normal. But it only rains like that once every week or so.
You grind the dried seaweed into powder which you can use to make things from soap and body lotion to smoothies and jam. They showed us how to make these huge slabs of soap, cut them into smaller pieces, put them in a chilly room, then smooth the corners, stamp them, and wrap them in banana leaves or plastic.
The thing that shocked me the most in the soap-making process was not even related to soap. They store the soap in a chilly room for about 1 month. The fascinating thing is that the room is not chilly. It is about room temperature for Seattle–21°C, or 70°F. But when we walked in there, we almost shivered, it was so cold. That just proves how hot it is here. Room temperature is freezing for us. You would not believe how hot it felt back outside after being in that room for a minute or 2.
The small factory room was being run at that time by 4 “mamas.” “Mamas” are the women who work there. It is good–employment for women, but it was no suprise to me that they were all female. Four were in the factory, 2 out in seaweed fields (not really fields), and the other 4 somewhere else on the property.
To walk into the room at the end where they diplayed all of their products such as body oil, body lotion, exfoliation cream, soap, and other products, you had to wash your feet first. It was a neat way of cleaning off before going in. There was a little smooth stone platform, and a vase full of cold water. You would spoon some onto your sandy feet using a ladle, because in Paje there is sand everywhere. It is on everything. The roads, the beaches, the restaurants, even the common area of our hostel here has a floor that is sand.
A nice lady there gave us 5 free bars of soap. The Zanzibari are very kind. That is part of what makes us feel so welcome.
Below: Seaweed farms
Below: Cleaning Seaweed
Below: Soap cutting and Soap making
Below: Cold cloths after the walk down to the beach (felt so good)
Below: Catch of the day