Arusha Times

2009

Book ID 990

See also

Arusha Times, 2009
Extract Author: Elisha Mayallah
Page Number: 558
Extract Date: 14 March 2009

Journey to the Polish Refugees Cemetery in Tengeru

Arusha's unpredictable March rain had taken a brief reprieve when I had the intriguing invitation from Mr. Willy Lyimo, Branch Manager of Tanzania Tourist Board in Arusha. "Visit Tengeru and write about the historical site to World War II when Polish refugees found their way to Africa", said Mr. Lyimo. My answer: "Sure, why not""

The temperature was over 26 degrees C, at ten that Wednesday morning. The heat compounded by the warm air coming through the countryside under the topography of Mount Meru, 4566 m, the small-town of Tengeru was alive when my friend Mshana and I arrived at the market. The sprawling banana and coffee farms nearby offered a welcoming sighting for a visitor"s eye.

Tengeru offers a busy market on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the residents mainly farmers spread their farm produces on stalls and walkways. The delightful pedestrian area of Tengeru market and its environs offers some great shopping bargains. The elaborate shoppers out for groceries will be impressed to find huge and various greens on sale, mostly selling at half the price comparing with other markets in the neigbourhood.

But never having heard of a Polish cemetery before and against the background of Mount Meru, which dominated the horizon, we sought out anyone who might know of the Cemetery of Polish War Refugees as we drove past the Livestock Training Institute [LITI].

We stopped a pedestrian along the road who was very helpful. Fortunately he knew all about the Polish cemetery and gave us directions. We drove down a beautiful lane bordered on both sides by ancient and very lofty trees. The road was narrow and uneven while bananas and coffee plants grew all around in the fertile soil.

Finally, we came to halt. Before us was a whitewashed wall with a metal gate. The site of the Polish cemetery, we learned, it is nearly 16 kms away from Arusha and lay within the grounds of a former large agricultural college developed by the Polish refugees, and now called Livestock Training Institute.

"And so it began in 1942, when Soviet Russia became an American ally in the fight against Hitler. During the Second World War, thousands of Polish citizens had travelled out of the Siberian work camps across Russia, Persia, Iran and India," Said Simon Joseph, the guide at the cemetery, while unlocking the cemetery gates.

A large cemetery came into view surrounded by a wall gate with 150 graves scattered all over. Near the entrance, a simple stone monument written (in Polish, English and Swahili) that these were the graves of Polish exiles who had been unable to return to their homeland.

We walked among the headstones with the guide Joseph for some time, reading the Polish names and dates, looking at the Roman and Orthodox crosses, (as well as the few Stars of David) carved upon them.

All the stones were beautifully clean and Simon"s father, Joseph Andrea who is now 103 years old, was the former guide who handed over the keys to his son eight years ago. It was interesting to learn that it is the same family that has been behind the upkeep of this memorable and special historical site.

According to Simon the Polish escape began when they considered Siberia as a hostile territory. And then the International Refugee Organization and the British government finally found a safe place for these wandering Poles. Their next stop was East Africa.

Around Christmas 1942, the International Refugees Organization made preparations to transport Polish refugees to Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya in East Africa. A small group of refugees headed to Mexico. Three ships, carrying approximately 5,000 people each, mostly orphans and people working with the orphans, embarked in the Persian Gulf and set sail for the Indian Ocean.

After the two ships crossed the equator, they arrived in Kenya"s Port of Mombassa and nearly 10,000 Poles reached out in Africa travelling with their cattle, initially settling in Nairobi briefly, but later moved on to Tanganyika to find good pastureland for their livestock. And many of them had ended in Tengeru [then known as Duluti] and found it cool to settle, and new way of life began for the Polish refugees in Camp Tengeru, Tanganyika!

However, the exhausting journey which spanned many weeks, at times, left many of refugees weak and sick stemming out from lack of food as many were to die after arrival at Camp Tengeru. And many more died later due to the suffering of malaria and influenza, and they were buried at the cemetery. Camp Tengeru this was the place where several hundred of those Poles had ended their lives, waiting in vain to return home in 1944.

Food supply grown from the fertile farms surrounding the area were easily accessible to the Poles as well as fresh meat from cows and pigs until the year 1950 when the International Refugees Organization began assisting people in locating family members throughout the world.

Some of those who survived and willing to return after the war began their long journey with stops in Nairobi, Italy and Germany and on to the United States. A few of them secured Tanzanian citizenship and destined their life in the country. May 9 every year is now marked to commemorate freedom and the end of Second World War which claimed about 6 million Polish lives.

Many tourists from Poland who visits Arusha take time to visit the Tengeru cemetery and November 2, every year is commemorated by a prayer to remember the dead. About 300 Polish make their pilgrim visit to the cemetery ever year and the Counsellor of the Republic of Poland takes care of the cemetery.

Extract ID: 5906

See also

Arusha Times, 2009
Extract Author: Valentine Marc Nkwame
Page Number: 558
Extract Date: 14 March 2009

When Arusha war ended, the British wept

Tira Shubart relaxes on the front porch of the Patisserie near Clock Tower. Her Arusha-based film, "Taking the Flak" is now complete and will be aired on BBC-2 anytime this year.

But as the veteran journalist turned producer sips her morning coffee, somebody makes her angry; an arrogant German tourist, who bulldozed his way to the next table, had apparently said something bad about Arusha.

" This little, dirty town " were among the words he used.

Now if Tira has a favourite place in the world then it is Arusha, she visits the town every year and has been doing so for the last decade.

"It is like a pilgrimage to me," she says, "Arusha is beautiful. I have made lots of friends here "

And this arrogant German is now busy insulting the place.

"This German is probably a tourist who has been here for just three days, knows nothing about the town yet is already judging it," Tira, who co-produced "Taking the flak" stated.

Coincidentally "Flak" is German acronym for anti-aircraft gun.

"Come to think of it, if I had met this guy a year ago I would have probably convinced him to act his own role in "Taking the flak!" she says with a smile as her anger melts into the prospects of this rather bright idea.

Taking the facts

"Taking the Flak," is a forthcoming comedy-adventure sitcom set to appear on BBC-2 later this year. It is set in a small civil war-torn African country known as "Karibu."

The action takes place between a team of BBC journalists sending back live war reports to BBC News at Ten.

The German"s attitude at the Patisserie wasn"t a new one either. When she shifted the filming project from Nakuru to Arusha, the Kenyan crew involved were sceptic.

"They had never been here and what they have been hearing about this country may not have been that good besides, Tanzania does not even have a film industry, so they tried to talk me out of shifting the film shooting to Arusha," she recalls.

In the movie, the foreign journalists who claim to know everything about Africa are the ones who get sent here to cover the on-going war in Karibu.

However, as days go on, they realize (to their surprise) that what they thought they knew about this continent did not even come close to the actual reality.

Taking the flat plains

Part 1 of the sitcom was filmed in Nakuru in early 2007 but when a real civil war broke out in Kenya following the country"s General Elections the following December, the shooting had to be shifted to Tanzania.

Arusha was chosen as the alternative location being only 4 hours drive from Nairobi, almost the same distance from the Kenyan Capital to Nakuru. Parts 2 -7 were thus filmed here.

So how could the Nakuru scenery fit with that of Arusha?

"Most of it was just landscape shots that look the same," said Tira. But the script was slightly adjusted to explain the change from the original hotel used in Nakuru to Arusha"s Equator Hotel, or "The New Waterbuck" as it is known in the film.

According to the story, the first hotel in which the journalist had set up base in Karibu (then Nakuru) got shelled by bombs (after all, there is a war going on) therefore the team had to find another base the "Waterbuck" (Hotel Equator); very clever.

On the fiction part there is Samson Pambazuka the rebel leader, Sarah Simba an opposition activist living in exile abroad and Kubisana the current president of Karibu.

Anyway, in between them there is a major war (or movie) going on. Arusha (or Karibu) is the ultimate battleground.

The series is written by Tira Shubart, Sandra Jones and Jon Rolph. It stars Martin Jarvis, Doon Mackichan, Bruce Mackinnon, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Lloyd Owen, Mackenzie Crook and Ruby Wax.

A pilot for "Taking the Flak" was filmed in January 2007 in Kenya under the working title "The Calais Rules." The BBC later commissioned the series, filmed in the city of Nakuru before being later shifted to Arusha in 2008.

"Kisongo plains provided wonderful sceneries; the gorges, valleys, scattered villages, endless flat landscapes, hills and mountains. We also enjoyed filming in different locations of Usa-River, the Arusha airport and the town center," said Tira.

"Taking the flak" eventually covered more than 20 locations of Arusha. There were 50 official crews a third of whom were Kenyans. In some days the set had to employ more than 100 extras.

Two of the script writers, Shubart and Jones are journalists, and the series was filmed by an award-winning news cameraman.

The film cast include, Doon Mackichan as Jane Thomason acting as the BBC Producer. Bruce Mackinnon playing Harry Chambers the BBC Stringer in Karibu and Martin Jarvis as David Bradburn the Correspondent.

Others were Joanna Brookes as Margaret Hollis, BBC World Service radio, Lydia Gitachu as Grace Matinko, receptionist at The Waterbuck hotel, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Joyful, the local fixer in Karibu, Damian O'Hare as Rory Wallace, BBC cameraman.

There was also the team in In London: Harry Lloyd as Alexander, the Desk Producer and a dozen BBC Newsreaders as themselves!

In most episodes there are guest stars from the UK and Kenya including: Ruby Wax, Sean Power, David Mulwa, Rosalind Ayres, Rhashan Stone, TK Kitana, Rufus Gerrard.

Most of the storylines are based on Shubart's own experiences as journalist who has covered 50 countries in over 20 years.

Supporting acts in the film were people working in local communities around Arusha. One such artist was Neema George, a worker in an education centre here. Some tourists were also used in filming the show, including Fraser Ross and Stephanie Wilson, both from Scotland.

American actor and singer, Will Smith who was in Arusha sometimes during the filming time, ran into the cast at The Arusha Hotel but decided to ignore them by barricading himself with a fortress of bodyguards.

Taking the flash

Now, Arusha is known for its regular power outages courtesy of the ineffective local power supplier, TANESCO. So how did the film-maker cope with such inconveniences?

"We brought in a special power generator for filming from Nairobi," said Tirra explaining that the machine had to be a silent one so as to limit noise interference with ongoing production.

Was there thunder and flashes of light as the war torn "Karibu" experienced heavy gunfire and exploding houses?

"Basically "Taking the flak" is a war comedy," explained Tira but the war runs in the background, the film addresses ordinary episodes of people going on with their normal lives, (including falling in love) as the war goes on."

So will it be a bit like "Casablanca"? We asked. "Well not exactly, much as I would have liked my film to be compared to the great classic. Casablanca has more serious tone, while "Taking the flak" is on the funny side.

The "fall in love" scene is played at Hotel Equator, where one of the journalists falls in love with a receptionist .

In reality however, the cast did fall in love with Arusha. "The Kenyans who were adamant at first not only liked Arusha but even considered of moving into the town for good," said Tira.

Taking the parts

" The Arusha Hotel was just superb; we turned one of its conference rooms into an operational studio. The hotel was also our main base and I can say the services were very good," the producer stated.

They had to build most of their own sets though some readymade scenery such as the Meserani Snake Park, Sykes building and Tanzanite Hotel (Usa River) came in handy.

The Nane-nane fairgrounds of Njiro on the other hand proved to be even better for the ultimate film climax; a political rally scene.

The seven-part sitcom ends with the war being over and Karibu undergoing "free and fair" elections.

Whatever the outcome, that is how an Arusha war ended but at the lobby of The Arusha Hotel the British cast shed tears; the producer explained, "They wept because Arusha people were so good to them and the thought of leaving the town pained them!"

Well, but will there be a sequel or maybe prequel? Tira isn't ruling out the possibility, especially if the "flak" becomes a runaway success.

After all, the British cried when the first war (or film), was over.

Extract ID: 5905
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