More Is Not Enough: At Least In Mababu, Tanzania It’s Not

A cocoa tree canopy overhead made it seem even darker than it was as the sun was setting. I was walking on a narrow trail in the maze of other trails crisscrossing each other in the Tanzanian rainforest with a small group of cocoa farmers and pretty sure if I didn’t keep up that Google Maps would be of no help. Anyone who knows me knows that I love walking and talking. It’s my chance to ask questions. We’d just visited Wilson’s kinfolk on his little farm who were mourning his death a month ago. We went to pay our respects to his family and say “pole sana.” We sat under a large shade tree in front of his house and as I listened to his siblings tell stories I remembered his kind face. He’d been sick for a long time they said. He was an original member of the small cocoa farming cooperative where I’ve been sourcing beans for many years. We gathered for a moment of silence around his tidy dirt grave decorated with a small wooden cross next to his wife’s and a few feet from their house. The walk back to the village center with Mama Mpoki – the Chairwoman of the cooperative – and four other farmers got me thinking which led to conversation.

 As we walked back I was pondering the ways in which the villagers respond to each other in times of death and grief. I played the tape in my mind from a few days before when the farmers all gathered at their central fermentation and drying site in the middle of the village and worked together to move our fermented cocoa beans onto the nearby drying pads in the sun. They stand shoulder to shoulder–men and women and mothers and grandmothers carrying babies in a sling–and pass buckets of beans to each other, all the way down the line. They laugh, talk, and gossip and I loved working right alongside them. The word is joy. Joy is pretty much universally recognizable in any culture. I’ve observed it during shared meals, at worship, while working and walking. So I asked Mama Mpoki, “What is the secret to your joy at work, I saw it, I don’t think it was made up for the sake of my visit?” Her answer confused me, “We will not permit more than 65 members in our cooperative.” I said, “OK, but what does that have to do with farmers staying after meetings lingering and clearly enjoying each other?”

 Mama Mpoki explains “We’ve written this membership limit into our constitution. We decided that 65 members is enough. The secret is that we trust each other. If there were more members then we might not be able to manage that trust in the same way we do now.”

 Make no mistake about it, the farmers want better education for their children, sturdier housing that won’t blow away in a storm, greater access to basic medical care, electricity, running water. Yes, they have hope for these things but somehow in their absence, in their poverty, they have dignity and joy. This daily living of a “more is not enough” life inspires me and gives me great hope in the future of humanity. Spending time with them over the years as their friend gives me hope for myself.