I am writing today from Tanzania, Africa.
It has been a life long dream to come to Africa and after months of planning, I took the long journey of 32 hours from California to Arusha, Tanzania. My trip started on Dec. 31 and I arrived in Tanzania on January 2nd. The first two days were spent recovering from jet lag at my host family’s house in Arusha, about a 2 hour bus ride south of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I have come here to volunteer at several places which will include schools, farms, and a safe house for girls in Kenya, and to go on a safari to photograph wildlife, my life dream.
I hope to see the great wildebeest migration in the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater!
I feel more relaxed now that I am actually here, as I was having some anxiety about being in a new land so far from home. Even with all the traveling I have done in the past couple of years, thinking about starting on a trip to my #1 dream destination took my mind to many places. Fear, excitement, trepidation swirled within me days before departing. I felt butterflies in my stomach for a few mornings before leaving. I knew that the moment I arrived at the airport the familiar sense of adventure would replace those feelings and I would be more relaxed. And so it was.
My journey took me to Medford, Oregon, San Francisco, London, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and finally to Arusha, Tanzania. Going through customs in Arusha went amazingly well. I said goodbye to the two German climbers I met on the plane and wished them a safe journey on their week long trek up Kilimanjaro and got into the line for customs. For some reason the agent didn’t collect the $100 visa fee from me! I wasn’t about to question it! He just gave me a stamped receipt for $100, stamped my visa smiled and sent me on my way! “That’s it?” I said. He indicated all was good and I went through the gate. WOW! It was a good omen and a nice welcome to Africa!
The volunteer coordinator for my first project, Sam Justo, came to greet me at the Kilimanjaro Airport. We recognized each other from our profile photos on the WorkAway.info site I use to find these work trades. Big smiles and nice greetings of Jambo! It was an hour and half drive to our destination, my host family’s house, which is his sister’s home. Mama and Baba Kisiri are in their mid 50’s and have several grown children living at home as well as a neighbor girl named Happy and two grandchildren who are adorable.
A son, James, is the cook for the family. They live on a beautiful farm in a tropical setting with a banana grove, a rose garden, many beautiful trees and beyond the yard are the fields of maze and beans with smaller areas planted with all the veggies they need for their daily meals. A market is down the road for eggs and bread. They have 12 cows which they use for milk, manure for garden compost and they capture the methane gas from the manure for cooking! Baba Kisiri showed me the process which involves several underground cement storage vats where the manure ferments and where the gas rises and is captured via pipes that connect to the small kitchen stove. Interesting! Cooking with cow farts! Amazing! They have solar backup for electric lights as the town electric supply is sketchy. They live very comfortably and the household is peaceful, everyone living in harmony. There are farm hands and a sweet house gal who cleans daily. The women who are mothers are named for their first born. I am Mama Tessa! I think of my girl every time they address me, which is sweet!
Baba (papa) Kisiri worked as a big game hunting guide for many years and as a safari guide for Thomson’s Safaris which now has it’s offices near Boston. The amazing coincidence is that two days after he told me his work history I got a reply email from one of the safari companies I had researched and inquired with back home. It happened to be Thomson’s! What are the chances? I will reply to let them know I am living at the Kisiri’s house!
On my second day my new friends Sam, Rachel and Maglan brought me to the Maasai market. It involved a MAJOR dose of culture shock for me! I was the only white person there and got many stares, as I do everyday when walking through dusty streets to town, always accompanied by one of the Kisiri family members or Sam. I am always addressed kindly with varying greetings, for which I try to remember the proper responses in Swahili. It can be confusing to remember which response goes with which greeting and my friends laugh when I get it wrong and kindly correct me and give me help.
I brought my new camera along to the market in hopes of getting some shots of the scenes there. I felt uncomfortable taking pictures as we walked. I didn’t want to be rude. It wasn’t until it started to rain slightly and we stood under a roof for cover that I was able to get the shots I had hoped for with my telephoto lens, from a distance.
I have worked two days in the nearby school which has students ages 5-13. It’s a 10 minute walk from the house and Sam accompanies to school each day. I helped out with English and math classes, correcting homework mostly and teaching an art class for the older kids. The children are adorable and seem to like having a volunteer. We drew animals, flowers and fruit.
Yesterday the head teacher and I, accompanied by two friends from the farm, traveled two hours by public transportation to see if we could see Mount Kilimanjaro. Baba Kisiri warned me that morning that we were leaving too late, that the mountain would be clouded over and that we were wise to postpone the trip until the next morning when we could get an earlier start. Against his advice, we went anyway, as the others were confident we would see it and by then we were all set for our adventure. The bus ride was reminiscent of my rides in Dominican Republic last winter. Same mini van, same crowded rides packed with more people than seats. I was glad to have had the introduction to this style of travel last year as it can be pretty claustrophobic! Again, I was the only pale one but I enjoy being the minority! 🙂
The driver made many, many stops along the way to pick up more and more passengers and then after about an hour and a half drive a small glimpse of the summit of Kilimanjaro could be seen poking through the clouds! I was able to take a few shots from the bus window. The clouds were thick and I had little hope of seeing the entire mountain this day. We got off at a stop before Moshi town at the intersection of the road which leads to the trailhead of Kilimanjaro, 18 km away. Many vans carrying trekkers and climbers passed by with gear loaded on top, plastic water jugs for porters to haul, dangling off the roof racks. My friend Maglan has been a porter and is going up again next month. Sounds like a lot of hard work carrying all that weight!
There were food vendors on the corner in rustic wooden buildings with plastic chairs out back where we sat for hours waiting for the clouds to clear for a better view. I had even less hope of this happening as the clouds grew thicker and darker but my travel companions were committed to getting me a decent view and urged me to stay many more hours. We walked and talked, sat around drinking Fanta soda, pooled our Tanzanian shillings for some lunch and waited some more. The good thing was that I got more lessons in Swahili! “Akuna Matata” (no worries). “We came here to do this so we will stay” they said. I gave into it, regardless of the 90-100 degree heat and the exhaustion I was beginning to feel. Finally at 5:30 pm we gave it up, crossed the street and waited for a bus to bring us home, agreeing to return another morning with a much earlier departure. Many people stood by the roadside waiting for vans and busses to take them to the Arusha market and many vans jammed packed with people stopped to cram even more passengers into their midst. We waited for a better ride, for a chance to sit, not stand. Our waiting proved helpful. The Dar Express came by and the conductor climbed out and called out “Arusha”. There were enough seats for the four of us and we were happy to find that we scored the best ride around…air conditioning, plush coach seating and even a movie playing on small video screens. I sat back and relaxed, signed a big breath of relief to be out of the scorching heat and a smile came across my face, happy to have new friends….in Africa.