| May 2, 2016 |
I fell in love the way you fall asleep:
Slowly, and then all at once.
– John Green, “The Fault in Our Stars” –
I never thought it would be this difficult to verbalize my two weeks in Tanzania. It seems as if I were away for an eternity with the amount I learned and grew during my Volunteer Mission Trip with EduTours Africa. It is now one week since my return to the United States, and I’ve finally weaved through the 1.5K photos I took, read my handwritten journal (yes, I was tech-free on this trip), and processed my experiences (kind of). Before I left for Tanzania, I thought I understood the magnitude of “wanderlust,” but my experience in East Africa gave my wanderlust heart a new beat. As I journeyed with like-minded Physical Therapists and DPT students, I felt inspired beyond comprehension. The culture, landscapes, and people I encountered in the country enhanced my belief in the good of the world and the expansive, unimaginable beauty afar. I was in constant awe, with each day posing new surprises and deepening my appreciation for Tanzania and Africa. In a mere two weeks, I felt completely integrated into the culture, and one with the people.
Disclaimer: I attempted to limit this list to 5 items, but it would do injustice to my true feelings for Tanzania and East Africa. So, here’s my not-so-succinct, 13-item list of ways I fell in love with Tanzania.
Lush flowers and landscapes.
I experienced many jaw-dropping moments in light of the African landscapes. It’s not that I didn’t expect Africa to be beautiful, but the expansive beauty was far beyond expectations. The vibrant flowers and lush greenery were simply humbling and grounding. I couldn’t help but think: Wow, what a wonderful world. #nofilter
A community-centered culture.
Driving on International Road (the main road in Arusha with only four traffic lights), we saw people out and about all day. The markets are bustling, children walk to/from school, and people socialize along the streets. The community possesses a strong sense of “togetherness,” such as with the mentality of “it takes a village to raise a child.” At certain centers our group volunteered at, the blood-related parents and children are indistinguishable within the community. This is because a child’s well-being is the social responsibility of all individuals present – not solely the biological parents. Sadly, there are often gaps in this mentality when children are born with disabilities due to other cultural beliefs and norms. [More on this later]
In Tanzania, everyone takes extra time to greet each other. There’s a myriad of ways to say “hello” in Swahili – all used depending on time of day, to whom it’s directed, and what is asked. It’s an essential part of Tanzanian culture. All greetings have specific responses and, similar to Western culture, most responses are generated to say all is good (rather than focusing on the negative). In the USA, we are used to a quick “hello” and wave, but greetings in Tanzania could take several minutes. It’s not uncommon to be asked how you are, along with the wellbeing of your: parents, siblings, chickens, cattle, hut, etc. Here are examples of greetings we learned in our Swahili lessons:
This phrase literally means “I hold your feet,” and is a greeting directed at an elder. We were taught to greet someone older than us with this phrase, and they’d appropriately respond with “marahaba” to appreciate the respect. How simply beautiful!
Sleeping in mosquito net canopies.
It’s enchanting to wake up with the morning glow shining through a sheer, shimmering, white barrier to the outside world. It truly felt like I was a princess in a secretive sleeping hideout.
Mt. Meru waterfall hike.
As if the lush landscapes throughout the country weren’t enough, our group went on a scenic 12-mile hike through Maasai villages, forested areas, and rushing streams. The challenging path led to a breathtaking waterfall. As I stood at the foot of the raging falls, I felt invigorated as water whirled all around me. Soaked and awe-struck, I was anew. [More on this later]
Surprisingly (for me), there is a strong Indian influence in the foods of East Africa. While I could not even look at white rice by the end of the trip (not something typically in my diet), I did not get sick of the curried meats and richly flavored meals. Also, when we had access to filtered water, I indulged in the freshest fruits and veggies – avocado, red bananas, cucumbers… Happy belly!
Coffee, coffee, coffee.
Praise the Tanzanian coffee Gods! From the morning coffee at our lodges to a plantation excursion at Kimemo Holdings Ltd., my morning cup was always muddy and bursting with robust flavor. I drank all my coffee just as I like it: black as night, sans sugar and milk.
Tanzania is rich in cultural tradition. With over 130 tribes in Tanzania, there are tons of traditions, but the Maasai in particular stay true to their roots. The tribe lives a nomadic life centered around raising livestock (cattle), and will travel many miles to find them fresh food and water. A Maasai man will have as many children he needs to take care of his cattle, and therefore may have many wives. More cattle = more children. Makes sense. For males, the warrior mentality is still eminent, and young boys may be seen herding cattle along the road (probably as young as two! It was interesting to see little boys chasing after dozens of cattle!). Maasai homes are made of vertical timber poles plastered with mud, sticks, grass, cow manure, human urine, and ash and are typically constructed by women (wahoo – girl power!). Interestingly, mobile devices have helped the Maasai tribe as they can now find shelter in a friend’s neighboring region, rather than starting from scratch. They phone a friend, find a hut to live in, and make sure their cattle are well nourished. It’s truly beautiful to see people living this way when our Western society is centered on a myriad of materialistic things. Imagine simply revolving our lives around a herd cattle…?
Haraka haraka haina baraka.
Our group of Westerners had a hard time adjusting to “Tanzania time.” As this Swahili proverb says, nothing good comes from rushing (basically, haste makes waste). Everyone takes it easy with no stress. Our “9am” departure time usually meant 9:15… 9:30… 9:45… We just never knew! Everything in Africa is “pole pole” – slowly, slowly. Honestly, I appreciated “go with the flow,” and much prefer not being on a time crunch (maybe because I am really good at being “fashionably” late?). Oh, and just because we thought it was literally spelt “hyena,” here’s two that were in no apparent hurry at all!
This song by Navy Kenzo defined our trip! One of our bus drivers/guides first played it, then we freestyle danced with performers at IBUKA DANCE Foundation during our African dance lesson. We just couldn’t get enough… Can you?
Baby safari animals.
Need I say more? I could barely contain myself when we met the lion and her two cubs. [More on this later]
Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro were shy throughout our stay in Tanzania, but they both made dramatic appearances above the city skyline on our last day. We revered their majestic presence, looming over Arusha as protectors and symbols of the diverse landscapes. (Left: Mt. Kilimanjaro, Right: Mt. Meru)
There’s a lot more where this came from!
My First Mission Trip
Mission Trip Do’s + Don’ts
Tanzania Disability Overview
Destinations in Arusha, Tanzania
East African Safari: Ngorongoro Crater
East African Safari: Tarangire National Park
Safari + Tanzania Travel Tips