Mount Meru Hike and Education in Tanzania
| November 2, 2017 |
– From August 20, 2017 in Tanzania, Africa –
By August 20th, it felt like I had been in Africa for an eternity. It wasn’t because time was dragging, and it certainly wasn’t because it had been too long. Rather, it felt as though our group had accomplished so much! Although I didn’t feel ready to be done with service, I knew it was time for some well-deserved rest with our service group. We had put a great deal of energy into making our volunteer work at Step-By-Step Learning Centre and Shanga successful, so we were ready for the second part of our journey together in Tanzania.
Our first day of “rest” was a hike at the base of Mt. Meru. This dormant stratovolcano sits 70 kilometers west of Mount Kilimanjaro and 14,977 feet above sea level. Located in Arusha National Park, the mountain is visible from many parts of the city. In April 2016, I only saw Mt. Meru on the day I left Tanzania as the rainy season clouded its view (even on this same hike!). However, in the dry season, the prevalence of Meru was notable on most days. It looms over Arusha in a similar way Mount Rainier overlooks Seattle; some days its presence is hazy and barely visible, while others it’s features are clearly exposed.
Our Stony Brook Seawolves crew of Physical Therapists and students headed on a memorable and active day together, in the mountains and valleys of Tanzania that had completely shifted my gears in 2016…
In April 2016, a large group of students from Northwestern University and 4 Doctors of Physical Therapy were the guinea pigs for EduTour’s plan to incorporate this hike into volunteer programming. The result was… interesting. Tyler had looked into the hike and planned it for our group, but we started at the wrong spot (in the middle of the village, hiking along the streets), which added ~2 miles to our trip! The entire hike itself is about 10 miles, with 900 feet of elevation gain in one direction. In April 2016, our stats showed the following:
Reflection after the long, exhausting hike led students to feel they probably would NOT have done the hike if they knew it would be this challenging, but were PROUD they accomplished it! Plus, lessons learned last year led us to be a little more prepared this time around! We started at the correct location, brought water/snacks, and were prepared with a change of shoes for after the hike! Unfortunately, I don’t have a tracking for our hike this year because Ake wasn’t on this trip (missed ya!), and Robert is in possession of our “climbing team altimeter.”
Before we started the hike, our 2017 crew of Seawolves got a tour at Child to Child (CTC) Education, a public school in Tanzania. We saw the classrooms, body diagrams labeled in Swahili (SO COOL!!!!), and some lessons. Some interesting facts about the school system in Tanzania is included below!
School In Tanzania
- Primary school is grades 1-7 (equivalent to elementary and middle school in the USA), and secondary school is grades 8-13 (equivalent to high school).
- Some primary school days are about 3 hours, from 8:30ish (Tanzania time!) to 12:30pm.
- One of the most interesting and perplexing facts I learned is:Primary school is taught in Swahili, with lessons in English; secondary school is taught in English, with lessons in Swahili.
- A very low percentage of individuals complete secondary education in Tanzania. Why? Either they don’t pass the exam to graduate from primary to secondary school (~50% passing rate), they can’t understand the classes taught in English… or a variety of other reasons (need to be home with the family, too far from the school, etc.).
- Some tribal cultures (i.e. Maasai) prefer their children don’t receive ANY formal education.
- Pregnant girls are frequently expelled from school, and current President John Magufuli is encouraging this to continue. He even stated the girls should not return to school after giving birth. (Recent news in June 2017, read here)
- Private primary schools were illegal until Tanzanian independence in 1961. Now, private schools offer improved education, but not all locals can afford the tuition. (Read more here, from 2015)
- In the 1980’s, a fee was established for schools, in addition to the requirement of families to pay for supplies and uniforms. This was taxing on many families, considering a UNICEF survey in 2007-2011 showed 67.9% of the population is below the $1.25 USD/day International poverty line. Now, Tanzania is again implementing free education, as promised by President Magufuli. (Read here)
- There are also International schools in Tanzania, some of which follow the National Curriculum of England. Some examples in Arusha are:
Clearly, getting an education in Tanzania can be difficult for a variety of reasons, and the low percentage of students achieving secondary education is striking. In 2005, 13.63 per 1,000 people achieved a secondary level of education (according to NationMaster). The language gap in education seems to lead to a large level of confusion in students, and I’m curious to see how this will continue to change, in hopes of evolution in a positive way for the Tanzanian people. President Magufuli pledged to decrease corruption and reform education.
Note: We didn’t learn all this information during our tour at CTC, but my accumulation of knowledge and research led me to share this knowledge with you. Please feel free to comment below with questions or thoughts!
Mt. Meru Waterfall Hike
There was a level of familiarity with this hike – the guides, general landscapes, and feeling the forest emitted. We hiked through a varied landscape, from tall tress, to local villages, to vast valleys overlooking Arusha. Beyond this hike being memorable for the scenery, it’s immersive into local, tribal culture, hiking between mud huts, cows grazing, and kids playing.
Our hike initiated with a variety of flowers to welcome us, from African tulips, to brightly colored vines. Lo was so excited to get up close and personal (finally!) with an African tulip tree, as we had driven by a bunch, but couldn’t get close enough for a photo!
We started passing villagers early on, and were greeted “Good Morning” by a young child… who trailed behind us for QUITE some time. We were hysterically laughing, relatively uncontrollably, in response. This was the most enthusiastic greeting we got from the children!
As we traveled along the road, a clearing in the trees revealed Mt. Meru!
The impressive sights didn’t stop there, though. We made it to an overlook of Arusha where we spent a good amount of time snapping photos, and soaking in our surroundings…
Around the time we discovered a giant, beautiful, AMAZING tree, a group of children showed their interest in our “mzungu” group.
One of the girls had the genius idea to bring her InstaPix camera to Tanzania, which came in handy to leave our memory with the people we interacted with! We had taken photos at Step-By-Step to give to children and staff, and were now able to share a photo with local villagers.
The group of kids that began following us were almost playing a game of “Red Light, Green Light, 1, 2, 3” with us. Every time we turned around, they’d run away and yell, then begin following us again when we started walking. Lo showed them the camera, and offered a polaroid photo to the group… which they were preeeeetty hesitant to see! Our guide showed them a photo, though, and they were then interested. We snapped a photo of the group, and gave it to them as we waved goodbye to their smiling faces.
It’s important to note here that taking photos of the locals is not encouraged. These kids were interacting with us in a way that the guide reported was appropriate, but some kids were following us asking for money. One kid actually yelled at us in Swahili from a distance, saying that if we took his picture, he would gouge our eyes out (translated by our guide). Some of them would yell, “Take my picture!” and then run away. Even MORE importantly is that GIVING these kids money IS ABSOLUTELY NOT APPROPRIATE. No matter how good it feels to give money to these children, who are clearly in need, this is NOT going to aide them in their poverty relief. There will be more discussion on this later, but PLEASE do not give to those who are begging. I promise this is not beneficial, in an way, and in fact perpetuates the cycle of poverty…
Our journey continued between more huts, until reaching a wild forest where we were alerted to look out for dik diks (tiny deer! …which we didn’t see, sadly). The tall tress were humbling, and they reminded me of my thoughts in April 2016. This hike had actually catapulted me to make a change upon my return to the United States. My cumulative experience in Tanzania had made me reconsider my “salt life” in Florida, and instead pursue a life in the mountains of Washington State. I mean, look at these trees! Tell me they don’t speak to you!
We stopped to snack on some berries and mint leaves before descending the rocky path toward the river bank that would lead us to the waterfall! Our guide warned us of the children along the river that would try to guide us, as they typically ask for tips. The hike down to the river is full of roots, rocks, and moss, but luckily wasn’t too slippery in the dry season! It’s also quite steep, so paying attention to footing is important here. We later saw a group of women descending down the path with baskets balanced on their head – a feat that never ceases to impress me! Once down by the river, we were surrounded by running streams and small waterfalls in a lush, green forest. It felt as if we had plunged into the depths of the Amazon, and our energy was renewed.
After a few smaller, teaser waterfalls, we arrived at the main attraction! The waterfall reaches a few hundred feet high (stats unknown), its waters were inviting and refreshing to those of us who dared to enter the cool pool…
Our hard work didn’t go unnoticed. When we arrived back at our starting point, we were greeted with a local dish and meal outside. We reveled on our success, passing fresh avocado and tea between bites of sukuma wiki (collard greens!) and beans…
What an awesome day to be alive!
Swahili Lesson of the Day
THE BEST Kiswahili phrase ever is: “Poa kichizi kama ndizi ndani ya friji.” This translates to, “I’m cool as a banana in the fridge,” as a response to the question of “how are you?”