I planned several stops on my long journey to Tanzania. First, I took the overnight bus to Boston to spend 5 days with Adriana before my long exodus in Africa. It was the perfect getaway we both needed in one of North-America most beautiful city… 2nd to Montreal of-course ;). And since Adriana is a Harvard graduate, she knows Boston inside out and I was treated to a deluxe tour of the city. To top it off, both of us also have many good friends there and we shared some great time together. In particular, I spent 2 extra days with Alex and his family for some quality and fun times with close friends.
Next stop was London: There, I wanted to visit my NGO’s headquarter and meet FutureSense and INSPIRE staff and directors. And what a breath of fresh air was it to meet face to face with the team, especially Simon and Prakriti. Many NGOs exists but few if any have the visionary skills Simon brings in directing FutureSense organization. Any hesitation I had prior to my trip vanished in a wisp while listening to Simon and sharing opinions & ideas about volunteering and its role. I then headed to London to meet with my very good friend Laura where I spent the next couple of days. Unfortunately, Laura had some business emergency and we couldn’t hang out much but on the other hand, I managed to re-unite with Adele after my 2 year hiatus and we had so much to catch up with.
I “escaped” London prior to the riots (and no, I had nothing to do with them ;). Ironically, we were just discussing about London and what a beautiful, socially active and overall safe city it is and that I might want to live there after my endeavors. I guess if it can happen in Vancouver it can happen anywhere, eh? AnywayZ, I personally blame it on Apple: it’s all this iPhone/iPad craze. Everyone wants to get his/her hand on one.
Jambo! “Welcome to Africa”!
Here I am, setting foot for the first time ever on the African continent! It was a glorious feeling landing in Tanzania, as if I just discovered a new land to explore. Quickly, where can I buy a motorcycle?? ;). As I walked out of the airport and took a ride to my hostel, my senses where absorbing everything around me. Although I am over any culture shock when visiting a new country, Tanzania still caught me by surprise on a couple of fronts: for one, it is way poorer than I had ever imagined and two, the locals are extremely nice.
Allow me to explain: Tanzania is a top tourist destination catering especially to Europeans. My Swiss Air plane of 300 was full of white tourists while African origin travelers could be counted on 1 hand. And if the people coming in and out of Dar Es-Salam airport are a sample of the tourists visiting Tanzania than I can safely gender them as: white, middle aged and rich, many wearing spanking new shoes, cloth and backpacking equipment. Yet as we were driving to our hotel I could see the poverty engulfing this country: un-asphalted and extremely rough roads, litter lining the streets, electricity shortages, run-down houses, hundreds of street vendors selling everything from food, fruits & vegetables to Chinese flashlights and 2nd hand cloth. The Dar Express bus station is a simple dusty parking lot with many tin shops around. Internet shops are few and I would have sworn they were using 56k modem for connections. I thought Tanzania, at least in its major touristic centers, would be on par with Ecuador or Peru in term of living standards… but it was far from it: even Bolivia seems years ahead compared to Tanzania. Disclaimer: My opinions are uniquely driven by my stay in Arusha; however locals and tourists alike keeps reminding me if I am surprised at what I am seeing here, just wait until I visit the non-touristy city & towns. In Arusha, only the major thru fairs are asphalted as well as a few side roads. Otherwise, the city streets are worthy of an off-road moto-cross track: gaping holes litter the rough & rocky streets with the only “reprieve” (sarcasm intended) being the sections of deep sand. Only Land-Cruisers can safely tackle these streets while cars shake & rattle violently, scraping their bottom on every bump in a loud screeching sound, an agonizing scream of something on the verge of disintegrating into pieces.
Here, everyone and everything is covered by a brownish dust layer; never take white or light colored cloth with you to Africa! We have 10-12 hrs of electricity shortage per day and the water pressure varies constantly. My homestay is a lot better than the average Tanzanian home, yet it’s as basic as the homes in remote & small villages I stayed at in South America. We use a bucket and a cup to shower but at least we have a “western” toilet vs. the “hole in the ground” type. Hey, it could be worse; we could be like many of our neighbors who have to go fetch all their water from the public taps spread sporadically around the neighborhood. I do my laundry by hand in the garden using regular soap and couple of buckets of water (for wash and rinse cycles ;)). Mama cooks over charcoal while water for tea is boiled using a kerosene burner.
In sharp contrast, anything touristy is extremely expensive: A 4 day Safari to the Serengeti starts at a minimum of U$D800 in basic camps rising quickly if you choose to stay in lodges. Kilimanjaro climb is a U$D1,200 expedition – during the low season if you please – while Zanzibar luxury hotels show no vacancy during the summer month. And there’s so much more (and expensive) things to do here in Tanzania. Yet, tourists spend, spend and more spend; every morning dozens upon dozens of Land Cruisers packed with Westerners (“wazungu”) head toward Tanzania’s many national parks and nature’s wonders. However, the money itself doesn’t seem to go on a Safari: A Kilimanjaro porter makes ~U$D 7 a day, a far cry from the stinking rich tour companies make or the National Parks Ministry. The unofficial minimum monthly wage hover around 80,000Tsh == U$D 50. A local restaurant meal is U$D 1-2, a soft drink @ 35cents, taxi charges $2-3 for in city trip,… Tanzanian people rarely see any of the tourist money.
Yes, you will be hassled in the street to buy goods and souvenirs, to take a taxi ride or buy a Safari trip, but isn’t it the same in any other touristy destination? Here at least, most of the times a simple no suffice; Tanzanians are extremely nice and respectful people. I won’t lie to you; I did have some apprehension prior to landing her. You know, being lighter colored skin I will stand out in the streets and thought: “I am going to be constantly targeted”. Well I was right!! All these little kids running after me screaming “HowRyou?” :). Other than that, especially while walking in Arusha’s suburbs, I will answer a lot of respectful hellos. I feel safer here than in many South American cities I visited.
My host family is the Kimambo’s and I am their 8th member now… well, not mentioning the many family relatives whom drop by to stay with us for a week or 2. Baba is an assistant preacher, Mama works within a community group as well as farms maize in a small parcel of land she rents. She’s a fun lady, always making the kids laugh and is a great cook.
Gadyel (25) is the elder son but still my little brother ;). He’s an accredited guide although currently un-employed. I am trying to help him start his own Safari company by working as a freelancer and partnering with established tour companies. You’ll hear more about it soon but if you or anyone you know are coming to visit Tanzania, drop me an e-mail and your vacation will be in good hands; my sister Sarah (20) is studying with IATA to become an airline travel specialist or stewardess. Godzef (“Godi” -17) is in secondary school and the do-it-all guy at home. A few cousins stay with us most of the time: Dominique (17), a very bright and hard working high-school kid who I accompanied once to visit his school and chat with his teacher. His brother, Wilbrod (26), is a fun guy and a freelance guide who has no problem being called upon to work. See, Wilbrod speaks 3 foreign languages (English, French and Spanish) and he’s pretty good at them too. So tour companies can send him alone on Safari with a melting pot of clients. I think he can do a lot more with his talent and personality, so let’s see how he exploits it.
And last but not least, Naomi, my 5 year old little sister. Naomi is a pretty fun little girl who just lost her 2 front teeth. She loves to draw, so I will be getting a few souvenirs prior to my return. She’s also trying to teach me Kiswahili but somehow I don’t think that’s going very well. One day sitting & relaxing in the garden, Noami was teaching me the animal names: chicken = “kuku”; Dog = “umbwa”; cat = “nyaw”. That same night while having dinner with my family, our cat Pele jumped in my lap and I proudly said: “nyaw”. Everyone bursted laughing and I just smiled politely thinking “What’s so funny?”. Pointing to Pele, I said “nyaw” again… only to be interrupted: “Yeah, Pele, a cat or “paka” in Kiswahili. Are you trying to talk to him?” :).