I felt blind coming into Tanzania. YCI did its best telling me what it would be like, but until you have experienced it there is no supplement. Coming to Africa is associated with its obvious fears such as security and stability within the country. Although it has only been six days, I can comfortably say that these no longer worry me. WIth necessary precautions taken such foolish worries can be forgotten and the true experience of Africa can come out.
The arrival into Tanzania did not go as smoothly as we intended. Upon arrival into the Dar Es Salaam airport we had to go through customs and apply for a visa. This was known to be a bit of a process, but once everyone around us got theirs within 20 minutes of waiting it worried us. Not only were we kept in the dark about what was going on, it took two hours to process. By the time our names were called we had convinced ourselves we were getting shipped off. This sounds completely illogical but after traveling for 35 hours, the brain tends to loose its rationality.
After this little delay, we stayed in a local hotel for two days to undergo orientation to prepare us for our projects. This was great all round. We got our first taste of the culture, but we didn’t dive straight into it by staying with the home stays. The food in Tanzania is incredible. All the fruits and vegetables are grown fresh here so whenever they are ordered in a restaurant they are the freshest. Ugali is the staple foor of Tanzania and is used as a starch for a meal. Although I found it a bit bland mixing it with the other foods on the plate results in delicious flavours. I’m not a picky eater but even if I was one, I couldn’t imagine not liking the food here, especially the futari. Futari is made up of whatever the cook wants. When I had it with my home stay family, it was a combination of beans, sweet potatoes, and coconut. Needless to say but this was my favourite dish thus far. At the YCI office in Dar we had an incredible combination of beef stew, cabbage salad, fruit salad, and chapati (similar to naan bread). Chapati was unknown to me before this trip but is now one of my favourite foods. The ways i’ve had it has been the perfect consistency where it isn’t too dry but not soggy. This is definitely one of the biggest things I’ll miss when I leave Tanzania.
One thing that I have still not gotten used to is the sleeping. Apparently it is normal for people to wake up multiple times a night due to prayer call (4:30 a.m.) or the roosters start at around 5:30 a.m. I’ve yet to sleep past the first rooster call yet but it is alright because I’m so excited for the next day to begin, it almost doesn’t matter.
Each day is another chance to soak up the culture. Being a third world country it will have it’s poverty but it is different than what I expected. All the main streets have people begging for money, be it men, women, even children. It is tough to see, but the most interesting thing about it is how the others live. A lot of the people who are visibly poor still live life happy and hopeful, which really makes it possible for change. The school where I will be workings in Chamwino, which is an area of Morogoro that is in desperate need for change. The hope and optimism that everyone shows when they see us volunteers gives us reinforcement a,nd our efforts won’t go to waste. Although the poverty in this area is like none I have ever seen, it drives me that much more to make a change for the youth in this region.
Another huge part of my experience here is the transportation. The roads here are insane. From what I can gather the motorists know one rule and that is to stay on the left hand side while driving. Being a pedestrian is scary. You must always be aware of your surroundings because it takes nothing for a motorcycle to try and run you over when you are crossing the same time they want to turn. I have come inches from being hit in the first couple of days which made me learn my lesson, but just today I was nearly hit again. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to tackie the roads here, and all I can say is I’m glad I’m not driving. The cars in Dar where the roads are wider are constantly swerving in and out of traffic, while motorcycles are driving between two cars. One positive thing that came form the roads in Dar is the introduction to the bajaji. This is essentially a three wheeled golf car that drives on the “road”. While in one of these doorless vehicles it is very common to end up passing traffic on the side roads made of dirt and dust. Although they sound dangerous I wouldn’t hesitate to jump in the back of one again. It is just a shame that Morogoro doesn’t have these.
In the six days I’ve been here, I have had some very memorable experiences that remind me that I’m still in a very impoverished country. One of these was a man who greeted me on the street who seemed genuinely friendly. Although this man could only speak swahili, I did my best talking to him while he shook my hand. I had been told it was normal for people to hold my hand while talking to them so I thought nothing of it. I carried on as best I could with him in my broken up swahili, when I picked up that he was asking me if I was American. I then told him I was Canadian and he asked ” Can I come?” This english came out of no where and it struck me that he was only being nice because he thought I could get him into Canada. Although this sounds like it should be normal, it was an event that left a mark on me. Everything had been going very smoothly up to that point, and it reminded me of the desperation that some of the people were in, and how I couldn’t help them. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true that you really have to prioritize when being here and that includes the people you can help.
The last thing I think that is important to include is the attention I get anywhere I go. Seeing a white person is very rare for this city, and if the locals see you it is very common to get many of them to scream “mzungu” at you. At the beginning I thought it was an attack on me, but the more it happened the more I learned that it is a greeting. Although the attention is not always a good thing its pretty handy when you lose someone that you can ask anyone on the street where you’re friend is and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
All in all the six days I’ve had here have been incredible. I knew this trip would be life changing but I never expected it to have such a huge effect. I can’t wait to see what the next three weeks will bring and the success of the project in Chamwino!
– Brian Harnett, Youth Ambassador, YCI 2011
Brian has just completed his first week on project of a 4-week Youth Leadership Team project with MUN HOPE, a student-run non-profit organization dedicated to global health outreach and promotion, at Memorial University.
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