My first time on African ground was when I landed in Nairobi, Kenya to connect to my next final flight to Dar es Salaam for YCI orientation. An elderly Dutch man, who told me flies frequently to Congo, occupied the seat beside me on this eight-hour airplane ride. He learned early on that it would be my first time on the continent.
After what felt like centuries, the descent finally began and for the last twenty minutes of the flight, my eyes stayed locked to the beautiful birds-eye landscapes outside my window. When I snapped out of my mesmerization, I turned to look back to the gentleman. His raised eyebrows pointed to the window as he stated simply and matter-of-factly: “Africa.”
Africa, I whispered to myself in response.
A couple hours after that and there I was, exiting the Dar es Salaam airport in Tanzania to be greeted at the outdoor arrivals gate by the very friendly Dowdi, a local taxi driver that helps out YCI by picking up and dropping off its volunteers from the airport.
“Karibu Tanzania!” Welcome to Tanzania, he exclaimed.
“Asante sana!” Thank you very much!
He let out a belt of jolly laughter, to which I chose to interpret as an appreciation of my attempt to speak Swahili.
After getting acquainted and settling into the car, much of the ride was silent as I tried to take in the scenes. I felt like I was watching the opening clips of some sort of African life documentary – a group of young men hanging out by the side of the road, shop vendors posted tightly side by side, ever-so-talented women carrying large baskets on their head, people on bicycles nonchalantly riding in the middle of congested traffic, dala dalas transporting an always-over-capacity number of people to their destinations – just the most interesting snapshots of a different lifestyle, everywhere I looked.
I arrived in Zanzibar days later and was greeted with many Jambos (Hellos) from the local people. In fact, each morning and evening on my walk to and from work, a Jambo never fails to be called out as I walk by the hustle and bustle of the markets – I don’t deny the fact that I definitely stand out even throughout all the commotion!
If the first week in Zanzibar is any indication of how the next six weeks will be here – I am looking forward to some great connections with the local youth and NGO partners, successful progress with our project objectives, and most definitely a tasty surplus of mangoes and avocados.
-Gloria Eid, Youth ambassador, Tanzania 2012