To go or not to go – there’s really no question…

Written by: Meaghan Stephens

Inevitably, when mentioning to people that you will be traveling to Tanzania for 3 months, one receives all kinds of comments ranging from “that’s wonderful, good for you” to “Africa? Are you sure?” Then there’s the overwhelming concern expressed over “Ebola” and the persistent “be carefuls” as Africa (yes, apparently the entire continent) is a “dangerous place.”

Ebola Map

FYI – Tanzania is on the east side of Africa.

I had known that I wanted to volunteer somewhere for a long time now, and the opportunity that YCI provided in Tanga, Tanzania sounded as good as any! Quite frankly, I myself wasn’t so sure what to expect upon arriving, and had to question my own sanity in picking Africa as the destination of choice to experience independent travel for the first time.

Meaghan However, it only took a few short days to discover and understand that our perceptions are completely and utterly false. It seems as though the western world has cultivated this culture of fear toward Africa and the myriad of countries that it’s comprised of. I’m not quite sure how this came to be…but I’m almost certain that the media is to blame!

So – I will try to set the record straight, since the nightly news can’t (or won’t), and the UNICEF ads (while an important cause) don’t quite do it justice. Perhaps you’ve considered traveling to Africa before but weren’t sure if you should, or maybe you’ve never had the desire…either way I’m going to tell you that it is WELL worth your while.

Tanzania alone has a varied and incredibly diverse geographical landscape. There’s an abundance of tropical islands (Zanzibar, Mafi and Pemba to name a few) for those that crave the heat, and enjoy snorkelling, diving and relaxing beachside.

There are the beautiful and vast coastal towns (such as Tanga) that while busy,  still exude a sleepy and laid back vibe.

Beach2Then there is a vibrant city at its heart (Dar Es salaam) that is bustling with universities, colleges, an astounding array of entrepreneurs, and has double the population of Toronto! In contrast there are also rural villages scattered across the countryside where the people work incredibly hard to live off the land, and take pleasure in the simple luxuries of life (such as has having clean drinking water).

There are national parks located throughout the country all of which boast incredible animals and rich biodiversity. Tanzania is also the home of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in all of Africa, which is climbable by most anyone with the time to acclimatize properly and the determination to do it.

Kilamanjaroo

There are multiple regions throughout the country that live in the relative and stable comfort of 15-25 degree temps year round (helps being along the equator) and a few that get downright cold (approaching 0 degrees), and that’s just a small sampling of the scenery, which hardly does it justice!

HomeI can also confidently tell you that the population here is comprised of some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve ever met.

Greetings are important, so there is no shortage of them -whether you are meeting someone new, riding the bus, or walking down a road, there’s always a hello to be had. It’s seems so much easier to meet people and feel connected when everyone approaches each other with respect, eye contact and genuine interest in where you come from and what you’re doing.

Meaghan and friend

Much like Canadians, Tanzanians also pride themselves on remaining peaceful- something they work diligently at and are grateful for.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t dangers here, because there are. I can assure you that a multitude of dangers will exist anywhere you go in this world (the news will surely fill you in on these…). People will continue to thieve and assault, accidents will continue to happen, and diseases will continue to spread. But, it is possible to assess your risk, use common sense, and act in a way that mitigates some of the danger, just as we do at home!

Group of youth

So the next time you ask yourself where to go for that hard earned vacation, a little R & R, or maybe even to help develop and share your talents with others (volunteering is an incredible way to see a country), don’t shy away from Africa as a viable option. You will find incredible adventures, scenery, and people that will welcome you with warm words and open arms 🙂

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