Written by Urvi Rana
“Be safe!” “Are you sure?” “Don’t go!”…these are the things I was told before I decided to come to Tanga, Tanzania with Youth Challenge International. The minute my family and friends heard ‘Africa’, they were extremely concerned about my safety! Now, I am not one to back away from new experiences, yet I was starting to get a bit worried myself. Fortunately, I was joined by another volunteer from Ottawa, Ontario on this volunteer trip and that put me at ease. After spending a mere 12 hours in Dar Es Salaam, we were on our way to Tanga. I was told that the culture in Tanga was a lot more different than Dar Es Salaam, and boy were they right!
Tanga is a coastal city located just north of Dar. As soon as we stepped off the RATCO Express, I could tell I was in a whole different city. The next few days confirmed the opposite of my fears. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by people of all ages! ‘Mambo’ ‘Shikamoo’ ‘Habari’ etc – these now became the words I heard daily! I was pleasantly surprised at how safe I felt in this city. In just one week, I felt comfortable enough to take the daladalas by myself and make my own way around town. I could not believe how safe I felt in Tanga, especially since I have been to India numerous times and never felt comfortable enough to take the public transit on my own! I always believed Toronto was one of the friendliest cities, but not anymore. Whether it’s the early morning hours or late evenings, people are always happy and wanting to talk to you.
Tanga will forever hold a special place in my heart and I cannot wait to go back there one day to greet the strangers on the streets and the families I lived with! I was amazed at how welcoming and friendly this city was and started wondering why people back home were concerned. There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about. I wondered where people got the idea that going to Africa means putting yourself at risk. That’s when I got thinking about the role of media in exercising caution. The media focuses on the large numbers of HIV infected and at-risk patients, it focuses on the poor economy and on its neighbouring countries. I could not be more surprised at how different Tanzania was from what is usually portrayed in the media. It’s not just all about HIV or sandy beaches and tourists wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. Tanzania is much more than just that, it’s a place where the citizens want you to fall in love with their country, it’s a place where everything just happens to work out and it’s the place I fell for!
It truly was Hakuna Matata!