No hurry in Africa… Week 3 in Tanzania

You’ve heard it all plenty of times and you’ve perhaps experienced it yourself first hand if you are or if you know Africans: we are never in a rush and we’re proud of it… well, sometimes. This is usually fun when you’re just exploring the beautiful, flawed cities in Africa, but when you’re running late for school it’s not even funny. As a teacher (albeit a non-experienced, degree-less one), leading by example is important. Showing up at work late is unacceptable. Oh, well. That’s just an example…

Last Saturday saw me going hiking with the Twende Hiking Group in Maasai lands in Arusha, Tanzania. I packed my back packing bag with everything that I’m going to trek Kilimanjaro with (actually there’s gonna be more but I didn’t have it at that time). This was supposed to give me an idea of what climbing Kilimanjaro might be like, walking roughly 6 hours a day with a 7kg bag on my back (or more) on a much more consistently steep ground. I arrived at Mount Meru Hotel at exactly 8.30am and immediately bumped into another hiking enthusiast and we walked together towards the group. His name is Jakob and he’s here on an internship. There was also Alex, a Dutch guy who has lived in Tanzania for over 30 years, Nyuki a Tanzanian accountant who likes hiking and Leonard our guide. Apparently people weren’t too keen on hiking in such muddy conditions.

Nyuki decided she didn’t want to drive to the site, so Alex drove us instead. We were to pick up three more hikers on the way, but they took their time and we had to leave them behind. So instead of setting off for 8.30am and arriving at roughly 9am, we ended up leaving at about 9.50, arriving after 10. We started hiking around 10.30am and the other three managed to join us around 11 or so. (No hurry in Africa…) One was a Maasai man called Rasta (because he has dreadlocks. How very creative!), a lady called Zsuzsa, and the other lady is called Julie. It was extremely muddy that my boots became heavy and they were absolutely covered in mud. I had to kick the mud off my boots and they came off in huge chunks.

I observed a lot of soil erosion on the beautiful lands. At first I had no idea what this gulley-like thing going on here was. Alex told us it has been gradually happening over the past few years because of the rains and of course how animals and people pulled out plants by their roots. It totally makes sense but the damage done by the erosion is so intense that Alex believes people will eventually build houses in those ditches because they are taking up huge chunks of land as seen in the image below.

 Plenty of times we almost fell because of the slippery ground, and the weight of my bag wasn’t doing me any favours at all. It’s safe to say that Kilimanjaro if going to be more physically challenging than I initially assumed. I’m actually glad I took up hiking because Kili would have been a shock to my system. We walked through grasslands full of tiny millipedes literally EVERYWHERE. I squirmed each time I looked down, praying none of them would get onto my trousers or into my boots. I was ever so careful as well, lest I slipped in mud and fell onto those scary looking 1-inch monsters! *gulp*

After about 3 hours of hiking upwards, we finally got to the steep hills and started the hard part. My goodness, it was so steep but all I could think of was “Don’t drop the camera”. I could have fallen off and broken a limb but I cared more about saving my camera! Talk about flawed priorities. Nyuki couldn’t join us up the steep hill because she had a bad knee, and the others were well ahead of me. I tried to catch up but they were going so fast as if they’re used to it (which they probably are, they all looked so fit). I was on my own climbing up with nothing to support me except the occasional shrub which I held on to. When I finally got to the top, I was so relieved. The hill top was covered with tiny hill top trees which are actually shorter than me! We sat under the shade and looked out over the beautiful fields and hills below us. It was breath-taking. We had lunch and drank plenty of water before we descended. All in all we walked for about 4 hours, for roughly 18km. When we got back to the service station where we’d parked Alex’s car, we had drinks and snacks in a restaurant there, and then went back to Mount Meru Hotel. The whole hike only cost us Tsh10,000 which is equivalent to £4 or $6.
Julie, Leonard, Nyuki, Zsuzsa, moi, Rasta behind me, and Jakob

Monday I was joined by Kirsteen, a Future Sense employee who wanted to experience Tanzania in order to honestly recommend it to volunteers and gap-year students like me. We went to the Englang’eti school where I resumed lessons with my students and she stayed in kindergarten. I was almost brought to tears when I went to Year 5 class to collect their homework, and one of the pupils, Violet, came up to me with a folded piece of paper:

Apparently that’s me

 I was so touched, I couldn’t help smiling. As I went about the rest of the day, I had a big smile on my face. When it was time to go home, Kirsteen took pictures of me with the kindergarten pupils who are such adorable 2, 3 and 4 year olds. They did the Hockey Cockey and some other rhymes and it was so cute! One of the teachers there, Anthony, took pictures of me with the year 5 and year 1 pupils with whom I’d spent the day. After school, we went into town to meet up with Samina and Robert as Kirsteen wanted to buy some fabric and get some clothes made by some local dressmakers. She chose some pretty amazing fabric and she seemed very pleased. I decided to come back some day to buy fabric to take home. One guy persuaded me to buy paintings off him and I’d initially agreed to a “reasonable price” but Samina told me I was being ripped off. In the end we settled for a lower and better price but those paintings were just amazing. Afterwards, we went to a rooftop bar and marvelled at Mt Meru which you can see from practically anywhere in Arusha! It’s the second largest mountain in Tanzania at 4000 something km high, but it’s more physically challenging than Kilimanjaro because it’s so steep. We also saw this “house” at the top of a tall building, bu it didn’t look lived-in. 
Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in that “house” up there?!
Mount Meru at dusk, zoom 50X

Tuesday after school we were supposed to go for yoga but because that night there was a full moon and we had to do meditation afterwards, we decided to check out the Cultural Heritage instead.Unfortunately, when we got there it was already closed! I was so gutted! We decided to go back into town and we chilled at a bar near Shoprite shopping centre, where we had some cider and chilled til dusk. It turned out to be a nice, chilled evening.

Regai ndiseke, zvakaoma kunge Savannah Dry…
Wednesday after school we finally made it to the Cultural Heritage. It was absolutely beautiful and the artwork was breath-taking. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the displayed work indoors, but we could take pictures outside. I wish we were allowed though, because the work was beyond amazing! Later that evening we went out for dinner for the “leaving do” for Robert, one of the Future Sense managers who had previously volunteered in Tanzania a while back. He’d been working on a school building project for about 7 months now and it was time for him to go back home. We went to this really nice patio-style restaurant which is called Le Patio. The music was up-to-date and really relaxing, and the food was amazing. There were about 8 of us and we all had a whale of a time!

beaded elephant! looks like somebody had a lot of time on their hands… but then again, there’s no hurry in Africa 🙂
Maasai warrior
Maasai woman
awesome carving

The following day we went to Mount Meru Hotel for happy hour and I ordered a cocktail called Pink Mpenzi (Pink Lover). It was a mixture of A-vant gin (a Tanzanian brand), Malibu rum, guava juice, litchi juice and grenadine syrup. It was so sweet but definitely strong. It was buy one get one free, and after the first two glasses I was already feeling a little bit tipsy. A lady approached me and started speaking to me in Swahili (I get this a lot, being the only brown-skinned person in the group). I just looked at her, blank, and thankfully, Samina explained to her I did not understand Swahili. She spoke to me in English then (why didn’t I just say I don’t understand, you may ask, but I had secretly hoped I’d work out what she was saying as part of my Swahili learning process. Ah, well.) She told me that she was a promoter of A-vant gin and was offering me a t-shirt or a pen as a freebie because I’d bought a Pink Mpenzi. I was like “Yeah, sure! A T-shirt will do!” She handed me the only t-shirt she had left and I said “Asante (thank you)” and she walked away. What a beautiful night, aye. Happy hour consisted of live music and bbq (nyama choma), and I couldn’t help ordering some. It was absolutely delicious, seasoned with some Tanzanian spices and bbq’d by a chef who knows what he’s doing. After 2 more cocktails and when everyone had slowly started to leave, we decided to call it a night and got a taxi back home (home is a 5 minute walk away but it’s never advised to walk home in the dark after 4 cocktails or even none at all.) As I stumbled out of  the taxi, I dropped my beautiful white T-shirt in a muddy puddle! *face-palm* Had to quickly dip it in water and “hand-wash” it before the mud dried on it.

 Yesterday, before we said goodbye to Robert and Kirsteen, we went to see another school where some volunteers usually go, which is in the most rural of all places. First we had lunch at a local restaurant in town before taking two more dala-dalas to Lengijave where the Olbak school is located. It was raining cats and dogs and the roads were awfully muddy but we made it. We were running out of time, but we didn’t want to be rude by rushing the teacher who was showing us around. On our way down we were faced by the biggest challenge of all, a muddy hill type of thing. It was easier when we were going up, but getting down was a bit of Kilimanjaro! There were deep ditches that looked like mini valleys and there was absolutely no way we could have gone back apart from the way we came. I nearly fell and Kirsteen found it so amusing she just had to take a picture!

it was such a nerve-wrecking experience! Mud-slides are fun when you’re kids
We raced against time to make it back home in time before Robert went to the airport as Dani, the co-ordinator who had accompanied us to Olbak, had to say goodbye to his long-time friend. We managed to get Robert late by half an hour, but it was all well. I could tell it was going to be emotional as they had all spent the past 7 months living and working together pretty much every single day. I thanked Robert for teaching me to play “Cigarettes and Alcohol” on his guitar (which he left behind for the volunteers to use, how nice of him), and they set off for the airport. Soon after, Kirsteen also left for the airport with loads of stories to tell, I bet! The house felt very empty but Mama Sweet (our housekeeper) was around and we had conversation in broken Swahili, but thank God for the brains that created Google Translate! Dani also came, but there was a power cut and it was raining again so I went to bed at 7.30pm!

This morning, I woke up and it was still raining, there was another power cut and so I went back to sleep because hiking was out of the question. When I finally woke up, I undid my hair and sat with a jar of Nutella, watching The Wolf of Wall Street on DVD on my laptop. Officially a chilled Easter Saturday! Hope you’re all enjoying Easter! ‘Til next week, ciao


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