Discovery Corps Experience Tanzania Part 1
Oh, the stories waiting to be shared from this trip. So many, that I will split the blog into numerous posts so I won’t bypass any of the fascinating activities. I hope you will follow along.
The adventure began as a desire to visit Africa and a passion to do something meaningful to celebrate a momentous birthday. Discover Corps Tanzania provided the answer, and proved themselves far beyond my expectations.
Their website claimed their program could ” Recharge your spirit by discovering a country through its people. ” I liked the idea of immersing myself in a different culture while giving back, engaging in hands-on cultural workshops, and connecting with fascinating people. I can honestly report that my trip accomplished much more than that. I thank Discover Corps for awakening me to volunteer vacations and all they have to offer.
Day 1: Arrival
I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport in the evening following a day and half flights and was joyously met and transported to the Discover Corps Home Base in Moshi. My new home in the village of Rau was a secure gated compound. The main area included a covered open-air lobby or common area perfect for meetings and dining. Eight bedrooms spoked off the lobby, four on either side plus the director’s home at the front. The kitchen sat across from my bedroom.
We were offered a light meal by lantern light (the power in Tanzania often goes out) and I then went directly to bed. I was expecting a cot or college dorm-like setting but my room contained a queen sized bed with mosquito netting, a private toilet, shower and sink and daily maid service. Sweet Tanzanian dreams played in my sleep except for the interruption of loud crowing from a nearby rooster.
Day 2: Orientation and meeting our local family
Next morning, Mama Simba, a dynamo of a program director, again welcomed us with more warm hugs. We were given an orientation to our volunteer work and told how to dress (women must wear skirts while teaching), and a reminded to conserve water by toilet usage message.
Our group of twelve US citizens included a family with two teenage children, two mother/daughter combos, a husband and wife team and two single women, me being one of those. We introduced ourselves and told our personal stories.
A basic Swahili lesson followed. I remembered “jambo” but the other greetings would take a while to sink in. I’m just not good at foreign language.
Immediately, the group bonded over our passion to help the school and our keen desire to experience real Africa.
Later that afternoon came out first opportunity. Neighbors from the village arrived for a meal. Before eating Mama Simba asked everyone to speak briefly and we learned how different families made their living. We each greeted “our local family” with the best Swahili we could muster. I was assigned to Justin, a tour guide, his sister and his elegant but aging mother. We dined together with Lyngrid, the other solo traveler, and then carefully made our way down the rutty dirt path to their house.
The family maintained a home compound with some 20 members living in connecting buildings, called houses in Africa, but would be considered shacks in the US. Justin’s Mama had a reserved chair and she was proud to have us visit her home. We were the first white people ever to step inside.
While Mama and Sister spoke Swahili, Justin acted as interpreter. His English is fluent, and in fact , he impressed us with the ability to also converse in French and some Spanish. These skills help him get work as a tour guide.
I asked Sister to show me the kitchen and she laughed, then took me outside to a fire pit. They have no indoor cooking facilities and no running water. One water source for the extended family and an area for doing laundry. The family also keeps one goat to eat trash.
We met other members of the multi-generational group and I enjoyed taking their pictures. My family treated me so warmly and I was honored to be in their presence.
They walked Lyngrid and I back and the Discover Corps home and we joined the participants chatting about our day. Everyone was ready for an early bedtime.
Day 3: School and a Coffee Plantation and Dancers
Day three began early. We arrived to at Longuo Primary School, about 10-15 minutes away, by 7:30; the official starting time. The entire student body assembled outside to welcome us. We listened as the sang the national anthem.
We each introduce ourselves to the gathering of students and teachers. I told the children I lived near Mickey Mouse in Florida and that seemed to garner some chuckles and smiles. The students marched off in song and we followed into the office.
We were welcomed by the staff and I met the teacher that Michelle, her daughter and I would be working alongside. Our students are in level 4, similar to grade 4.
We toured the school property which cries for help and support. The cafeteria consists of a single woman who cooks for all 425 children over an open fire. She boils up corn meal and beans. Sometimes she had a little rice and just a smattering of meat to add to the pots.
Only one water source supplies the school, a pipe coming from the garden area. The children bring empty containers from home, fill them and water the plants or carry it into the classrooms. Some tiny tots haul the heavy water containers home if needed. The toilets facilities broke my heart and did a number on my sense of smell. Sorrowful.
You want to fix everything but need to understand that you can’t. One classroom was chosen for the Discovery Corps volunteers to refurbish. We were to clean and paint it, but decided the ceiling most come down and be replaced, as well. We later determined the cost and chipped in the extra money needed.
In the Afternoon:
We returned to our compound for lunch. Afterward, we boarded our bus and traveled a short way up the mountain to a small coffee farm. The people from the area around Mt. Kilimanjaro claim the name Chagga.
As we approached the farm, we could hear drum sounds and a group of colorful Chagga dancers popped out to greet us. Tanzanians know the word ‘welcome’ and use it very often.
We watched the costumed performers, mostly older women jumping and chanting with wild abandonment. When they stopped for a much needed rest, we toured the adjoining coffee and banana fields. The two plants work symbiotically; the banana trees provide shade and moisture for the coffee bushes.
Coffee production is a long, slow process. While farmers get many banana crops per year, coffee ripens just once , if lucky, twice a year. The beans turn red as they become ready to harvest. They are handpicked, then washed, and set out to dry.
The dried beans are mashed in a large wooden mortar and pestle. I tried my hand at this and you need to pound with some force. Afterward, the smashed beans are shaken through a sieve and only the inner bean remain.
Next, the beans are roasted and stirred over an open fire. This is hot work because the beans will burn if not stirred. After cooling, water is boiled and the coffee brews. It tasted good and robust, but not as strong as it looked.
Before we left the Chagga dancers performed for us again. I loved their happy faces, big smiles and joie de vivre.
Disclosure: My trip to Tanzania was self-funded.