Dawn Rises on Day 4 and 5 in Tanzania
A mysterious thing often happens to me around day three or four on a trip to a foreign country. After a long flight, I arrive weary, but relieved, then edge my way through passport control and hopefully pick up my luggage. A door opens and I face a swarm of locals holding signs. The huddled mass feels rather intimidating. If I’m in a third world country, I hope I see a sign with my name on it.
I board the transportation provided, and my eyes fly back and forth like I’m watching a tennis match. To the right I see and think “What’s that building?” and to the left, “Who are those folks and what are they doing?”
Day two seems to speak to our differences. “Hmm, look at the woman carrying bananas on her head. I wonder how she does that? Did I just see a coffin maker displaying his products at the side of the road?”
By day three, I have embraced and accepted the differences and begin to notice our commonalities. Children go to school, workers head off to their jobs and people gather at mealtimes. We dress and perform activities in different ways, but we are all one.
By day four, I feel much more at home in my new location. I even begin to think I know my way around. “Oh look, there’s that big, beautiful abandoned home, we turn left here. There’s the fitness center next to the fast food joint.” When you get to know the people and make personal contact, you get much closer to life and how it is lived where ever you are.
And so it goes with my day four in Moshi, Tanzania. I know the route our Discover Corps bus driver follows to school. I feel I belong here and I’m excited to be discovering a new culture. Yes, travel is getting closer to understanding others and this is the reason I love to travel.
Volunteer School Projects
Michelle, her daughter and I enter the classroom and the students stand up and in unison say, “Good morning teachers.” They are so adorable: smiling and ready to get to their work.
The week’s lesson continues to focus on the family tree. The students draw their own family tree, naming their parents and siblings. We discuss the words: mother, father, son, brother and grandparents. They understand and complete the assignment in English. They appear proud of their work and I feel we break through some barriers.
However, I am having problems – with names. Is that sibling your sister or brother? I get it wrong and the students and I laugh. And, of course, I’m surprised by the large number of children in some families. A few of the students even add nieces and nephews as their older sister or brother has already married and had offspring.
At 10:30 am, all the teachers stop for Tea Time in the school office. This tradition dates back to the days when the British ruled the country, and it’s nice. However, I ‘m surprised that this period becomes free outdoor play for the kids. That being free time without supervision. This approach would likely cause a lawsuit in the States, however, it works in Africa. No one runs into the office with injuries or complains about any playground confrontations.
A quick change of clothes allows the volunteers to begin work on the classroom renovation. I start by rolling paint onto the new ceiling boards. We use old pieces of wood, rocks and branches to construct a platform to keep the boards off the dirt floor.
When finished with the ceiling boards, we painters join the others working on sanding and cleaning the classroom walls. Someone from the Discover Corps team runs out and get air-filters to cover our nose and mouth. This is very gritty work, and we return to home base coated in layers of fine dust.
Back to our compound for lunch and much needed showers. We enjoy a short rest period before the afternoon agenda. I’m trying to disconnect, but I wish for a WiFi connection as I want to share photos.
Lucky for us, the afternoon offers more dancing entertainment, apparently very different from what we saw yesterday. This time the dance troop comes to us. Mama Simba also arranges to bring the previous days’ Chagga dancers to the lively performance. The Chagga ladies look almost sedate without their costumes.
The award winning Kilimajaro Wizards Arts Group sets up drums and a marimba. The men wear striking neon pink outfits and hats. The two females dancers wear white tops and the pink floral shorts. Like birds, I think, the males are more colorful than the females.
As soon as the dancers start moving, all that comes to mind is the song Shake That Thing. Whoa- these girls can shake their hips faster hula dancers at warp speed and more forcefully. They perform two numbers before needing a cool down period and break for a costume change.
Watch the short video to see their amazing movements.
Meanwhile, the group leader explains that the next routine will be reenactment of a traditional hunt. Men will portray a hunt with their bows and arrows, a kill, slaughter, and feast.
The male dancers return wearing only bottoms and have painted chests and faces. It is easy to follow the story along, but then a dramatic surprise happens. The men carry in a bowl that’s on fire and begin eating it. Wow! I can barely believe my eyes. These wizards are indeed consuming fire.
The ensemble finishes with more of their traditional style dance, the frenzied hip swinging style, but this time the men and girls wear grass like skirts. We give our best round of applause and shouts for this fantastic troupe.
Thankfully the electrical power does not go out until after dinner. (We’re getting used to flashlights and lanterns.) Mama Simba gathers us for a meeting. I am so impressed that she wants honest feedback already. She asks, “What do we like, what changes need to be made?” The Discover Corps team aims to please.
We don’t ask for much — just for the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to clear for photography and for the power to stay on.
Believe it or not, the next morning I am called out of bed before breakfast. I run down the road to a spot where you can shoot a photo of the famous mountain without cloud cover. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and quite a majestic sight. And, we even have electricity for hot water. No doubt, Mama Simba has connections in high places!
Off to school and another lesson on the family. Today the children read a story and are asked to answer questions. The questions prove difficult involving in-laws and aunts and uncles. They struggle and I completely understand. I doubt American kids their age could do any better.
There must be elves in Tanzania like there are in classic fairy tales, or more recently the ones I’d run into in Iceland. The classroom walls are spackled. When did those amazing do-good little people get this job accomplished? Turns out, Mama Simba has deep connections in the community, too.
The volunteers go back to cleaning the classroom and prepping the walls with an undercoat of thin paint. The ceiling project proves arduous, and the floor is now being torn up; to be redone and paid for by the school. The problem is, the dust causes difficulties for us to begin the undercoat. We find ourselves reciting, “It is what it is.” We have to accept that the project veers off course and so be it. Whatever we accomplish will be better than the earlier condition.
This afternoon allows for our first free time and those that want, are bused into town. We discover a supermarket. I love shopping for groceries and sundries in a foreign country, and this is no exception. The store overwhelms me. It contains a vast array of hardware, books, supplies and food like a super WalMart, just with limited variety. Eggs are not refrigerated and they don’t have one hundred flavors of yogurt.
I buy some items to give to my local family when I visit next. Sugar, rice, soap and a bag of chocolate candy for a treat.
We also find an Internet Cafe and joyously reconnect with our world back home. The cost for an hour of access is somewhere between 25 and 50 cents. In our minds, the best bargain in town.
After dinner, Mama Simba prepares us for our outing the next day. We will meet members of a Maasai tribe and spend time with them in their Maasai village. We must leave at 3:15 AM sharp, so breakfast drinks and toast with peanut butter will be ready at 3. I can’t wait. Everyone to bed.
If you missed the beginning of my trip, please read: https://bylandersea.com/2015/09/off-to-africa-with-discover-corps/
Disclosure: My trip to Tanzania was self-funded.