Tag Archives: volunteer vacation

Discover Corps Volunteer Vacation in Tanzania Continues

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?”

Looking out the window of a bus in Moshi.
Looking out the window of a bus in Moshi.

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.

Rau Village children ready for school.
Rau Village children ready for school.

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.

Public School Students in Level 4
Public School Students in Level 4

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.

Free Play during Teacher's Tea Time.
Free Play during Teacher’s Tea Time.

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.

Debi paints ceiling boards in Tanzania.
Debi paints ceiling boards on her volunteer vacation in Tanzania. i Photo courtesy of GypsyNesters.com.Sadly, this building was donated to be multi-purpose room and cafeteria, but there are no funds to finish it.

 

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.

Our young Discover Corps volunteers help scrub the walls.
Our young Discover Corps volunteers help scrub the walls.

Afternoon

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.

Kilimanjaro Wizards Arts Group
Kilimanjaro Wizards Arts Group

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.

Dancing Man
The Dancing Man
Female Dancers
Female Dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Men begin the Hunt.
The Men begin the Hunt.

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 Fire Eating Wizards
The Fire Eating Wizards

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.

Shake that Body
Shake That Body

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.

Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Day 5

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.

Working on the ceiling project.
Working on the ceiling project.

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.

Afternoon

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.

Off to Africa with Discover Corps

Discovery Corps Experience Tanzania Part 1

Days 1-3

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.

Discover Corps Logo

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.

Discover Corps Compound
Discover Corps Compound

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.

My bedroom in Tanzania
My bedroom in Tanzania

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.

Mama Simba reminds us to conserve water.
Mama Simba reminds us to conserve water.

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.

Dining with my local family
Dining with my local family

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.

The Family House
The Family House

Lyngrid and Justin-1 Me and the kids-1
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.

Extended Family
Extended Family
Grandchildren
Grandchildren

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.

Family member doing the laundry.
Family member doing the laundry.

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

Happy School Children
Happy School Children

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.

Exterior of the School - mural painted by previous volunteers.
Exterior of the School – mural painted by previous volunteers.

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.

The Classroom before we start our renovation.
The Classroom before we start our renovation.

Jeff tears down the ceiling-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Chagga Dancers
Chagga Dancers

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.

A beautiful dancer
A beautiful dancer

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.

Ripening coffee beans
Ripening coffee beans

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.

Pounding coffee beans
Pounding coffee beans

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.

Dancers Perform
Dancers Perform

Before we left the Chagga dancers performed for us again. I loved their happy faces, big smiles and joie de vivre.

Chagga instrument
Chagga instrument

 

D

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure:  My trip to Tanzania was self-funded.