These next blog entries will be written from the comfort of home in the US, not from far away in a land called Tanzania. As you know if you have been following this blog, internet access and power outages restricted our ability to post anything on a regular basis. Also, time just got in the way: evenings around the volunteer house were spent talking with fellow volunteers, who came from all corners of the world, or recapping for Deb our day’s events, or creating lesson plans for the kids we were teaching at the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center (KOC), or just trying to get a much-needed shower. So, in the next days and weeks, I (maybe Rebecca, also) will try to recapture those moments, and perhaps we can paint a picture of a land far from home that soon came to feel like a second home. The quote from a fellow volunteer, posted below that I borrowed from the Foot2Afrika website, speaks volumes for me as to why Tanzania, and the people of that country, touched our hearts in ways I am not sure I will ever be able to put into words. However, try I must, so here goes……
Within days of our arrival in Moshi, our days took on a familiar routine. The trip from the volunteer house was a 45-60 minute walk to the town of Moshi. The house was located in a village northwest of downtown Moshi, called Soweto. Awaken at 6:30, attempt to take a shower (this was soon abandoned on most days, as we found other times during the day when having water for a shower was a better bet), then a communal breakfast prepared by the great chefs of Foot2Afrika (Msafiri, Lymo, and Sarafina). Breakfast consisted of freshly made fruit juices, fresh fruit (mango, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, watermelon, banana), toast, hard boiled eggs, a thin pancake that resembles our crepe, an occasional omelet, a delicious bean dish made with tomatoes and green peppers, some fried dough things that were not my favorite….I forget what else. The options changed daily. Oh…..and instant coffee with powdered milk. In the land of freshly growing Arabica coffee beans, not one cup of freshly brewed coffee. For freshly brewed coffee, we had to go into downtown Moshi and go to one of the “western” coffee houses. Coffee, and the electric brewer to make it in, are luxuries that few Tanzanians can afford.
After breakfast, at about 8:15 AM, we would head out for the trek to Moshi. In the beginning, we walked the long dirt roads and paths to Moshi. Imagine our first day, thinking it would be impossible to retrace our route without Deb, but by the third day or so, we had it down. Turn left at the gate with the scalloped edges, turn right at the burning trash heap, turn left where the woman sits on a wooden stool, leaning over a wood fire roasting corn on the cob. There are few road signs telling you the name of the road/dirt path. However, soon we were pros. Arrive in town hopefully by 9 AM, stop at the Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge for bottled water and to use the rest room, walk to the dala dala stand and wait for one heading to Pasua. In the beginning, it was nerve wracking worrying if we were in fact getting on the correct dala dala. They do have the names of the beginning and ending stop on the front of the vehicle, but still, the fear of getting on the wrong one and heading to some unknown place was a tad disconcerting. Soon though, we even had that figured out. Then, pack into the dala dala. There were occasions when we would pass one up because it was too crowded, but dala dalas to Pasua did not come by as often as others did, so usually we accepted.
Two stops later, the dala dala stopped at Mbyuni market. This market is a sprawling expanse of outdoor stalls and mats placed on the ground, where everything from produce to furniture can be purchased. This is where the dala dala picked up women with their baskets and bags of produce, fish, and an occasional live chicken. Sometimes this stop lasted 20 minutes while bodies and bags were rearranged to make room for waiting passengers. It is not as if this was the only dala dala leaving the market and heading to Pasua; a dala dala is not full until at least one body is hanging out the open door and people are standing hunched over the seated passengers. Many times baskets of produce would be hanging out an open side window, or perched precariously on the roof. Everyone held each other’s bags, and even kids. There was no such thing as personal space: if a row of seats was meant to seat four, it was not full until seven people occupied it, and you were sitting on one hip with two people crammed alongside you. There was a protocol for arranging knees with the person seated in front of you. At first the dala dala ride felt a bit overwhelming, not only because of the crowded conditions but also because of the smells, from people, fish, you name it. Soon it became just another part of the adventure, as every dala dala ride was unique. I actually miss them.
The dala dala to Pasua dropped us at the “Bingo” stop, and from there we walked 10-15 minutes through the poorest village I had ever seen. People sold goods from makeshift stalls made from tree branches and cardboard boxes, or maybe torn canvas or sheets of plastic. I once saw a woman in one such stall that was sewing on a treadle sewing machine, in a space not much larger than four feet square. The stall was made from scrap slats of wood, with a tin roof, and no solid walls anywhere. Chickens and goats wandered freely around, feeding off the scrap piles of garbage that dominated the pathway to the orphanage. Children played in the dirt, making toys out of sticks, bottle caps, anything they could find on the ground. They always greeted us with “mambo” or “jambo” or even a “good morning” here and there. Often times they shouted “mzungu” which means foreigner or white person. Many of them asked for “peepee” which is Swahili for “candy”, or for money, and then once they learned we had cameras, they wanted their pictures taken. What a thrill it was for them to see their smiling faces looking back at them from the digital display on the back of the camera! They were always smiling! Everywhere we went in Tanzania, the people were smiling, friendly, and courteous. Displays of affection and emotion, especially anger, are not expressed in the Tanzanian culture. But the motto “hakuna matata” (no worries) really describes their approach to life…..expressions of rudeness, impatience, or frustration were never witnessed by me during the five weeks we spent in Tanzania (except by mzungus!).
On the last stretch of our walk to the orphanage, we were always greeted by a group of children who lived in a house along the path. I do not know if they are related, but they were always together. You may have seen photos of them in our album. The “mama” was always outside, sweeping the dirt ground of loose dirt and making everything tidy. This too was something we saw everywhere. Many homes, especially those in the poorer villages, have space only for sleeping, and oftentimes even the cooking takes place outdoors. Consequently, the family spends much time outside, and the women are always sweeping the dirt to clear it of the loose dust that forms everywhere. Or, if on a sidewalk, they wash the sidewalk with rags and a pail of dirty water, bent over at the waist, taking great care and pride in making what little they have clean and orderly. At this one house along the way, chickens and roosters ran about the yard, squawking loudly at us as we passed. These children also begged for candy or money, but soon became content with having their pictures taken. The mama would watch us from the yard, smiling and waving at us, as we picked up and hugged the children, who were always so excited to see us. The children always took our hands, “fighting” over who got to hold whose hand, and walked us to the gate of the orphanage where we would bid them goodbye until it was time for us to make the return walk back to the dala dala stand.
Eventually we got tired of the long walk from Soweto into downtown Moshi, and we began catching a dala dala from a stop near the volunteer house. This saved us at least 30 minutes on the commute, and cost 300 TSH, or about 20 cents. We still had to go to downtown Moshi to catch a dala dala to Pasua, as there was no direct route between Soweto and Pasua. Still, this allowed us to use the last “western” restroom we would see until we left the orphanage and returned to Moshi in the afternoon. The dala dala from Soweto to Moshi dropped us off at the Moshi bus terminal, where we were greeted by the same piki piki drivers (motor bikes) and taxi drivers, all hoping to give these mzungus a ride. After a bit, they realized we were “locals” and stopped asking, but we never failed to draw attention. Never once did I feel unsafe though: they just wanted to either sell us something, or give us a ride, since all mzungus are “made of money” and are a possible source of a sale for the day, which could mean the difference between eating and not eating that day. As I said, the level of poverty and need is beyond the comprehension of most of us “foreigners”.
So that was the day’s journey for four weeks. We would spend about 3 ½ hours teaching at the orphanage and always left before the kids had lunch. We arranged our day this way for several reasons. First, after lunch the kids took a long nap until the older children returned from school, so there was really nothing for us to do other than chores, like cleaning the outdoor pit toilets, which frankly was a chore we did not want. Second, on our third day we were served lunch that I found to be inedible. It had little whole, dried fish in it that resembled sardines and it was so salty I gagged on it. Seeing the little fish heads was not very appetizing. Throwing food out in a country where people are starving went against every fiber of my body, so I secretly passed my plate to one of the boys sitting next to me. He inhaled the food, but looked around surreptitiously to make sure he was not going to get in trouble for getting an extra portion and not sharing it with the other children. I felt bad for putting him in such a position, but he obviously needed the extra food. Lastly, to take food from the children, when we could afford to buy lunch in town, was thoroughly not acceptable to either of us. Lunch was provided free to the volunteers, but it just felt ethically and morally wrong to take food from those who had so little. Every day, we bid our goodbyes to the kids before lunch and set off into Moshi where we ate lunch and were glad to have a western restroom to use (Rebecca never did get used to the squat toilets, but having lived in Japan for a year, it was not so foreign to me).
We never did connect to a permanent afternoon project. Most volunteers divided their time up as we did, but had a set assignment for the afternoon. For a variety of reasons, we did not take on a permanent assignment in the afternoons, and thus we had free time for shopping, or going out to Hope Village to see CeCee, or later to see Luka and the kids at the Salama Center. It made for a more relaxing experience for both of us, and gave us the opportunity to get a more varied outlook of the different orphanages. It was time well spent, and the four weeks flew by way too quickly.