Travels in Tanzania

Welcome to my travel blog! I will be writing about my trip to Tanzania through the University of Michigan GIEU program, where I will be for a month during summer 2015. Check out the sidebar in the upper right corner to see more about me, subscribe to email updates, or see my recent posts.


Day 25: Leaving Lushoto and leaving home

Leaving my homestay was really bittersweet. I already miss being there and miss being a part of their family which became my normal in Tanzania. Emma killed a rooster for dinner on our last day, which involved cutting the head off with a kitchen knife (luckily I was not there). Then she and our baba had to de-feather it. The day before our mama taught us how to make chapati, which is one of Emma and my favorite foods here! It looks like a tortilla kind of, but it is thicker and is a flour-based bread fried in oil. It’s eaten by itself often at tea time, which people have every day here. The process took quite a while and involved lots of kneading, spreading oil, not having oven mitts, and working over a hot frying pan. It was super fun but we definitely needed the help from mama.
I will also really miss our host sister, Dorothy. For six years old she is so smart and speaks so much English. Many kids here do not learn it at all until they are much older and even then a lot don’t have the opportunity to speak it much. 
I’m also sad to leave the places we have been working at. My last rotation was with the Rainbow school, which is for children with disabilities. I was in the kindergarten classroom, and I was able to observe their class and help the kids with their English homework and playing outside. The teachers asked if I had something to teach, which I was quite unprepared for since I don’t have experience in that sort of teaching. They asked about a song too, and I actually taught the buenos dias song I teach my spanish students but I translated it to English. They loved it way more than I expected and would sing it every day following that when they saw me! Overall I have felt like I learned so much coming to the schools and meeting the kids and getting to hang out with them. But I’ve also felt like they know their rhythm here and how to teach, so me coming in to help can sometimes be more of me being in the way. I think that’s something we have all come to find as important when going abroad. We aren’t going to make a change or even make any sort of difference since that’s not what we are qualified to do just because we are from a developed country. Rather, one of the biggest things we can do is be an extra hand and learn and value their culture and lifestyles. Then if we can come home and talk about how wonderful and welcoming the people are and how much they can do on their own, then we can help educate our friends at home about how wrong many stereotypes are about Africa. And it is especially important to note that Africa is not the same everywhere, and every country and group of people is so unique and has different ways of life. Even traveling throughout Tanzania I have noticed so many different customs and communities.
Chapati with chai bora for breakfast


James while playing outside at the Rainbow school. 

My host sister, Dorothy, at church with both Emma and my purses 

Day 20: church

I have been to two different churches these past two weeks with my host family, since my baba is a pastor at one church and the chaplain for the university nearby. These are Lutheran churches, and the music is so joyful and exciting here since people in the choir have little dance moments while they sing. Each church has also had two choirs. Besides being in Swahili, services weren’t too different from at home. Tanzania is split between people who are Christian and Muslim, so we will hear the Muslim prayers throughout the city even though the area we are at seems to be predominantly Christian. 
Women here wear dresses every single day, and it is much more conservative than in the US. One thing we see everywhere is kangas, which are brightly patterned cloth that is wrapped around as a skirt and has a religious phrase in Swahili on it. In the market they are sold everywhere, and you can get them made into a skirt at a tailor shop or you can just wrap it around yourself. Kangas are also worn over your clothing while cooking or working around the house because they can help protect your other clothing. A bunch of us on the trip bought kangas and got them tailored into skirts, which is inexpensive and it is how many people get clothes here. Talking to my host mom she thought it was weird that people in the US rarely wear skirts and that we can wear pants around our father. It’s so great to talk to her and we have both learned so much about being a women in our respective countries.
I have walked to the market most days, which is always bustling with activity! There’s tons of motorbikes here (called/pronounced peekeepeekee) that people will use to get rides to other nearby villages. The market has so many fresh fruits and vegetables like mangos, avocados, corn, bananas, and passion fruit. There is also lots of rice, fish, and a kind of sweet pasta sold. In the village there is hardly any packaged or processed food (aka no snacks), so everything for all the meals takes quite a long time since everything must be prepared from scratch. A long time means around 2 hours, so we eat around 8pm and often get to help with dinner. The market also sells lots of kangas and you can see all the bright patterns as you walk through the narrow pathways.
I love how you can just walk anywhere you really need in Lushoto to pick up things for dinner or order some street food. It makes things seems simpler since there is so much less that people have to rely on. And it is a way of life that is often a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable and easily becomes the routine. I like being able to make my own food, bathe by pouring my own water over my head, and wash clothes by hand. 

Day 16: school for the blind

For a few days I volunteered at the school for the blind, which was so wonderful. I learned so much about what it means to be a student with low vision and what the education system is like here. The students loved us, and I loved talking to them about their lives as well. Some students asked to use my camera and took so many pictures of me and of all their friends together. A lot of the students here are not totally blind, but they have very low vision and seeing a page to read is difficult. Them using a camera allowed the kids to look back at the picture and see some things they normally weren’t able to because they are far away! 
A lot of people here actually have a hard time saying my name too, and a lot of times I told the kids they laughed. At first I wasn’t sure why, but they always think I say embe, which means mango in Swahili! The next day they came they came up to me really excited saying mango in English.
Some of the kids also wanted to teach me Braille, which was so cool! They have Braille typewriters and they showed me how to read and type the alphabet and numbers. Even though not all the students are completely blind, they all learn how to use Braille. They also really help each other out with everything.
I’ve really been loving my host family, and it’s so great to talk to our baba and mama about Tanzania and living here, and they ask us about the US too. Our baba applied for a grant for beekeeping through Bread for the World, which my church donates to at home! I love hearing about all his ideas for Tanzania. I also love playing with our sister, Dorothy, and singing some english songs she is learning. It will be so sad to leave them in a couple weeks.

Day 12: Homestay

After 4 nights staying at the university I arrived at my homestay on Friday! After spending the whole weekend with just them and Emma, who is the other student staying there with me, I have learned so much and felt so integrated in the family. We have a 6 year old sister (Dorothy) and a 4 year old brother (Stephen), and baba (our dad) is the pastor at the church. Dorothy saw all my friendship bracelets I wear and she wanted one, so I made one for her, her friend, Emma, and she wants another one today too. The kids also both went through my whole suitcase asking what different things are, and I showed Dorothy how to use my makeup too. My family speaks really good English, but many of the other host families speak mostly just Swahili. Even Dorothy speaks a little English, and she loves taking me on walks and being with me as my sister. Lushoto is in the mountains, so we have banana trees and lots of greenery in the forest just outside our house. The family also has chickens and 2 pigs! 
I’ve had to get used to having a hole in the ground for a bathroom and taking a shower means using a bucket of hot water, but I really like it here. Realizing that this is a new culture and a new way of life really puts things into perspective, and little inconveniences here really made me so aware that life is just different here and it is still a beautiful way to live. I give so much respect for the mamas here since cooking takes several hours since they don’t really have boxed foods or sauces of any kind, so you go to the market to buy veggies and fruit and make a whole meal from scratch every time. Our mama make the best juice from fresh passion fruit, mangos, and avocados. Even that involves lots of chopping an straining and mixing. They also don’t have kitchens, but rather they cook with coals outside. But the thing I absolutely love about this experience is I am learning every moment I am here and people here are so happy and friendly. The lifestyle here works so well, and while it is easy for us to think life is difficult here, it really is just different and they really are much more sustainable and less reliant on imports and machinery here. It’s simple and wonderful. I’ve also really appreciated the limited access to Internet we have had (since I haven’t had it since last week), since it has allowed me to journal and really just embrace my time here.

Day 6: Karibu

Our last day in Dar we swam in the Indian Ocean, and with the hot temperatures it was so refreshing an fun! We also worked more at Watoto Kwanza and painted their fence and did yard work while getting the kids involved.
We then traveled about 7 hours to Lushoto where we are staying at SEKOMU, a university here. Their largest program is bachelors and masters in special education, and then students will specialize in a certain disability (blind, deaf, cognitive impairment, physical). Students here will learn Braille and sign language too! Besides just having lots of degree programs in special education, the campus is very inclusive- having ramps, inclusive language, education about disability, and some students here have various disabilities. College classes are actually taught in English here, and throughout Tanzania classes in school are taught in Swahili until kids are 14 or 15 and then it completely switches to everything being taught in English. However, Swahili is definitely always spoken with friends and family. I’ve actually been taking quite a bit of Swahili lessons here at the university too for several hours a day.
Karibu means welcome, and I’ve felt so welcomed since coming here. I’ve been able to talk to quite a few of the students here, which has been great! It’s Tanzanian custom to always greet people you meet while walking down the street, and if you know them or they are visiting you are supposed to stop and talk to introduce yourself. For them, talking to people you run into is much more important than being on time for your next destination, and many people will be late to things just because they consider these relationships to be more important and they think it would be rude to cut off conversation and leave.
The university itself is very beautiful. It is a good walk away from town, and it is high up in the mountains with a ton of greenery and so many trees and plants.

Day 1: Arrival in Dar es Salaam

I arrived in Tanzania pretty much 24 hours ago, and it already seems like that was so long ago since we have done so much! We started the morning with a nice walk, and as expected, everyone on the street was incredibly friendly and some even stopped to chat with us. Even though we are just outside Tanzania’s biggest city, the scenery is so green and beautiful too. We spent the afternoon at Watoto Kwanza, which is a home for children with different physical disabilities. It was great to see just how loved they were, and the owner showed us how interacting with people who are super encouraging and loving really helps the kids see all the potential they have. I especially enjoyed helping them with their english schoolwork because although they were young, many were excited to lean english and they were much more comfortable speaking with us once they got to know us. They are such a happy bunch, and I feel like watching them just shows how abled they really are. 

My first impressions really are that people here are so incredibly friendly and they are so relaxed. People don’t seem so high strung and worried about things happening on time or going just perfectly since they know it will all work out and be great anyway. While this morning seems so long ago, I know that I will learn so much throughout the whole trip, especially about the culture and hopefully some Swahili! The one thing I really wished today was that I could have picked up more Swahili before I came, but some will come with time. It really is a beautiful language, and while it’s okay to get by with English so far, I’d love to be able to converse a bit in the language of Tanzania.