Travel Notes from Tanzania
Saved under Sub-Saharan Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa Article, Travel Memoirs
Tags: Culture, Study Abroad, Tanzania, Travel
You’re barreling down a dirt road through the middle of Serengeti in the late afternoon. Wildebeest are flashing by your windows but you’re in a race against the setting sun to get to the lodge before dark, so you keep driving. You feel tired, and also a little bit like you’re in The Lion King; you find yourself humming “The Circle of Life” as you try not to fall asleep. You’re jerked awake by a sudden slam on the breaks; the zebras are crossing the road. You try to wake yourself up. Professor Opalo tells you that, while everyone was sleeping, the car passed by a baby lion. . You find his opportune lack of witnesses suspicious. You resolve to stay awake, but find your mind drifting….
What have you done in the last six weeks? Well, most recently, you went on safari and you came within arms reach of a lioness and a hyena, a warthog and a zebra, an elephant and a wildebeest. Before that, you went climbing on mangrove trees in Zanzibar and visited Oldupai Gorge. You saw thirteenth-century ruins at Bagamoyo, Tanzania’s first capital. But in between all the big days were the equally memorable ordinary ones. And those are the days you’re thinking about right now (note: by now you’re probably at “Hakuna Matata” on your mental soundtrack).
A Day in the Life of a Hoya in Tanzania
6:00AM: It’s still dark outside but you’re already awake with toothbrush in hand so as not to lose your spot in the family line-up for the bathroom. You run downstairs to drink your chai and eat your banana and chapati before you have to leave for school. Then you run back upstairs because you forgot your malarone and back down again and out the door as you shout, “Have a good day!” back to the house girl.
7:00AM: You start your trek to school and pick up your friends at their various host families along the way. If you’re lucky, Baba will pity you as he drives by on his way to work and give you a ride. Otherwise, you continue on the sometimes quiet, sometimes chatty walk and stop every so often to take a picture of the local monkeys. You usually arrive 15 minutes before class starts and sit on the bench in the hallway to wait for Mwalimu to unlock the classroom door. All the professors strike up conversations in Swahili with you as they walk by and you get a little overwhelmed and immediately forget all the Swahili words you’ve learned.
8:00AM: Class starts. You start to remember some of the Swahili words you forgot in the hallway as you try to correctly recall your home address, the directions to your host house, and the name of your SFS major. Professor Opalo shows up and takes your passport but you’re not sure why. You just roll with it.
10:00AM: You take a 15 minute break and eat your snack, usually a chocolate bar that melted in your backpack on the way to school or another of the always ubiquitous bananas. Feeling energized, you break into your small groups to practice with your TA and ask all your burning Kiswahili questions like how to say “green beans” or “I like naps.” Sometimes you convince your TA to take you to new and exciting places like the market or the Saba Saba festival. She helps you barter with all the vendors so you don’t spend too much money on a tiny wooden elephant. You probably pick up some samosas for a snack somewhere along the way.
12:00PM: Lunch at Hill Park, wali na kuku, otherwise known as rice and chicken, is your typical fare. Except on Wednesdays. Wednesdays are mashed potato day. You love Wednesdays. If you time it right, the World News will be on in English so you can catch yourself up on who Donald Trump insulted most recently. You sip your Fanta passionfruit and add this to the list of reasons you’re glad you’re in Tanzania and not the US right now. Professor Opalo stops by to discuss development, signs of which you have begun to notice all around you.You pass half a dozen construction projects by Chinese firms on your daily commute (including the University’s new library) and there are cranes scattered across Dar’s skyline. You also notice where development isn’t happening: discussions of infrastructure call to mind the jarring dirt road shortcut you took to work yesterday and the intermittent lack of running water at your host house. The conversation concludes with Professor Opalo ordering you to go to graduate school. You still don’t know where your passport is.
1:00PM: Off to internships you go. Maybe you’re working on curriculum development, or working for a health NGO or an education initiative. Dar traffic will be miserable, but your cab driver does his best to take you on all the shortcuts. You learn to recognize the landmarks along your commute. At the Copy Cat Printing store you have 30 minutes to go. You pass the Airtel building, only 15 more minutes. When you see the Ethiopian restaurant you start gathering your things because you’re almost there. At the office, you get some coffee and say “Habari” to all your co-workers on the way to your desk. You sit across from Richard. Richard always shares his mandazi with you and answers all the questions you’re too self-conscious to ask anyone else like “How do I buy a stamp?” and “How many regions are there in Tanzania, again?”
5:00PM: You hop back in the car after work, pull out your box of eet-sum-mor shortbread cookies, and watch the sunset as you sit in rush hour traffic.
6:30PM: You push open the door, slip off your shoes, and peek into the kitchen to say hello and investigate what’s for dinner. You attempt to introduce yourself to all the guests that are joining you and your family for dinner. Over the course of your five weeks, you have met your host mom’s six sisters and all of their children, probably their cousins too, the co-workers of both your host parents, and the preacher. They all want to hear how your Swahili is coming along. You drop your bag off in your room try and finish some homework before dinner. You leave every other question blank in hopes that your host sisters or the house girl will be able to help you later.
7:30PM: Baba comes home from work just in time for dinner and you offer a respectful Shikamoo before sitting down to eat. Armed with a spoon and your fingers you dive in. You could ask for a knife and fork but you don’t want to seem too set in your American ways. Instead, you accept the challenge of eating steak with a spoon. Sometimes you watch the evening news and try to remember all your questions for the commercial breaks, but mostly you just talk about your day. Your host parents ask what you’ve learned and you try hard to remember and give an example, but thankfully you are interrupted by your host mother’s repeated admonitions to your host sister to stop playing with her food.
10:00PM: Time for bed, and you are more than ready. You already packed your bag for your trip to Zanzibar the next day, remembering all the essentials: bug spray, the adapter, and toilet paper. You pull the mosquito net around your bed and then stand on your mattress, completely still, newspaper in hand, for at least three minutes and inspect your work. Satisfied that no bugs breached your defenses, you switch off the light and set your alarm. You can faintly hear the evening prayer from the mosque down the road. And then before you know it, it’s 6:00 AM and the evening prayer has been replaced by the morning one. You silence your alarm with one hand and grab your toothbrush with the other. It’s time to start again.