Archive for the 'Tanzania 2007' Category

Ngorongoro Crater

Today I was up at 6:30 to watch the sunrise from the wooden balcony of our tented lodge. Unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal to see of the sun due to cloud cover, but the Great Rift Valley and Lake Manyara were just as beautiful this morning at dawn as they were last night at dusk. I awoke feeling refreshed from a good night’s sleep, although I do recall hearing some foreign noises during the night. Steve also thinks he heard noises, more specifically the sound of elephants. The maasai guards later informed us that during the night a herd of elephants had indeed passed by just a few feet behind the lodge and a pride of lions just a few feet in front. It’s exciting to think that we are so far into the wilderness that wild animals pass freely during the night; but equally disconcerting when you consider that only a few weeks ago a British tourist won compensation in a Kenyan court after having her pelvis crushed and kidney destroyed by an elephant at a similar safari lodge not that far away in neighbouring Kenya.

After a another fruit-filled breakfast and an insightful conversation with one of the staff about Robert Mugabe and the problems in Zimbabwe, Dennis picked us up at 10:30 to commence our ascent into the Ngorongoro conservation area. It wasn’t such a long journey to the conservation area as it was from Arusha to Lake Manyara, but it did take longer than I had anticipated once inside the conservation area, to climb the mountainous terrain that encompasses the crater. As we ascended the hillside our visibility diminished at an alarming rate due to the thickening fog that lingered on the highland. At the top we reached a “view point” over the crater, but as the fog prevented us from seeing more than two feet in front, stopping seemed aimless. By this point it has to be said I was becoming a little apprehensive, wondering whether or not the fog would lift once we were down inside the crater. Of course, the whole exercise would have been rendered useless had the fog prevented us from seeing more than a few feet in front of the vehicle. But sure enough, a few minutes later, the fog did begin to lift and I caught my first glimpse of the crater.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a huge caldera, a natural crater in the earth’s surface formed by the eruption of a great volcano (bigger than Mt. Kilimanjaro) that subsequently collapsed in on itslef two million years ago. On this overcast day I could only just make out the faint outline of the highland marking the crater rim on the far side.

The landscape in the crater is nothing like that of Lake Manyara or Arusha national parks. The parks are very green, providing lots of cover for their inhabitants. The Crater, however, is very dry and arid (especially during the dry season) with scarce plant life. This provides an uninterrupted view of the entire expanse of land, allowing game to be spotted from miles away.

As we descended the steep hillside into the crater the animals looked like tiny dots on the horizon. Not long into the crater we found ourselves driving amidst single lines of migrating Blue Wildebeest. It was fascinating to watch the long lines follow their designated leader in search of greener grazing land. Amongst them there were many other cohabitating creatures; Grant’s Gazelle, Thomson’s Gazelle, Zebra, Warthog, Cape Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Flamingos and even a lone Ostrich. It really did feel like a scene out of Lion King (I gather that the neighbouring plains of Serengeti provided the real inspiration for the film).

As lunchtime approached I was beginning to wonder what our chances might be of spotting a lion or lioness. As if I had spoken too soon, while on the way to the lunch spot we came across three lionesses on the prow, stalking their territory on the eye out for a potential meal. Dennis, skilful driver as he is, manoeuvred the vehicle so that we were driving right alongside one of them. Our presence didn’t seem to bother her, but we were so close I was constantly mindful that I was well with her reaching distance and, if so desired, she could have easily incurred some significant damage! It was an amazing encounter. We stayed with them for a short period before pursuing the lunch spot.

Lioness, unfazed by the jeep

Lioness, unfazed by the jeep

Lioness on the prowl

Lioness on the prowl

After lunch we got lucky a second time and rediscovered the lionesses. Whilst we had been eating lunch they were busy hunting and had bagged two zebra. Two male lions had been called over by their prides to enjoy the meal. There were spotted hyena and jackals hanging out nearby, all hoping to get first pickings of whatever remains the lions left behind.

Whilst we were taking it in turns with the binoculars to observe the lions eating, we suddenly discovered that one of the lionesses was stealthily making her way towards us. She walked immediately past the front of the jeep and towards a herd of Zebra. Although she approached the Zebra very cautiously at first, she was at the disadvantage of not having any cover and a couple of Zebra noticed her and took off. At that point she decided to cut her losses and go in for the kill and started sprinting at the herd. The zebras scattered, splitting half to the left and half to the right in order to avoid the long grass that lay behind them. She continued sprinting at them and managed to corner one of the zebras. It was just her and a single zebra, prevented from retreating any further by the long grass behind. A few tense moments passed as she tried to track the zebra down, then the zebra made a run for it. In what was an extremely narrow escape, the zebra managed to outrun the lioness and returned to its herd unharmed. It was a very close and intensely fought game, and for a fleeting moment I thought the lioness had won.

What an amazing spectacle that had just been played out before our eyes! It was almost like we were spectators of a magnificent performance, each providing commentary on the events that unravelled on both sides of the vehicle; the lioness hunting zebra on the one side and the lions having their lunch on the other. A second lioness walked over to see if she could assist in the hunt as the game played out, but to no avail. There were further attempts by the lionesses but no one managed to get close enough. The alarm had already been raised and the surrounding animals were ready and alert to their predator’s presence. We moved on.

Later we managed to spot two sleeping cheetah in the distance. It was a bit of strain to see them even with the binoculars, but sufficient enough for us to tick them off the list in the guide book. Unfortunately the conditions worked against our chances of sighting any Black Rhino, the rarest of the Big Five, and we didn’t manage to find any. However, over the last three days we have set eyes on four of the Big Five; Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard and Lion, which leaves me feeling more than content with the journey so far.

In the late afternoon we left the crater from the eastern side of the rim to stop at a traditional Massai village on the way to the Sopa Lodge. When we pulled up outside the village the chief came out and we each paid $15 for the privilege of being welcomed into the village and to take photos. It was an extra expense that I hadn’t anticipated, but it was worth it. A massai who was very fluent in English (most of the villagers only speak Maa) took us to the village entrance where the entire village (plus neighbours from the next village along) gathered to perform a welcome dance for us. The women lined up in front of us and the men formed a circle, taking it in turns to jump up and down in the middle of the circle. The women sang whilst the men made strange noises from the back of their throats. It was a truly spectacular experience. After they had finished singing to us the chief thanked the villagers and our guide started walking us around the village.

The Maasai welcome dance

The Maasai welcome dance

At this point I should probably explain what exactly constitutes a Maasai village. Most of the villages are laid out in a similar circular format; this one has a wall made of sticks around the perimeter. There is another inner circle inside that is used to keep the cattle locked up at night. Around the wall of the inner circle is a plentiful display of traditional handcraft Maasai jewellery and weaponry on sale (I so wish I could bring a maasai machete home, but somehow I don’t think customs would allow it). Between the inner circle and the perimeter are small, circular huts where the villagers sleep. I learned that there are 13 huts, 13 being significant because that is the number of wives that the chief has. The huts are made of dung with thatched roofing and are about shoulder height. We were invited into one of them and I had to duck down low to fit through the door. Inside it was incredibly dark, hot and smoky. There was a log fire on the go in the centre, two leather beds on which we sat and a small storage room. It was utterly fascinating. We sat there with a mother and her three children for a few minutes until the smoke became unbearable.

We spent a while longer walking around the village, examining the jewellery on display and conversing with our guide. He was very inquisitive chap and asked us just as many questions as we asked him. In particular, he was intrigued by what made us want to come and see his tribe and how we came to hear of the maasai when we were back in England. We also got to see inside the village school – a small wooden hut with a blackboard and a few benches, located just outside the perimeter of the village. The kids were in the middle of a lesson but we were allowed to go in and have a brief look around while the teacher waited outside. It was a very interesting contrast; between the kids of Kunduchi fishing village and the tribal kids of the north.

Evidently much more interested in us than the camera

Evidently much more interested in us than the camera

After we thanked our guide and the chief we said our goodbyes and departed from the village. Dennis then drove us to our lodge for the night, just a few miles away on the edge of the crater rim. The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge was very nice, consisting of a large building for the reception and dining hall, an outside pool and sitting area directly overlooking the crater and several lots of round buildings. Our lodge was half way down a long path and had all the trappings of a large luxury hotel room. After ditching our bags we sat outside admiring the view and discussing the day’s events, tucking in to the complementary pastries and coffee that were on offer. After dark we went back to the lodge for a quick shower before dinner.

Dinner was a very nice four-course buffet (including banana soup!) served in a lavish dining hall with all the requisite African trappings to evoke an authentic atmosphere, albeit slightly overcast by the overweight mzungus helping themselves to second and third portions. Half way through our dinner a traditional African choir was paraded around the hall to sing few uplifting songs while we were eating. It certainly added to the authentic atmosphere the hotel was trying to create.

After dinner we were escorted by an askari (security guard) down the path towards our lodge. Before we went back to the lodge however he asked if we would like to come with him to see a Buffalo. He walked us around the other side of the hotel where a Buffalo was grazing on the grass just a few metres in front of someone’s lodge. He told us that if we walked across the grass bank that we were standing in front of, the Buffalo would charge and most likely kill by puncturing the stomach with its horns and trampling its victim to death. I also learned from the askari that two maasai were killed by a buffalo in the area last week; just another reminder of the kind of place we are staying in. Needless to say, I do not feel in any immediate danger tucked up in our brick lodge – not quite the exposure of our tented lodge by Lake Manyara last night.

Tomorrow morning we set off early for a brief visit to world-famous archaeological site, the Oldupai gorge, before making the long journey back to Kilimanjaro Airport where we fly out to Zanzibar Island in the late afternoon. So that pretty much brings us to the end of the safari and I feel three days has been just the right amount of time to experience the northern circuit. I am looking forward to seeing Oldupai tomorrow, and then it’s off to Zanzibar for a further 3 days of sun, sea and paradise. Our journey is nowhere near over yet!

Lake Manyara National Park

A decent breakfast of ample portions of fruit and cereal this morning at the Impala was a welcome change from the standard peanut butter on toast or fat filled French toast that would normally constitute breakfast back at the volunteer house. With a good breakfast setting us up for the day, we packed our bags and were standing outside the hotel waiting for Dennis by 8:15. Dennis was apologetic for being slightly late, but we were soon on the open road again heading for Lake Manyara National Park for another day’s game drive.

It was a two hour drive from Arusha to Lake Manyara, but the landscape on both sides of the road kept me submerged in my own thoughts for most of the journey. It was a much more arid landscape than I have experienced before; dry and dusty savannah with little or no plant life and nothing to be seen for miles bar the odd Masaai herdsman and village. The tarmac road that cut up the open plain in front seemed distinctly out of place. I watched the African tribesman walking their cattle out to their grazing spots for the day, leaving behind them their round huts and scattered settlements. Quite a contrast, it has to be said, to the Masaai I am used to seeing in and around Dar. Tribal residents in the city seem rather detached from their not so distant heritage, even though, out of respect to their ancestors, many of them continue to wear the traditional red and purple, beaded attire and carry the compulsory machete. Yet these were scenes of real Maasai roaming in their natural territory. Again, that feeling of intrusion returned, embarrassment almost of the juxtaposition of us and them; of our luxury jeep, pre-packed lunch boxes and pair of binoculars; of their clubs, machetes and cattle grazing.

On the road to Lake Manyara

On the road to Lake Manyara

We also passed a few camels on the way, being guided by their masters. Dennis told us that the camels are not from around here; that they are brought over from Ethiopia and are currently being tried out in Tanzania. Leaving the urban sprawl of Arusha town well and truly behind us, my thoughts were beginning to concur that this was real Africa, in its rawest of forms.

The next sight was not such a pleasant one as we slowed up to overtake a stationary lorry on the left hand side of the road. It had been in a head-on collision with another lorry which was now lying on its side, in a ditch, on the other side of the road. Blood was smeared on the windscreen. A masaai was sitting by the road and a herd of goats were eerily grazing between the wreckage and the road. Dennis slowed some more and uttered some Swahili to the masaai. The masaai told him that the driver was dead. I guess this must be a fairly common occurrence here, judging by the way people drive. But it was an image I did my best to put to the back of my mind as we continued bombing our way along the road at 70 plus miles an hour.

As we began to approach Lake Manyara, the Great Rift Valley appeared into view. It is startling to think that this stunning feature runs all the way from Jordan in southwest Asia to Mozambique in east Africa, still retreating at a rate of 3cm a year. Dennis pointed vaguely down a beaten track that veered off the road to the west, telling us that the lodge where we would be staying tonight was somewhere in that direction. Not being able to make out anything remotely resembling a hotel or lodge, I took little notice of this assertion. We then briskly passed though a small town just east of the lake, with familiar sites of roadside sellers and urbanised masaai with their paintings and authentic souvenirs. A short while later we reached the national park.

The park itself, although much bigger (covering much of the area north east of the lake) and with a more diverse range of inhabitants, is not too dissimilar to Arusha National Park. It is much greener than the arid land south west of the lake, due, according to Dennis, to the moisture in the wind blown over from the coast. It wasn’t very long until we came across our first sighting of elephant; a lone one, and then several groups dotted about the undergrowth.

The most memorable moment of the day was a close encounter with a family of elephants. They appeared out of nowhere and Dennis stopped the jeep for a good 15 minutes to watch them grazing. As we did so, a mother and her baby started walking directly towards us. They came literally within touching distance of the vehicle. Another elephant walked around the front of the vehicle, two metres away. The family crossed the track and made for a small lake in nearby marshland. As they made their way across the track in their slow, casual (and less than graceful) manner I could hear the ground murmur under the feet of these magnificently large creatures. One of them stopped to alleviate an itch on the bark of a tree. They bathed in the lake and we drove on.

Elephant crosses the road right in front of the jeep

Elephant crosses the road right in front of the jeep

Another memorable moment was the sighting of a leopard lying in a tree. We wouldn’t have seen it if it wasn’t for the other safari vehicles littering the side of the track. It was quite a distance away, just close enough to make out but not distinguishable without the binoculars. The solitary cat was stretched out on a branch in the tree tops just under the cover of the forest canopy. As a nocturnal creature, such sighting is rare – Dennis told us it was the first time he had seen a leopard in the park. I was very grateful for the opportunity.

It was also fascinating watching half a dozen giraffe wonder around at a lakeside stop where we were allowed to get out of the vehicle. I stood there for five or ten minutes watching the giraffe roaming around in their peculiar way, whilst a family of mircats popped up to say hello in the foreground. Other sightings in the park included Cape Buffalo, Hippopotamus’, Blue Monkeys, Vervet Monekys, Black and White Colobus Monkeys, Baboons, Kirk’s Dikdik (tiny antelopes), Impala, Warthogs, Flamingos and Kingfishers.

The afternoon was not quite the excitement of this morning’s sightings, and we went a fair distance without seeing anything at all. Still, the beauty of the landscape was enough to keep me occupied as we journeyed back through park. Dennis called it a day a little earlier than yesterday, telling us that we would want some rest and relax time back at the lodge. We would soon discover what he meant by this.

The journey to the lodge took half an hour. We travelled back through the town and left the main road for a dust track that veered off to the West. Dennis had pointed it out on the way, but it hadn’t registered with me that we would be driving down it. We passed a small village on the left and then yonder into the wilderness; nothing to be seen but wild, open savannah. There was no tarmac road this time… just a dusty track that didn’t seem to lead to anything of note on the horizon. The jeep filled with that weird dusty smell as the sand from the savannah filtered through the windows. I was definitely feeling a little unsettled, wondering just what kind of lodge this would turn out to be.

Then, out of nowhere, we pulled into a driveway and parked up outside a stone building, hidden away in the shrubbery. Two masaai stood at the entrance and started walking towards the jeep. An eccentric South African lady came out to welcome us, presumably the owner. The masaai took our bags and the lady guided us around to the front of the building towards a seated area and a bar. Four glasses of iced-tea were waiting for us at the bar. This place is utterly breathtaking. There is a lawn and a small pool out front, and then nothing. Nothing except an uninterrupted view of the savannah, with Lake Manyara to the North West and the Great Rift Valley in the background. Whilst we were arriving, masaai herdsman were walking their cattle back across the plain to their residings. The sound of cattle bells was the only thing to be heard above the faint rustling of the wind. This luxury tented lodge has been picked up and dropped right into the heart of tribal Africa. It baffles me how such a place manages to exist.

Chilling by the pool, Lake Manyara and the Great Rift Valley in the background

Chilling by the pool, Lake Manyara and the Great Rift Valley in the background

Dennis drank up his ice tea and left us to it, he is staying somewhere in the nearby town. Our lodge is just down the path from the main building. Although it is tented, it is big enough to accommodate three good sized beds and a bathroom. It is raised on a wooden platform and has a thatched roof; very comfortable. The view, as aforementioned, is incredible. I wonder whether I will ever stay in such an amazing place as this again. I headed straight for the swimming pool. Although the temperature was not particularly inviting, I was more than content to bathe in the water whilst watching masaai and their cattle cross the plain in front. I wanted to savour the view during the last hour of sunlight. For a good while, very little was spoken between the three of us, I guess there just wasn’t much to be said other than how lucky we all were to have found ourselves here.

Shortly after I watched the sun disappear behind the Rift Valley we were invited upstairs for dinner. The restaurant is situated on the second floor of the main building, where a candle lit table had been laid for us. What I have failed to mention thus far is that we are the only people staying at the lodge tonight and we have the entire place to ourselves. It has been a very quiet week here apparently. It makes me slightly uncomfortable that we are being waited on exclusively by the services of at least six staff, but all the more grateful for having the place to ourselves. The food was very good, although probably enhanced a great deal by the extraordinary situation.

Sun sets over the savannah

Sun sets over the savannah

We ended the evening sitting around a log fire that had been lit for us. After enough pondering, we called it a day and three masaai guards escorted us back to the lodge. Their principal role is to guard the lodge from straying animals overnight. I’m heading off to bed. Tomorrow I plan to be up early enough to see the sun rise above the Rift Valley, and, with another long day ahead, I require ample sleep.

Arusha National Park

True to his word, and much to my relief (you just never know when in Tanzania), Gerrard pulled up outside the volunteer house spot on 4:30 this morning to take us to the airport. I’m getting pretty used to early starts; not loving getting up at 3am but when it means we can spend the whole day on safari, it didn’t really phase me. The flight was short and sweet (an hour and 15), in a tiny propeller powered plane that didn’t ascend beyond 2000 foot. I observed the mass of corrugated roofs and palm trees as Dar disappeared into the distance – excited to be off on another adventure, but ever mindful of what I was leaving behind.

Perhaps somewhat over-enthusiastically, the in-flight magazine described the descent in the small aircraft as being similar to ‘dancing around like butterflies.’ Not quite the phrasing I would use, but it was certainly a world apart from our steadfast flight from Heathrow, ducking and diving to avoid the gusts of wind channelled by the highland. Mount Kilimanjaro was peeking above the clouds as we approached our destination, a fitting welcome to the beauty of the Northern territory.

A glimpse of Kili from the plane

A glimpse of Kili from the plane

After touching down right on schedule at 8:45, we promptly made our way through the small airport to be greeted by a lovely lady called Mwanaidi with whom I have been corresponding via email (apparently she undertook her secondary education in Mwenge, near Dar, where we would sometimes go shopping for food and souvenirs) and our driver, Dennis. They welcomed us on behalf of the tour company and we made our way to the car park where a sturdy looking safari jeep was parked, pretty much our home for the next three and a half days.

My first impressions of Northern Tanzania? Well it’s a bit chilly for starters. Almost feels like you’re not in Africa; a similar air temperature to that of back in England (without the clouds and precipitation). This is of course in stark contrast to the climate of Dar. I also found the area to have a more ‘developed’ feel than in Dar. White lines painted on the road, much more comfortable looking dalla dalla and the feeling that the people here are far more accustomed to dealing with mzungos (or perhaps more appropriately, white tourists). Hardly surprising, Arusha being the gateway to the Northern safari circuit and the wealthiest city (3rd biggest) in Tanzania. In many ways, it is difficult to believe I am still in the same country.

The airport is about halfway between Moshi (to the East) and Arusha (to the West), serving both districts. A 50 minute journey lay ahead before our first stop, the Impala Hotel in Arusha. On arrival we ditched our bags and waited for our room to be cleared so we could check in. The reception area of the hotel was magnificent, adorned by ornate African sculptures of mammals and Maasai. The abundance of mzungos was also difficult to ignore. We sat and chatted for a while with Mwanaidi before deciding to check in later rather than waste any time. And without further ado, we said our goodbyes to Mwanaidi and took off with Dennis for a day’s game drive in Arusha National Park.

The first sighting in the park was a field of giraffe, zebra and buffalo all grazing on the same patch. What I found truly fascinating as the day rolled on (this coming from a man who’s not overly enthusiastic about the animal kingdom) was witnessing these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. I’ve already seen most of these animals in captivity where they are paraded around for our enjoyment and subjected to man’s own whim. But here, I felt very much like an intruder, treading on foreign territory that I don’t have any automatic right to.

Amongst the most memorable sightings of the day were the Cape Buffalos; Black and White Columbus monkeys, Yellow Baboons, Buchell’s Zebras, Hippopotamus’, Giraffes, Flamingos, Common Waterbuck and Bushbuck (Antelopes), Warthogs and a Breasted Eagle.

Trio on tour, Arusha National Park

Trio on tour, Arusha National Park

At one point Steve swore he could see a Rhino through the binoculars, a figure in the distance similarly shaped and coloured to that of a Hippo, lighter coloured than a Buffalo yet with tusks. I agreed that it looked suspiciously like a Rhino, but Dennis responded with a fast and brunt reply that there are no Rhino’s in the park and such a sighting is impossible. However, we later discovered from reading the guide book that Black Rhinos can be spotted in the park on rare occasions. However, to prevent word getting out and the few remaining Rhinos from being hunted, safari drivers tend to keep very quiet about it. This made very interesting reading… we shall never know if we really did catch a fleeting glimpse of the elusive Black Rhino in Arusha National Park.

Our tour of the park consisted of a short a circuit around the Ngurdoto crater (a Caldera similar to that of the Ngorongoro crater only on a much smaller scale, where the concentration of Cape Buffalos makes it too dangerous to venture inside) and a brief climb up the foot of mount Meru. We were all very impressed with Dennis’ driving skills in the latter part of the afternoon as we motored our way up the foot of Meru, winding around a steep and narrow rocky path that looked more of a footpath than driving terrain. Our jeep is also quite the machine, handling every bit of abuse that Dennis could hurl at it with ease. Dennis is a great guide, and although his English is sometimes difficult to interpret through his accent (he is apparently more fluent in French), he knows his stuff. Fortunately, the rooftop of the jeep opens out allowing the three of us to stand up and view the game from above rather than sitting down behind the windows, which is awesome.

After returning from a long day on safari Dennis dropped us at the hotel where we checked in and dumped our bags in the room. Very nice accommodation, if a bit impersonal, but well above all of my prior expectations of a ‘budget’ safari. If anything, this must surely lie within the ‘luxury’ bracket. We then took a brisk walk into Arusha town to gain more of an understanding of our surrounds. Clearly, a much more affluent area than I have been used to in the past three weeks, but I can see why many people from Dar say they prefer the coast to the North. It’s colder and doesn’t have quite the same vibe. Still, with the towering mount Meru as an imposing backdrop, Arusha is an impressive city.

Walking in Arusha, Mt. Meru as a backdrop

Walking in Arusha, Mt. Meru as a backdrop

Back in the nick of time for dinner, we took our seats in the continental restaurant (there were separate Chinese, Indian and Italian restaurants also on offer) for a satisfying meat and ugali dish (a Tanzanian speciality), before retiring for an early nightcap. I am thoroughly looking forward tomorrow; today has set the precedent, and tomorrow we should get to see an even greater abundance of wildlife in Lake Manyara National Park.

Kwa heri

It’s 10:06 on Saturday morning and the house is unusually quiet as 11 of the 15 volunteers are out on various expeditions. I am just chilling out and relaxing at the house. One last trip to Bahari beach later is defo in order, followed by packing for the safari and an early night. Gerrard is picking us up at 04:30 tomorrow morning for our 7:30 flight to Kilimanjaro, where we embark on our safari and Zanzibar trip for a final week before flying home.

Yesterday morning was our final session at the school. Friday is sports day so we organised a few games for the kids, albeit in a somewhat haphazard manner as the kids soon became restless and it turned into normal play time. I was busy engaged in giving out clothes to those kids that didn’t receive any last time. Although I had only anticipated providing new outfits for 40 kids, we ended up with twice as many children queuing up for new clothes because there were many kids that missed school last week when we handed the first batch out. The result was that we gave what we could wherever we could, and I think eventually everyone went home with something.

Friday is sports day

Friday is sports day

Grace and Steve took Israeli and Isaaca back to the doctor for their HIV tests during the morning session. Both tested negative which was uplifting news. Steve also asked the doctor if she would mind attending our health and sanitation meeting with the village on Friday next week and she obliged. Although I won’t be around to participate in next week’s events, I am pleased with our plans for all three projects (health and sanitation meeting, open house school session and orphanage visits) that will be taking place during the school holiday. I will admit to being slightly more pro-active in the last few days as the end of our time on the programme has approached, attempting to leave something of worth that will continue to make a positive impact after our departure. It’s good to know that all of the school kids will receive a free toothbrush and toothpaste at the health and sanitation meeting on Friday, and that a local doctor will be attending to help educate the parents about basic health and hygiene in the village, which is a real problem.

Walking the kids home from school for the last time I was thinking about their future and what might become of the kids after I resume normal life back in England. I picked up Mdusa and Mdiza (the two kids I have become closest to) for the last time and said my goodbyes (kwa heri in Swahili) as I watched them return to their huts. I know that I will probably be a distant memory to them in a few weeks time as they continue to get on with their lives in the enduring African spirit of things. But I am pleased to have been a part of their lives for this short period, and like to think I have made that little bit of difference through the time I have spent with them.

Mdusa & Mdiza

My pals, Mdusa & Mdiza

After the morning session I took an afternoon trip into Posta with Roxy, Laural and Aussies Sarah and Jen. We stopped for lunch at a western-style fast food place and I had a four-seasons pizza which, I’m not ashamed to say, was immensely satisfying! Looking around the restraunt I saw a record number of muzungoos (white people). It made me thankful that we have been living in a rural suburb of the city, as a residence in the heart of the city surely would not render an accurate depiction of day-to-day life in Tanzania.

After Posta we jumped on a dalla dalla to Kariakoo which, as was to be expected, was crammed to the max. Myself and Jen were amongst the last to get on and we had to elbow our way through the crowd to fight for enough floor space to stand. Although it was only a 5 minute journey, it felt like 20 trying balance my weight on one foot and attempting to remain upright as the full extent of the weight of the people behind was inflicted on me each time we turned a corner. I loved it really; you could never truly experience Tanzania without a few awkward dalla dalla excursions.

We didn’t actually do much in Kariakoo save a bit of window shopping, but I did get a much better feel for the place as we wondered through the market and along the dusty side alleys. We spent just as long locating the Mwenge dalla dalla for the journey home as we did shopping; having retraced our steps through the maze of activity to the Posta-Kariakoo dalla dalla drop off point only to find that the Mwenge dalla dalla depart from a different spot. After much exploration through some sketchy looking side streets we managed to find the elusive Mwenge dalla dalla. The locals were more than happy to provide directions, but frustratingly their limited English meant that the best that they could do was to point vaguely in one direction and utter a few incomprehensible words. Although it took the best of the afternoon to get a bite to eat in Posta and experience Kariakoo, it was worthwhile just for that feeling of success that you get having successfully circumnavigated around the city via the public transport system and arriving home in one piece with all possessions accounted for.

Reflecting on my final session at the school

Reflecting on my final session at the school

Reflecting back on the last three weeks it feels like I have been living here as long as a year or more. As enjoyable as the time has been, I feel exhausted. Although three weeks is a relatively short period I do feel like I have given everything I have and made the most of my time here. Reluctant as I am to leave the school and the friends I have made out here, its probably about time to go. At least I don’t have to start contemplating going home; we have an exciting week ahead of us and England still seems a universe away. Sunday through Wednesday we will be exploring the delights of Northern Tanzania and it’s beautiful wildlife; Thursday through Saturday relaxing on the adorning Zanzibari beaches. I can’t wait. It will round my Tanzanian experience off nicely and by the end I will feel like I have gotten to know the country intimately. The more I think about it, the more I realise that these really are some of the best days of my life.

Rafiki, rafiki

Another four days have passed since my last entry, and my time on the volunteer programme is almost up. Tomorrow morning will be my last session at the school and we leave the volunteer house for our safari early on Sunday morning. Right now it is difficult to contemplate, but I really do think I will miss the school in a big way.

To fill you in briefly on the events of the past few days; on Tuesday we ventured into Posta in Dar city centre to pick up flight tickets for our week of traveling. It was interesting to see this side of town in contrast to Kariakoo which I saw on a previous trip into the city. Posta is the central business district of the city evidenced by a dozen or so sky scrapers, pockets of western influence and other more promising signs of development. It did make me wonder as I was sitting in the comfort of the air conditioned Precision Air office, the extent of the disparity of an average Tanznian’s earnings, especially between a city worker and a Kunduchi fisherman.

Trip to Dar

Trip to Dar

Yesterday we started a new class in the morning session for the really young kids that come to the school, up to about the age of around 2 or 3. I have volunteered to help Emma out with this new class during my remaining time here. One of the young dudes that has become rather attached to me (I have now learned his name is Mdusa) is in the class and it is great to watch him becoming more expressive with his class mates and increasingly responsive to the teaching. Splitting the group up into smaller, more manageable classes is definitely beneficial.

This morning I went to the morning session as per usual, helping out with the younger class. Meanwhile Steve and Grace took two of the kids, Israeli and Isaaca who have really bad ringworm, to a local doctor (with the consent of their parents) who prescribed some antibiotics. Ringworm is a fungal infection that is rife amongst the children. These two particular kids have it all over their skin and it has gotten to the point that no amount of cream would stop the infection from spreading. The doctor expressed a strong suspicion of HIV Aids in both of them, and reality hit home again when Steven and Grace met Israeli’s auntie who explained that both his parents recently died from aids. The guardians of both kids have given consent for them to be taken back to the doctor tomorrow for an HIV test. If they do test positive at least they can be prescribed free antibiotics as part of a government health initiative. One good thing that came out of the visit was the whole hearted support of the doctor of the work we have been doing in the school. Apparently she visits Kunduchi village frequently to buy fish from the market where she has spoken to the locals and heard about the school. The hope is that we may be able to develop a link between her and the programme, perhaps paying a monthly visit to the school to look at the kids or helping to educate the local community about common illnesses and their prevention.

Morning preschool class

Morning preschool class

I skipped the afternoon session at the school to make a return trip to Rafiki and the surrounding market place to spend the rest of the fund we raised prior to the trip. I dragged Roxy, Laural and Steve along with me for extra help, given my previous experience of the market place. Nelly (one of the Swahili-speaking teachers) also accompanied us with Mapunda driving.

I figured that a second mass give away of clothes and shoes at the school might not be entirely productive so instead the focus of the trip was on medical supplies and toothbrushes/toothpaste. Our first stop was a pharmacy where we picked out plentiful supplies of all the basic medical necessities to treat fungal infections and common health problems that arise amongst the youngsters. Grace has told us that the kids often complain about bad headaches and that there is nothing that the they can do for them. However, with our new supplies we will be able to administer pain killers and other such appropriate treatment. As aforementioned, ringworm and other fungal infections are rife amongst the kids and our new stock of anti fungal cream and antibiotic eye/ear drops will go a long way towards combating such infections that are so simple to cure.

Goodies from the Chemist

Goodies from the Chemist

Our second stop was a small outlet that sold basic amenities such as toothpaste and tooth brushes. Fortunately they had a lot of stock and we purchased 72 toothbrushes, 240 tubes of toothpaste, 60 small pots of petroleum jelly and 72 small packets of washing detergent. In case I have failed to mention before, the level of hygiene evidenced by the kids is very poor. With regards to teeth, many of the kids some as young as two or three, have teeth that are rotten though. A lot of them look like they have never used a toothbrush or toothpaste in their life. Our health and sanitation initiative thus begins next week (after we have left the programme) when the volunteers meet with the parents to talk about basic hygiene and things like how to clean teeth. We will provide each child with a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste to take home with them, and after todays investments we have more than enough to distribute to every child. The petroleum jelly will be distributed on an as need basis to those kids that really need it, and the fruitful supply of washing detergent will allow teachers to wash the clothes of those kids who come in wearing filthy clothes.

Our final stop was Rafiki, the used clothes market. Our purpose here was to purchase 40 outfits for the kids that didn’t receive clothes last week during the previous giveaway (we took note of their names). Once again it didn’t take long to attract the attention of the zillion or so merchants. Soon after we started shifting through the mountains of clothes to find appropriate items, sellers started gathering around me shouting ‘rafiki (friend), rafiki, over here.’ I ended up standing outside of the market place again, just like last time, examining items of clothing picked out by the merchants and their staff running to and from their stalls. The sellers gathered around me trying to redirect my attention away from the guy I was doing the bulk of my business with. I got quite agitated in the confined space and kept asking the guy to tell all the other sellers to move away and give me some space. I felt sort of guilty afterwards as Nelly told me that a chap behind me who kept calling my name was desperately urging the seller with whom I was doing business with to give him a chance at showing me some of his clothes as he had no money. Fortunately it was only a quick stop and unlike last time we only required 40 outfits. The dude who supplied the bulk of the clothes was very appreciative of our business and apologised to me in Swahili for the haggling of the sellers, explaining that I should understand that his friends need money to go home and feed their families. It does make me feel good to be able contribute to the local economy like this.

Well, I think I hear my bed calling me. Its been a tiring day and there is much to do tomorrow. In the back of my head I am constantly reminded that tomorrow is our penultimate day at the school. Better get some sleep so I can make the most of our last day. Night!

Dalla dalla style

So its 9:45 on Sunday morning and I am making the most of having a free day to relax. I had a lie in today and didn’t get up until 8:30 which was sweet. This morning however it felt like I had awoken in a different house. Last night we had six new arrivals in the volunteer house, and Sarah departed. Friday night we had another two arrivals, and Lauren and Jenny are leaving tonight. So the group has suddenly been transformed as the old lot start to leave and the new lot come in. 2 Canadian guys arrived on Friday night and 3 Ausie girls, 1 Spanish lady and a couple form the States arrived last night. Its exciting; along with the opportunity to meet new people (and these guys are not all from the US for a change!) comes the shift in emphasis on our role of duty to facilitate a smooth handover period to the new volunteers and watch the programme progress into the next phase. At the same time it is sad that the previous group has to fragment since we all worked so well together, but I think it will be good for the school to have a fresh bunch of people come in with new ideas and expertise to bring to the programme. There are also a couple of teachers amongst the new arrivals which is good news in light of tonight’s departure of Lauren and Jenster whose teaching experience has played a major part in the lessons at school.

Yesterday we decided to take a trip up to Bagamoyo, the next coastal city from Dar when traveling north. Myself, Steve, Ben, Rachel and Emma left the house at 6:15 before dawn so we could spend the whole day in the small city. We braved the public transport system which was a first for us Brits (the comfort of a personal driver during weekdays is very convenient). After walking to the Kunduchi junction we took a dalla dalla to Mwenge bus station and from there a dalla dalla direct to Bagamoyo. Dalla dalla are public mini buses that the locals use to get around. There are actually pretty efficient and are very frequent on most routes. Perhaps more efficient even than the buses in England, but then I guess that’s not a difficult feat. Africa being Africa, dalla dalla journeys can be rather interesting as the locals cram themselves like sardeens into every available space in the bus. A bus originally built to accommodate 20 is often frequented by double (or more) its intended capacity. They also race each other to their destinations which is rather entertaining and the conductor literally hangs out of the side doors attracting the attention of prospective passengers. It is a dirt cheap way to travel though, and we made it to Bagamoyo (an hours journey) having spent little over 60p.

13th century Kaole

13th century Kaole

From Bagamoyo bus station we found a taxi driver who drove us a short distance out of town to the Kaole ruins. This is a historical site preserved by the government because of its significance in African history. The ruins of a thirteenth century city, Kaole was the first settlement in East Africa. On arrival we were greeted by an enthusiastic tour guide who give us a short tour around the remains. Within the ruins we saw the reminants of the first East African mosque and a ‘sacred’ well that we were told has special power from God because it is the only well that provides fresh water (as opposed to salt water) for miles and the water level has bizarrely remained exactly the same ever since its origination. Of course, we didn’t pass on the opportunity to indulge in a quick hand wash in the ‘sacred’ water. It was an interesting tour and well worth visiting. Our guide was a little bit sketch, claiming to be the grandson of a really famous African (I forget the name, my knowledge of African history is very limited), but he was very insightful.

Bagamoyo beach

Bagamoyo beach

We finished the tour by late morning and called our cab driver to pick us up and take us to a beach side hotel we had earmarked from the guidebook. Unfortunately, the hotel no longer existed so the taxi driver took us to different hotel where we spent a while on Bagamoyo beach which famous for its beauty. Personally, I wasn’t quite as impressed with the beach as I thought I would be, preferring our local Bahari beach. But that may have been because the tide was out and we had to walk a long way to reach the sea. The water was also very shallow and I didn’t manage get beyond waist deep, so it was less than ideal for swimming. The experience may also have been marred by the transient African weather, quickly changing from intense sun to downpour. Maybe I’m getting too accustomed to African life – at high tide I’m sure this beach would be every bit as beautiful as described by the guidebook. We had lunch in the hotel ‘restaurant’ if it can be described as such. Fish and chips as per the usual were my choice of cuisine. It took an hour after ordering for our food to arrive. Being the only people in the restraunt I guess the staff had to go out and fetch some fish before they could prepare our meal. We did see two big fish being carried into the hotel while we sat on the beach shortly after ordering. The food was not quite up to the standard of the fish and chips we had on ‘the island’ last weekend, but the large portion sufficed.

Lunch in Bagamoyo

Lunch in Bagamoyo

In the afternoon we left the hotel and took a walk up the main street. Looking at the map in my guidebook I had envisaged a bustling city and market place. The town however was quiet and not the hive of activity that Dar is. We did however manage to find a road-side fruit seller where I indulged in a fresh pineapple. After a short walk through the town we decided we had seen enough and asked someone to direct us to the bus station. He was very obliging and guided us to the station, a short 5 minute walk.

The journey back to Mwenge was very smooth as we found a larger, more comfortable bus that wasn’t as crowded as this morning’s journey. After jumping off before the Mwenge bus station we walked a for short distance along the road before a Kunduchi dalla dalla approached. We flagged it down to find that it was already well over capacity. The conductor insisted that there was space for us so I went with the flow, and found myself hanging half outside the door with my hands clasping onto the seat in front. This is true dalla dalla style; when there is only space for one foot on the floor with the other trailing outside the door. Stopping at the Kunduchi junction I jumped straight onto a bike taxi which took me the remainder of the journey back to the house. The bike taxi was surprisingly comfortable, and it was much more fun sitting on the back of a bike than walking. For 20p, it was definitely value for money. The remainder of the evening was occupied by greeting the new arrivals.

The plan for today is to spend the rest of the morning on the beach and the afternoon exploring a bit further north of the house via bike, which we have yet to do.

Christmas or anarchy?!

This week has really flown by (in stark contrast to the first week). But I am so exhausted I am relieved that the weekend has finally arrived. That’s a good thing, because it means I have been making the most of my time here. It’s midday on Friday and I have just cycled back from the morning session at the school. No afternoon session today so the long awaited weekend starts here.

I guess you’re probably waiting to hear how yesterday morning went when we dished out 200 pairs of shoes and outfits to the kids in the morning session. Well, it was manic. But well worth it. We decided to scrap the normal procedure of splitting the class up and following lesson plans. Instead, we kept the whole class occupied in the main building by singing songs and colouring things in, whilst we took 10 boys and 10 girls at a time around the back of the school under the shade of the trees to kit out in new t-shirts/dresses, shorts/skirts, underwear and shoes. The kids were surprisingly good when it came to waiting outside to be dressed up in their new outfits. I don’t think they quite grasped what was going on at first, but it didn’t take long for things to sink in. A team of us took each child and individually searched the piles of clothes to find appropriate outfits. When each group of kids had been dressed a volunteer walked them home into the village to ensure they weren’t mixed up with the rest of the kids.

Me, Maggie and Robbie with the clothes, preparing for a barrage of kids

Me, Maggie and Robbie with the clothes, preparing for a barrage of kids

The difficulty was that it took such a long time to dress the kids up that by normal school finishing time we had only got through two or three lots of kids. The result was that the kids waiting obliviously in the hall became uncontrollable. It is only possible to occupy 180 kids in a confined space for a short while. So I gather (I stayed outside dishing out clothes) that the teachers lost all sense of control by the end, save the ability to keep them in the class room. The other, perhaps more detrimental effect, was that parents began to wonder up to the school wondering why their kids had not yet returned home. Word soon got around the village thus that the muzungus (white people) were giving out free clothes and shoes. Thus, towards the end of the session parents were bringing children up that weren’t from the school and trying to get them new clothes also. It was sad but we had to turn people away because we didn’t have enough for the entire village. It was also slightly frustrating that the locals seemed to get the impression that they could come up and choose clothes for themselves (or their children) rather than us giving them to them.

By the end there was slim picking of clothes and although we had bought enough for all the children in the school we had underestimated how skinny the kids were when buying the clothes and so by the end it was impossible to find clothes that fit. It’s so difficult because no matter how much resources we have it will always be impossible to distribute to the entire village in an orderly fashion. As a result we had to stop before all of the kids had received clothes. Some, who had endured the morning and waited until the end inevitably had to go home with nothing. But we wrote down their names so that we can distribute any new clothes that come in directly to them. I still have money to spend on resources so this may be something we can do next week.

Every last bit of energy was sapped out of me dressing the kids and trying to keep some kind of order. The good thing was that the kids that did receive new clothes (and there was over a hundred of the little critters who received complete new outfits) were ecstatic. When I walked a group of kids home the boys were running around comparing their new shoes with their friends and the girls were constantly hugging me and trying to kiss my hands. Some of the kids were saying in Swahili that they weren’t going to wear their new shoes in the toilets because they didn’t want to get them dirty. This demonstration of appreciation was really heart warming and it is this memory that reminds me that, although we couldn’t help every individual child in the village, at least the little bit that we were able to do made a big difference.

Proud kids walking home in their new outfits

Proud kids walking home in their new outfits

Last night was a bit emotional in the volunteer house as it was Maggie and Robbie’s last night before flying back to the States early this morning. They were the biggest donors in terms of buying clothes and shoes for the school kids, and they evidently found it difficult to leave. It is also sad to think that Jenny and Lauren will be leaving on Sunday. They are both teachers from the States and so contribute a lot to the functioning of the school. The current group of volunteers has worked so well together it is sad to think that the dynamic has to change again. But I am looking forward to meeting new people and passing on our roles on to the next lot in preparation for our own departure.

School resumed as normal in the afternoon session but there were twice as many kids. A lot of new children who don’t go to the school turned up expecting to receive new clothes from us and my normal class of 30 doubled in size. I counted well over 60 kids and it was difficult to fit them all in the small outbuilding. We did manage to keep the class under control at large though, and the afternoon session went well. Peter (the co-coordinator of TAYOA) turned up at one point accompanied by a Scottish chap from ‘Feed the Children.’ I was busy with the class when they arrived but the guy was apparently looking into the possibility of his charity providing porridge to the school kids in the morning sessions. Will be interesting to see how that turns out.

This morning it was great to see the kids in their new outfits. The class was noticeably bigger after yesterday’s events and a lot of small kids too young to really learn anything turned up. They are all instructed to take their shoes of before sitting down, but today many of them tried to hide their new shoes behind the tables to keep them safe. Friday is games day so instead of normal teaching we split the class into three and took them around an obstacle course. It was great fun; chaotic as usual but good to see the kids getting a bit of exercise (not that they are lacking it – I doubt they spend any time at all cooped up in their mud huts).

Me & my pal

Me & my pal

There is one kid (I am yet to work out his name) who has formed some what of an attachment to me. He must be 2 or 3 at the oldest and is really kinda cute. He has got into the habit of running up to me to be lifted up and cuddled, and now whenever he sees me his little face lights up. It’s so great to feel that you are having such an impact on a child that is probably deprived of such affection at home. It is definitely noticeable how those kids that are not treated well at home really do appreciate a bit of affection at school. All the kids love the attention, but some in particular seem to need it more than others. Anyway, I’ve never heard my little guy say anything before. He seems content on his own playing with the other kids but I’ve never really seen him make much of an attempt at interacting. Today however I was carrying him on the walk home and the other kids were singing one of the counting songs we sing in class. The little guy looked at me and very quietly mumbled a few numbers with me whilst I joined in with the singing. I found this to be quite a special moment.

That’s enough for the moment, I’m off to join some of the other volunteers down on the private beach by the Bahari Beach Hotel. A few well deserved drinks at the bar by the waters edge are definitely in order I think!


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