Comparisons in Experiences: Tanzania

This article is unlike any of my others because for the first time ever I had the pleasure of featuring a fellow traveller on Walks of Namayani!

Chloe Braedt has attended the same school as me for the last four years. She has traveled around the world with her family every two years to places like: Costa Rica, Germany, India, Tanzania, Peru, as well as Austria and Italy! She is in love with traveling and meeting new people and experiencing different cultures in a multitude of ways. She also hopes to continue traveling in her near future, hopefully touring New Zealand in two years!

We traveled to Tanzania in the same year (2016) and found that there were many differences. I went in June (their winter) and she went in December (their summer) but the experiences differed far more than mere temperatures. We decided to compile a list of topics regarding this wonderful county and share each of our perspectives to give a broader idea of the country and also to see the differences in tourism versus volunteer work. Here were the results:

Chloe and I attempting to pack in Peru

First Impression of Tanzania:

Chloe:

After a thirteen hour flight and a long wait for visas in Kenya, we finally arrived in Tanzania. The air was hot and humid, and full of an indistinguishable almost earthy smell, noticeable as soon as we left the plane. Driving on the opposite side of the road from the airport to our hotel was trippy! Honestly, my first day of Tanzania was a blurry, beautiful, overwhelmed, over stimulated, and an exhausted jetlagged blur. We arrived in Arusha, and drove to Arusha National Park to experience a Safari and I took a selfie with my brother while giraffes chilled in the background!

Namayani:

We arrived late evening to Kilimanjaro International Airport, where we were greeted by our guides, Charles and Deveney. All of us had our visas beforehand, except for one girl who had Canadian citizenship, rather than US. After customs, we grabbed our luggage and converted the currency (at the time 1 USD = 2000 TZS). The air outside was fairly humid and had a very distinct smell, although not a bad one. It smelt more earthy than my home does. I was immediately shocked by the traffic for two reasons: it was on the opposite side of the road and it was so busy and overwhelming. I was entranced by the differences from my city to Arusha and even though I was so drained from the flying, I noticed every single thing. Something that stood out to me was definitely the convenience stores. They seemed to be the social gathering of the culture. There were also a lot of ads for Coca-Cola too!

A horribly blurry image of our plane from Amsterdam

Slave Trade:

Chloe:

In Zanzibar I had the opportunity to tour an old slave storage prison. The air was hot and thick as we descending the steep stairs receding underground. After maneuvering through foul smelling tunnels we arrived in a small cramped alcove and discovered that more than twenty slaves would be crammed into this dark room for days, awaiting to be sold in Zanzibar or shipped off somewhere else. My tour consisted of 12 people, and the tour guide made all of us stand squished together in the cave for ten minutes to experience a small glimpse of what the African slaves experienced for days. It was suffocating. The ceiling was low, even while sitting on raised rocks, and there was a small hole that revealed a little glow of light, but ultimately it was nearly pitch black. It was an eye opening experience, and one I will not forget in a long time.

Namayani:

I actually did not have an experience with the slave trade history. My group was in a rural area, far from tourist attractions and historical sites. However, I wish I could understand this horrific experience further and am hoping to visit some sights in Morocco this June.

Treatment of the Environment:

Chloe:

Overall, the treatment of the environment was mediocre. Not nearly as dramatic as India, but trash was still noticeable on the sides of the streets, mostly plastic water bottles and plastic soda bottles. One memorable experience though was when we visited a small market place. There was a sign that stated something similar to, “Keep our environment healthy and clean!” and piled high around the sign was trash, ranging from plastic items, to old clothes, to dead carcasses.

Namayani:

I found that treatment of the environment was somewhere between good and bad. Personally, I felt that the people had a huge amount of respect for the natural world, but lacked the resources to actually take care of it. I never felt dirty or unclean, but trash was evident on the streets and waste didn’t seem to be adequately dealt with, although I am observing from a first world perspective. In terms of the animals though, I feel like the safaris were well maintained and clean, and the animals, though observed by tourists, were independent of humans and living a natural life.

African elephants in Tarangire National Park

Overall Poverty:

Chloe:

Compared to India, the poverty I experienced was less, but still severe in more populated areas. Sellers, ranging from young teenagers to old men and women would come up to me and grasp my arm and beg for shillings, or shove a bracelet on my wrists, attempting to convince me to buy it. At one point this women roughly grabbed my hand and pushed a ring on my finger, rapidly speaking broken english that it was beautiful on my hand. I told her I didn’t want it and it took me several minutes to even pull it off my finger, I had to yell at my dad to help me. The people were kind, but also understandably desperate for money from white tourists.

Namayani:

I was in an area devoid of markets or peddlers, but I was in an exceptionally rural part of the country. Where I was, the average family, which is seven people, lives on an average income of 10,000 shillings, which equates to five US dollars. No one was asking for money, but for help. Many of these people didn’t even have access to water or a safe shelter or the ability to read. They were making a small living off of what they could produce because selling to tourists was not an option. At one point, we took part in the local Maasai market, but even there, the people who had lots of supplies were struggling. It was eye opening to see how some of these people work so hard but barely make enough to get by. This deficiency in funds was a large focus of my trip because it begins to affect people physically, emotionally, and socially. I couldn’t fathom being in their place. Too many times, I saw the effects of poverty: malnutrition, starvation, dehydration, sickness, stunted growth, and no education. These people were so kind and gracious and it hurts me to think about how much difficulty they go through throughout the year.

Inside the home of a Maasai family

Religion (Christian/Muslim):

Chloe:

In the majority of Tanzania it was difficult to discern the primary religion, however; in Zanzibar there is a huge muslim population which was very prominent. Zanzibar is a beautiful island with breathtaking sandy beaches and crystal blue water. Nevertheless, I don’t think I once noticed anyone swimming on these beaches besides a few very white tourists. Most of the locals living on the island are extremely conservative and covered up, especially the women.

Namayani:

I actually had the wonderful experience of being in Tanzania during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday. My area was predominantly Christian and Muslim, with a very even split. When we first arrived, we saw lots of people in Mosques praying and in the morning, we were typically woken up by the prayer calls. However, many people were Christian too and despite differences, there seemed to be no conflict over beliefs. Even though Ramadan wasn’t celebrated by half of the population, nearly everyone greatly respected it.

Weapons:

Chloe:

AK-47s. Lots and lots everywhere! Tanzanians would be sitting outside local restaurants with these massive guns strapped on their bags, casually talking to their neighbor. At one point my family and I were riding in a jeep across Zanzibar and several black jeeps full of men in military uniforms with AK 47s passed us with horns and sirens blaring. It was pretty terrifying, my mom saw the group speeding towards us and shoved me down behind the seat just in case something became violent. These guns appeared commonplace in both Zanzibar and the areas of Tanzania I visited.

Namayani:

AK-47s were very commonplace where I was. On our first night people would be laughing and smiling in the convenience stores with the automatic rifles propped up against them. There was no need or threat by them, they were just there. I wasn’t expecting it and it was startling, but I didn’t feel scared or afraid. There was no tension or present danger, they just seemed to be a part of daily life.

Food:

Chloe:

In Tanzania, we could only eat thoroughly cooked food and bottled water. We were strongly advised to avoid all meats and fruits in order to stay healthy. Overall the food was yummy! My family planned out all of our meals in advance so most of the meals we ate were “americanized” which was frustrating, but I never got sick so that was good. At one point we watched a man climb a coconut tree and harvest coconuts for all of my family! The coconut water was incredible, strikingly more sweet and crisp than anything you could buy here in the U.S. The coconut meat itself was a little slimy, but overall pretty yummy!

Namayani:

We had no recommendations about food, mostly because it was prepared for us. The volunteer company makes extra effort to coordinate safe food and water, but luckily we also got to experience Tanzanian food. Lots of their cuisine deals with natural fruits, meats, and grains. Corn products are common, as well as bell peppers, tomatoes, bananas, watermelons, and more. One day, we had a special opportunity to prepare our own meal. Together we made ugali, a sort of corn meal loaf, vegetable stir fry, and some other things and it was so good. I even make ugaliand stir fry at home now for special occasions. Another day we had a much more negative experience. We woke up and had to eat one of the more common local foods, which was essentially cornmeal oatmeal. Our group of nine had to finish at least one bowl and each of us had to finish a cup. It was one of the worst things I have ever eaten since it clung to my throat and mouth, was gritty and just all around awful. Our whole group was rather disgusted, but this meager meal of cornmeal and water is the primary food for the people in the area. They don’t like it much, but they eat as much of it when they can, while the supply is there, because for many, it will be their only source of food. Another interesting food experience was goat. We, as a group, gave a goat to our wonderful hosts as a gift, and because of that, we had the unique opportunity to watch a ceremonial goat slaughter. Only half of us could really stomach the event, but I was grateful for this true experience of culture. Later that night we had a celebration and ate said goat, which was a new food for me!

A super yummy breakfast
Some food from the market

Tourist level (especially in regards to culture):

Chloe:

My experiences with Tanzanian culture was more specifically with the Maasai tribe. We drove into a rural area and through our massive tour bus we watched the tiny dots of Maasai men graze their goats and cows. At one point I remember seeing a teenager, he appeared about my age (16) and he was gripping a tall spear and donning traditional clothing. What different lives we lead as teenagers. After driving down a long dusty road we arrived at a Maasai village. The village itself was primitive; with straw and mud huts and thatched roofs. The Maasai people welcomed us warmly, but honestly the entire experience was very touristy. The women performed a dance for us, and the men jumped in tribal dances. It was really interesting learning about their culture, but I could easily tell this particular tribe thrived off of tourism, which made the experience a little less realistic and personal. Overall though, I really enjoyed the Maasai people.

Namayani:

Unlike Chloe, I was not observing the Maasai culture, but was living in it. I was about three hours from the nearest city and our tents were near a local group of Maasai. We never witnessed any of the dances, but instead helped the tribe carry water to and from the source and visited a nearby family. None of these people were thriving off of tourism, but instead their funds were from agriculture. Their mud huts were their true home, equipped with feeble electricity and small fire pits. Many of them wore traditional clothing by choice, rather than to appease us and overall it was an honest and accurate experience, rather than falsified for tourism. The only “performance” that we experienced was when we finished working on the school, the students sang us a song, but it was much more of a thank you than a plea for money or attention.

Our guides, Lekihiti and Mollel on a termite mound

Lodging in Country:

Chloe:

On my trip, my family and I stayed in lavish hotels and glamped when we were on the Safari part of our experience. One thing to note, the “fancy” hotels that we stayed in were honestly what I would consider average hotels in the U.S. Tanzania has differing standards in regards to hotel services, compared to the U.S- understandably of course. The beds were always pretty stiff and the showers I experienced consistently possessed a slimy quality about them, the water was slippery and almost felt greasy which was a little unsettling at first.

Namayani:

Throughout my time there, we were almost always in our camp in Orbomba. We were in a hotel, The Outpost Lodge for only one night, of which the food and service was fantastic. Unlike most standard hotels we had three to a room, but each room was typically its own building. The beds were stiff but relieving after a long span of flights. I don’t recall any of us using the showers, but the hotel was super cute and clean. We were also provided with mosquito nets, which was also reassuring. The food was superb as well and overall it just felt warm and welcoming. It was certainly a transition though, as the first thing I noticed was a sign to not leave windows open due to monkeys (although we never had an issue)! Also, during breakfast the next morning, we saw lots of chameleons, which was super cool. For the the rest of the trip, we slept in tents near our volunteer site. Our camp was set up with one big mess tent and lots of tents fitting four people and their belongings. Staff stayed nearby and there was a makeshift kitchen, where our food was prepared each day. Bathroom and shower tents were behind us and the whole thing was fenced in. I felt super safe the whole time and actually quite close to nature. In fact, one morning we woke up to giraffes in our camp!

Giraffe in the camp!
My bed at camp
1-Opener.JPG
Monkey notice at Outpost Lodge

Biggest Takeaway:

Chloe:

Oof. Difficult question! My travel to Tanzania was enlightening, exciting, heartbreaking at times but most importantly gave me a huge sense of perspective in the world. The U.S is one of the most wealthy nations in the world, and because of this fact, it’s easy to take opportunities and graces we receive on a daily basis for granted. Clean running water, grocery stores, cars, electricity: all functions we interact with constantly, but in places like Tanzania, this is obviously not the case. My trip instilled a permanent sense of gratitude, and even though my heart shatters when I think about the conditions the men, women, and children in places like Tanzania experience daily. I am able to reconcile myself by knowing that I will go back one day and impact these families in a positive way, which is something I hope everyone who travels to an impoverished countries feels.

Namayani:

Narrowing it down to a single thing is very difficult for me. Often times I think of my experiences with water there and how that one resource affects such a grand portion of life. Too often I feel guilt for having such easy access and I want to do something about it. The fact that I personally know some of the people that are being affected by drought and disease makes the global situation much more personal and heartbreaking to me and to the others in my group. My experience with carrying the water to the home enlightened me to what it is like to struggle with things we take for granted and someday I want to help those in need with their resource access. Additionally, I witnessed the effects of poverty in general, and I hope that one day that burden will be lessened for people globally. While this trip was a massive culture shock and a guilt trip, it also sparked a desire to help, a new sense of gratitude, and a better understanding of the world.

Water from the local drinking hole

3 thoughts on “Comparisons in Experiences: Tanzania

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