Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Linda's volunteer experience in Tanzania

Report: Tanzania Host Community: Mwika, Kilimanjaro Host Organization: Uvikiuta Dates: First Camp (24th of Jan-6th of Feb 2010), Second Camp(14th of Feb-27th of Feb 2010)

Sweat, cockroaches and crazy bus drivers….Welcome to Africa!!!!!!!
My adventure began on a Friday the 22nd of January 2010, when I said goodbye to my friends in the Parisian metro. On the way to the airport I began to feel a little nervous, since it was the first time for me to go to Africa. After a very relaxing flight with Emirates via Dubai and unfortunately 2 hours delay I arrived safely at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. Luckily Uvikiuta’s driver Edison was still waiting patiently and when I saw the sign with my name on it, a wave of relief overcame me. I met the first member of my team from South Korea, who had actually been sitting on the same plane as me since Dubai. Together we were taken to Uvikiuta centre at the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. The accommodation for the first few nights was a simple room, two loft beds, and an outside toilet, which served at the same time as a home for cockroaches of all kind. Although we had been prepared by our sending organizations about the living conditions in our host country, it took definitely some time to get used to. Especially to the heat, the insects and the monkeys running and jumping on our tin roof all night. After a few days of acclimatizing, visiting Uivikiuta centre and of course Dar es Salaam, the third member of our group, also from South Korea, arrived and we were ready to start the journey to our host community in Mwika, Kilimanjaro. Of course we were all quite surprised realizing that we were only three international volunteers, two from South Korea and me, who would be joined by three local volunteers from Mwika. At four in the morning our trip began, when Bovin, a Tanzanian volunteer from Uivikiuta accompanied us to Ubungo bus station from where we took the bus to Mwika.

Since we were all trying to be patient, flexible and adapting to the “African” lifestyle, whatever this might be, and therefore sure that the bus would at least leave one hour late, we were quite surprised when with a lot of beeping, shouting and some very dangerous maneuvers our bus driver jiggled us on to the jammed streets of Dar es Salaam, direction North. After an 8 hour-drive and with the hope that we were finally there, a sudden stop of the bus pulled us out of our dozing and dreaming. I opened my eyes and the motor which was right in front of my seat was smoking and spying extremely hot water. We all jumped of the bus and after a one hour break, in which all passengers helped to fetch cold water from a nearby well, we reached our final destination, as we thought, after a 10 hour journey. When we got of the bus we were welcomed by our camp leader Robert and the village chairman, Mr Mringo. Soon we
realized that we were not there yet and that what was going to come was even worse than a ten hour ride on a cramped and hot bus with a crazy driver. We were put into one of the so-called dalla-dalla’s , a public bus, which was going to bring us up the hill into our camp. It was ten times worse than a roller-coaster and after 30 minutes of bumping our heads and knees involuntarily on the tin car interior lining to the rhythms of a Congolese Ndombolo song blasting out of the radio, we were more than happy to see our new home for the next two weeks. The first few days of my second work camp were quite similar to the above description, unless this time I started my journey from Dar Es Salaam to Mwika with 9 Japanese people. In the end we were a group of 14 volunteers, 9 Japanese, 4 Tanzanians and me. Both times we were surprised about the good conditions of the residential community houses where we lived. We shared a room with two or three people, had one inside and one outside toilet/shower room, an outside fire place, which served as the kitchen and one dining/community room, where we spent most of our time when not at work. In every camp we had kitchen supervisors, Mama Dinna and Dada Dinna, who were supported by one of us as part of the kitchen team every day. Although the drinking water was boiled over the fire and the food always cooked, some people had to fight with diarrhea and sometimes stomachaches. Nonetheless, we always looked forward to eating chapati, bananas, chips, vegetables and of course the famous “Kitimoto”(porc).

Volunteering under the Roof of Africa…

(in the picture: walking with the other volunteers to get to the project site)

Both work camps had the theme of Forestry and Environment, but as was indicated by our sending organizations, the work could change, depending on what the host community needed at that point in time. During the first work camp our workday started with a 30-minute hike to Marimeni Primary School, during which we could normally get a glance of the otherwise so “shy” mountain, the Kilimanjaro. After a few days we got to know some of the children, started to remember their faces and names and were really quite sad when we had to leave. During the first week we were instructed to plant trees at the tree nursery of the primary school. We normally worked for 4 to 5 hours with a short tea-break in between. After finishing the tree nurseries, we were instructed to help renovating the primary school, which first of all meant painting the rooms. This was quite hard work, since we had to get off the layers of old paint with sandpaper. We however managed to paint three classrooms in 5 days and were quite proud of our small team of only six volunteers. During the second work camp we were located within the same community but worked in a different primary school. Once again we were involved in establishing tree nurseries and planting trees and coffee plants. During the second week our work existed in establishing a record of all the trees that had already been planted by other volunteers. This involved a hike of 1- 2 hours every morning to get to the forest from where we then separated to mark and count the trees. In both work camps it was important to be flexible and very patient. Sometimes our schedule changed from one day to the next or we arrived at work and had to wait two hours to get instructions and actually work. Nonetheless, in the first camp we managed to establish 3 tree nurseries with 600 trees and paint three classrooms. In the second camp we established 1 tree nursery with 500 plants, planted 900 coffee plants and counted over 10 000 trees.

(In the picture, volunteers working in the tree nursery)

“Haraka Haraka”(quickly) or “Pole Pole”(slowly) in the afternoons: Sports with the children and more…
During both work camps the afternoon activities were quite similar. Twice a week it was sports time and after some planning in the camp we made our way to the local primary schools to teach some sports. Easier said than done! Used to the German school system, where at a maximum a class exists of25 pupils, you are quite shocked when nearly a hundred screaming kids run towards you and you are told that this is your class for today. With a little Swahili, some words of the local Chagga-language and a lot of patience we managed to explain them our games. After this hassle, it was always extremely rewarding to see their big smiles, hear their laughter and see the excitement in their eyes when even playing the simplest games.

(in the picture: playing games with the children at school)

Other afternoons we made excursions to traditional worship places or visited emerging microfinance networks, such as VIKOBA, the village community bank. We also visited the local market, learned about traditional coffee processing and participated in the rehearsal of the local youth choir. The evenings were the time for cultural nights, as well as debates and discussions about climate change and environmental issues.
Being a “Mzungu” or a “Mchagga” at the Weekends?
The weekends meant free time for all of us. During both work camps we were given to go to the national parks of North Tanzania to do a Safari, of course at our own expense.
During the first work camp I decided to remain in the camp with the three local volunteers, while the South Koreans went on Safari. This was definitely a good decision to make, since for the first time I was the only Mzungu (White person) in the community. Although at the first thought it was strange, I quickly realized that this was the best way to learn more about my host community. On the first day we
visited the family of one of the volunteers and I was given such a warm welcome that I nearly felt at home in the small stone house, which only had one chair, which of course was given to me. When we left I was given a sugar cane and a whole bowl of avocados. In the afternoon we made a trip to the nearby Marangu Water Falls, a place where locals come to relax and swim. When we arrived several boarding school classes were enjoying the cold water. Some of them had very old cameras and as soon as they saw me started screaming “Mzungu,Mzungu” and ask to take pictures with me and of me. Suddenly the tables turned, they were acting like tourist, me being their attraction. This was a very strange, but at the same time good feeling. Times change!!!!
The next day the local volunteers took me to church, which was once again a very intense experience. Although I certainly believe, I usually never go to church in Europe. But on that day, in the bare brickwork of the yet unfinished church, under the hot morning sun, I could feel for the first time that people really believed in to something. An honest and intense believe. After accompanying my new friends, the children and youths of the community to the front of the altar to get a special blessing, a women sitting next to me shook my hand and said “Wewe ni MChagga sasa.” (You are a Chagga now.)
Safari to the land of grasshoppers, lions and wet tents…

(in the picture: visiting the local market)

During the second workcamp I decided to accompany my new Japanese friends on Safari, which was certainly a completely different experience to my first weekend in Mwika. When we arrived on the campsite near the national parks, after a 5 hour ride on the dalla-dalla, it started raining. A few hours in the night we realized that our tent was not as waterproof as we had hoped. The water did not only come from above, but also from below, since rain in Tanzania means actually a flood. Somehow we survived the night, with occasional visits from frogs and 10cm long grasshoppers and we were all quite relieved when the alarm rang at 5 am in the morning. The days, in which we saw incredible landscapes and untouched nature, as well as all kinds of wild animals, made up for the wet nights in the camp. It was definitely an adventure and with the right touch of Japanese humor a certainly unforgettable experience.
Time to say goodbye…
Unfortunately the days passed too quickly and on Saturday, the 27th of February, my second workcamp was coming to an end. With our backpacks shouldered we hiked down the hill in darkness at 5 am to catch the bus to Dar Es Salaam. We were wrong to think that the biggest adventures were already over. After maybe two hours on the bus, we were stopped at a police station. Stupid enough to believe that the control had nothing to do with us, since we are white, we were quite shocked when two police men instructed us to get off the bus. Fortunately, a volunteer from Dar es Salaam was travelling with us, who enquired straight away about the reason for our stop. We were told that each one of us had to pay 100 US Dollars if we wanted to continue our journey. The reason? No real reason, “a contribution to the government”! When they told us to get our bags off the bus and instructed the bus driver to move on, the situation changed from being exciting to very scary. The police station was in the middle of nowhere, our bus was the only one going to Dar es Salaam on that day and none of us had a 100 dollars. Finally, we managed to call Uvikiuta and after a 1 hour discussion between Uivikiuta’s chairman and the police, we were let back into the still waiting bus. We were all extremely relieved to arrive in Dar es Salaam that night to spend our last few days in the capital…

Linda, Tanzania 2010

(in the picture: group photo with the other volunteers)

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