Destination: Tanzania

My trip to Africa was wonderful, challenging, different, motivating — all the cliché words one might use to describe their travel to a place they’d never been and which was very, very different from their home. The trip was complex, with amazing highs, with lows, with loneliness and a feelings of soaring independence. It is this variability that has made it hard to write about it…I had initially thought that maybe one blog post on “Africa” as a whole would be the way to go.

But with that strategy, the subtleties are lost. Only the events would be described, not the emotion or the small moments. So instead, using my journal as a reminder, I am going to write several posts that revisit my time in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. I hope you guys enjoy reading about what it was like there, and that it perhaps interests you in visited as well!

I arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania with a cab ride scheduled to get me to my hostel 45 minutes away in Arusha. The only itinerary I had to follow was to, eight days from then, meet up with a friend in Nairobi, Kenya. I had a flight out of Dar es Salaam (a nine-hour bus ride away from Arusha) to take me there — but I would end up canceling that plane ride in lieu of a much cheaper, more beautiful and more convenient bus ride.

My taxi driver was incredibly kind. I was a little nervous at first because the taxi was just this random old Civic with no clear taxi indication. But I trusted that the hostel sent him (and that I didn’t have many options anyways) and, after trying to get in on the wrong side of the car, because they drive on the “wrong” side of the road, I asked him about himself. Using some broken English, he told me a little about his life. He hadn’t gone to school because his family was poor — 5 brothers and sisters from his mother, 36 (!) from his father. He had two kids of his own, and one of them — a boy — was in school.

As we talked, I tried to take in the scene around me, but all very, very dark. With no lights on the road, I would only see the short bit illuminated in front of us. To the right and left was a hint of brush that was immediately swallowed by a deep darkness. There were many motorcycles, bikes, and even more people walking on the side of the road to get where they were going.

I arrived at the hostel at around 10pm and thanked my very friendly cab driver for the ride and the conversation.  I was greeted by the manager there, Kareem, who was Canadian and full of information about the hostel and how to get around the town, though lacking the warmth that I’d  expected.

He showed me around very briefly and set me up in a dorm room where, despite what the website said, there were no lockers to lock up my stuff. There was, however, an adjoining bathroom with a shower, which would sometimes have hot water, and sometimes no water, over the next ten days. After scarfing some (delicious) leftover dinner, drinking some clean water from a cooler that they always kept full, brushing my teeth and taking a hot shower, I fell asleep tucked into my mosquito net and woke up early to my first Tanzanian morning and to hundreds of cockle-doodle-doos.

The courtyard of Ujaama Hostel: I'm sitting on an outdoor couch, looking at the water tower, a line of laundry drying and a table where many of us ate our meals.

The courtyard of Ujaama Hostel: I’m sitting on an outdoor couch, looking at the water tower, a line of laundry drying and chairs from the nearby table where many of us ate our meals.

My excitement that I seemed to be on Tanzanian time was premature given the fact that after eating breakfast, I promptly slept for another eight hours.

the bunk bed at the hostel had mosquitos nets that you wrapped around the bed when sleeping

the bunk bed at the hostel had mosquitos nets that you wrapped around the bed when sleeping

I woke up just in time to join three students on a walk to the store and then join the whole hostel crew – about eight of us – on an excursion to a super swanky bar.

I say super swanky because this was a place where almost everyone in attendance was white, a rarity. It wasn’t swanky in the way things might be here in the States, but there were western toilets – another rarity. There was an outdoor bar where you sat at picnic tables protected by large canvas umbrellas. And the food was very, very expensive compared to local prices — 3500 Tsh ($1.75) for a beer  and 4000Tsh ($2.30) for fries (the only vegan thing on the menu for a reasonable price — salads were about $7). It was an expat bar, Kareem told us, and additionally all the safari owners liked to hang out there.

I made conversation, a bit shyly, with a Norwegian girl, Heidi, who I’d met briefly earlier when she’d  suspiciously questioned my purchasing of a can of pineapple instead of buying an actual pineapple (she was right, in general, but my purpose in the purchase had been to get change in Tanzanian shillings).

Despite this not-as-rosy initial meeting, we were having tons of fun chatting under the night sky and she’d been talking about the $600, 4-day budget safari she was leaving on the next day. In almost no time, she’d invited me, I said yes, we left the bar, I packed up my stuff and $600 and went to bed for a 6am wake up call.

I was not so lucky though, as I woke up in the middle of the night to one of the three students who had come in that day from their travels yelling at her friend, Tommy. Tommy, who was standing over my bed. Tommy, who was peeing on/near my bed. Tommy who was so drunk he didn’t even realize what he was doing and who, with the help of his friend, cleaned up the urine that had got on the floor. The small bit of urine on the edge of my bed, of course, we could do nothing about. After that it was tough to go back to sleep. It was made tougher by one of the other students, Nikki, who got very scared after feeling something touch her head and went to sleep with her friend Steph. After listening very carefully for about 30 minutes, we determined that we could at least place the strange sounds we heard as going from a mouse who was pigging out on a bag of chips and then trying to eat its way through the door.

Needless to say, it was a bit of a sleepless night. After being up for so long, rattled by Tommy, and the head touching and the sounds of the mouse, I got very anxious about the safari, and where I would pee, and what it would be like, and tried listening to a meditation recording to put me in a better start of mind. When that didn’t work, I used the wifi to talk to Joe on Facebook a bit and get some courage from him. Then I watched my favorite, easy-watching movie, Kate and Leopold for a while. Finally, with two hours to go before I had to get up, I drifted off.

I was tired and nervous but excited too at 6am in the morning when Heidi and I boarded the safari van. With a day pack full of clothes, sunscreen, shampoo, a towel, a camera, my iPad, and my journal, all that was left was to warn Heidi that she should know I had to pee all the time, and we were off to pick up another couple who would be joining us on the journey.

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