Note from the Editor:
This is the beginning of a ten part series of emails sent from Tanzania six years ago. They captivated us then, and continue to captivate us now. Fran Daniels unabashedly tells it like it is, will make you laugh, cry, and come back for more each Sunday morning when we publish the next chronicle in the series. These are the types of stories that inspired us to create Beyond Ordinary Guides in the first place and we can't think of a better gift than to share these accounts with you now. Merry Christmas from Beyond Ordinary Guides.
It only took me a short 5 travel days to get to my final destination: Sumbawanga, Tanzania. The first leg of the trip consisted of two plane rides, one from Chicago to Zurich, Switzerland, and the other from Zurich to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I had a 22 hour lay-over in Zurich that sounds more fun than it actually was because I had terrible jet lag and had to try and sleep in an airport chair. I spent one day in Dar es Salaam with Libby and her cousin James (he is the contact that has been living in Tanzania for almost a year and set all of this up for us). In Dar I got to experience a day in one of the busiest markets in Tanzania. We took the local bus downtown and hit the streets to check out the local consumer scene. The Swahili name for white people is mzungu. Although there are quite a few white people that come through Dar on business or as tourists, few mzungus are ever seen taking the local bus or bartering at the local market. Everywhere we went, we got a lot of stares and attention from curious Tanzanians. James speaks fluent Swahili so getting around and communicating was no problem, though I was completely overwhelmed with the language barrier. James bought a couple of jerseys from this lady who worked a stand with her two daughters and one son. During the bartering process, the lady started to point and look at me as she was talking to James. Apparently I looked a little out of place and uncomfortable so the lady had offered to take me home to live with her and get me used to Dar.
This lady is a good example of one of the most important aspects of Tanzanian culture, hospitality. For the most part, Tanzanians pride themselves on making you feel at home while you are in their country. I can’t even count how many times I have been told the phrase `feel like Minnesota` while I have been here. The Benedictine Brothers that I live with are the most hospitable and work hard to make me feel welcome here. Strangers that you meet on the street are slightly reserved, but once you greet them, most are excited to get a chance to practice their English and learn about where you come from and why you are in Tanzania.
After a busy day at the market, we returned to the Brothers' house in Dar and packed for the next leg of the journey, the Tanzanian bus system. In Tanzania, only the main roads are paved, the buses are mostly very old and worn, and there are few services outside of the major cities. The next morning, me and Libby said goodbye to James, who was returning to America, and headed to the bus station to head toward western Tanzania where we will be teaching. The first bus ride we took was 14 hours long and went from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya. This road was paved the whole way and went very smoothly by Tanzania standards. Every 3 or 4 hours we would stop to use the restroom, which was actually just everyone getting off the bus and squatting by the side of the road.
I loved this aspect of the trip, what better way to acclimate to the culture than to squat in the woods with 50 random strangers? I learned very quickly that Tanzanians are not shy. We got into Mbeya in the late evening and were picked up by one of the Brothers that lived at the house there (the Benedictine Brothers have houses in most major cities and there is always someone willing to help you get bus tickets, food, or give you rides. Like I said, hospitality is very important). We spent the night there and got up early the next morning to catch our last bus to Sumbawanga. This was the leg of the journey I had heard stories about. The paved road ends an hour into the trip and the rest of the 300km was traveled on bumpy, dusty gravel roads. The buses flew through these roads at 80km per hour and the whole bus shook violently, luggage fell from the racks above our heads, and we couldn't open the windows because it was so dusty. Often, this is where buses break down for anywhere from a few hours to a day or so. I heard a story of another volunteer having to spend the night in a field and it taking her 33 hours to make this part of the journey. Needless to say, when traveling in Tanzania you have to learn to be flexible. However, luck was on our side that day and we made it to Sumbawanga in the scheduled 6 hours.
Sumbawanga is far off the popular tourist map in Tanzania so people are even more curious about the mzungus here. Libby and I are two of 8 or 9 white people in the whole area. It takes some getting used to, but they treat you almost like a celebrity. Everywhere you go, people stare at you, giggle, and the bravest ones will great you in English. The young students are the best because they say “goodmorning-gy” all in one quick statement and then act really giddy. If you ask them how they are doing, often they respond with the same quick, monotone phrase, sounding like “fine-sankyou-madame.” The youngest children will just look at you wide-eyed, point, and yell “mzungu.”
I have now been here about a week and am starting to pick up some Swahili. It is a very simple language to learn (comparatively) as there are not many exceptions to the language rules. All the Brothers, students, and teachers are very encouraging and helpful. They don’t care how bad your Swahili is; they are just thrilled that you are trying to learn it. The food is good, but never changes. Each morning for breakfast there is tea, instant coffee, and bread with peanut butter. Lunch and dinner are the same every day including: rice, beans, a green spinach-like Japanese vegetable, a corn paste, and often a meat. Every once in a while there will also be a potato or banana dish as well. My name has caused some trouble here because of the “a” sound and the “r” sound so often they repeat it as Flan. I tried to go as Frances when I first arrived but everyone would respond with something like: “that is only a boy’s name so it can’t be so.” So we’re back to Flan. Some of the Brothers call me Francesca though. I just go with it.
I am teaching Biology, Chemistry, and maybe some Physics to the Form II students. Tanzanians are not known for their organization or communication of details so we still do not know when the term starts. We have gotten answers ranging from the 5th to the 12th. I guess we will just see when the students show up. I am also taking on a side project of organizing the library and establishing a checkout system for books. Right now it is a pretty big, disorganized mess so hopefully I can put my organizational skills to good use here. There is also no sense of hurry in anyone doing anything in Tanzania. One of the hardest things for me to adjust to is the pace at which people walk…it is more of a slow saunter.
Now I must head to the immigration office to get my residence permit, as there are only a few random times when the right person, with the right stamp, and the right piece of paper will be around to get it for me.