Tanzania 1996 – part 2

On Tuesday 9 July 1996, we flew from Dodoma at about 7.30 in the morning to Musoma, with a stop at Arusha to pick two other passengers up. Taking off from Arusha the surrounding landscape was filled with lush vegetation, including Banana Palms. Houses were round with cone-shaped thatched roofs, grouped in twos and threes amongst fields. Soon, a wider, scarcely populated and dry looking plain came within view. From our height, vast folds and ridges were clearly visible down below. We passed over what I presumed were volcanic craters and then past a huge volcanic mountain. The Serenghetti was invisible to us as we passed through heavy clouds above it, but closer to Musoma we could see Lake Victoria. Its vastness was even greater than I had imagined, as we swung around over a small section of it, ready to land at the airport.

Another of my uncles met us at the airport and drove us to his home. Later in the day, he took us to the diocese headquarters, where he worked, and met the Bishop of Mara, whose home we then visited for coffee in the evening. The Bishop’s home was very close to the shores of Lake Victoria and his family kept a cow and chickens out back. He seemed like a very good man, well suited to his role.

On Wednesday we went on Lake Victoria in a motor propelled fishing boat. Out there we saw such a diverse range of wildlife on the islands we encountered. Up on a tree-top we saw a pair of Fish Eagles with white heads and black bodies. Later we watched a Monitor Lizard sunning itself on a large rock by the water for a short time, before it disappeared off into some undergrowth. We saw hundreds of birds that looked like cormorants and we even watched a couple of shy monkies drinking at the lake side where the forest ended abruptly. Some of these islands were nothing more than huge boulders rising out of the lake, while others had a scattering of plant life, ranging from several varieties of grasses through to tall palms. Some islands still were almost entirely forested. In some places, fishermen had set up camp under rocks; in others, people were doing their washing by the lakeside.

On our return we went to visit the building site of my Uncle Les and Aunt Lyn’s new home, overlooking the lake. That evening we walked down the road to a hotel a few miles away for supper. We set off at six thirty, arrived at seven, but did not eat for over an hour and returned home just before ten. The culture shock experienced as we went inside felt unreal. In the heart of this modest neighbourhood was a marble floored hotel, with tinted glass windows, stainless steel chairs, Victorian style curtains and decorative wood carvings. After a delicious meal, they arranged transport to take us home. It had seemed like a strange development at first, but perhaps I had got too used to beans and rice, and baki soup. Perhaps I had just got used to concrete floors and fly-screen windows.

On Friday we spent the morning at a nursing home for babies, almost next door to the house that was being built for Lyn and Les. At any one time the home was looking after 30 children who had lost their mothers. Often the father would bring the child when his/her mother died in childbirth. The visit left me feeling sad one level, but at least the children seemed to be in good hands now. The buildings were very new and had good facilities, but there was concern that interest from those who were financially supporting the home would fade in time, as had happened in other places.

In the afternoon there was a celebration for my cousin’s first birthday and he was clearly happy to have even more attention than usual, with a few of his siblings’ young Tanzanian friends joining them for the party. Jelly and ice-cream seemed to be a strange concept for Tanzanian children, although they had no difficulty in gulping down glassed of Coca Cola, the international drink.

After a week in Musoma, we left at half past eleven on Saturday morning in the little MAF plane. The flight was quite turbulent due to the rising head of the midday air. Passing across the clear sky, we looked down on the Serenghetti with its scattered human settlements and over Lake Eyasi. After an uncomfortable landing back at Dodoma, we had lunch with a MAF employee before travelling on to Kongwa. It was good to return once more and I was glad to see ‘my bed’ again. Sunday, however, was my last full day there. I needed to have a good talk with my aunt and uncle who had accommodated me all those weeks, for they had noticed by anger and I had to assure them that I was not angry with them. I was not a happy fellow in general in those days for I seemed to slip easily into depression, but this anger was different somehow. I had all of this anger directed at the world, both from my experience here and as a result of listening to the news. The IRA had bombed a shopping centre in Manchester during my stay, a Tamil Tiger had blown herself up in Sri Lanka, news arrived of continuing sectarian abuse in Bosnia and these people reminded of the massacres in Rwanda only a few years before. I was angry too about being here now as a tourist. It was true that all of us had experienced much more of Tanzania than the average tourist would have since we were travelling far from the tourist trails. This was not four days on Safari in a National Park and three days at the beach, and so it was not fair that my anger seemed to fall on my family. But that anger remained because I just could not balance the conflicting sides of life.

Yet, although my anger was undoubtedly unpleasant for those around me, I felt soon afterwards that these were important emotions to experience. It was a learning process for me. Phyll advised me that we have to find a way of living at a comfortable level, knowing that there will always be conflicts between the two worlds: we have to live in a way that ensures that we stay healthy, she said, and in a way that makes us believe that life is worth living. She told me that some mission partners came out and tried to live along side the people as far as possible, but then their children would become ill and they would never return. She believed that a balance could be found, wherein it was possible to live in a way that the individual felt comfortable with. Being able to contribute in a positive way towards the community was perhaps better than trying to live just like the community, she felt. For my part, I felt that I would not accept this cultural divide as part of life at that point, believing that I needed the anger to keep my concern alive.

When I finally rested my head on my pillow that night, I could hear people singing, clapping and whooping their voices in the village. It sounded like a happy night for some people and although I did not know the real reason I pretended that they were wishing me a happy last night in this place. I praise the my undefined Lord for giving them such beautiful voices.

On Monday morning we left Kongwa at just after ten, travelling east towards Morgoro. We stopped to eat our packed lunch at the memorial site of Primeminister Sokonie, who died in mysterious circumstances in 1984, on this same stretch of road. When his car crashed on that straight stretch of road he had been investigating corruption in the government, and so rumours were rife. As a member of the Masai tribe, Masai people have started settling in the area ever since his death. As we sat there munching on our sandwiches, a Masai man appeared and stood still watching us. Shortly afterwards, more young, very tall Masai men joined him, one of them holding a black plastic radio close to her ear. Dressed in traditional black robes, they asked the other man where we were from and he replied ‘Uingereza.’ It was an African Safari in reverse.

We continued on towards the Mikumi National Park through Morogoro. When we first entered the park we saw the charred forest on either side of the road where there had recently been a bush fire and there were still clouds of black smoke rising over a hill in the distance. As we drove onwards, we encountered wild animals close to the roadside: deer, elephants, warthogs, zebras, giraffes and a lone gnu. Taking a path away from the main road at half-past four, we watched hippos bathing in a water-hole, giraffes in the bush and some huge birds called Ground Hornbills. In the evening we stayed at the Mikumi Health Centre, its guest wing established to recover costs for the Health Project.

On Tuesday 16 July, we arose before dawn and went out in John’s Land Rover into the heart of the magnificent landscape. As the sun began to rise in the east from behind the hills, a low mists hugging the ground, we saw zebras, giraffes, elephants, tommies, gnus and buffalo in great numbers. It was a really special time. We remained out there for three hours and then returned again after breakfast to see baboons playing on the plain near a lone gnu and others in a group under a tree.

Driving in a more forested area, amongst long grasses, the most numerous animal population we encountered however was that of the Tetsi fly, as they swarmed on the car and annoyed us when they got inside. The forested valleys were impressive, although we did not see any animals as we passed through them. Still, for the remainder of the day we saw many strange birds including a breed of eagle, some type of pelican and a colourful little bird called a Lilac-breasted Roller.

Late in the afternoon we drove into Morogoro for an overnight stop, staying at the Masuka Village Hotel. I was glad of a shower that I did not have to prime with a hand pump or improvise with a plastic jug. I just turned on the tap and let the water flow over me: what a luxury. I went to sleep that night to a less than tuneful frog chorus. The following morning we left Morogoro early and started on our way to Darussalam. The coastal city was as busy as ever and just as hot.

Arriving at the White Sands Beach Hotel, located beside the ocean, I was feeling uneasy again. The immense luxury contrasted once more with my experience up until then. On the one hand I knew that I should have been encouraged that the hotel was Tanzanian owned and thus our stay fed into the economy, but on the other I had those images from the villages in my mind. I knew that tourism was a resource that could be exploited for the benefit of the country, but still I felt uncomfortable. My cynicism back then was probably misplaced, for Tanzania had a target to receive 50,000 tourists each year by 1998, earning the economy 500 million US dollars every year.

During our stay, the hotel was hosting practices for ‘Miss Tanzania 1996’ and a conference on eradicating poverty. The staff were all very friendly. I would say shikamoo and they would reply. I had to apologise that my Swahili was not very good of course when they tried to engage me in conversation. And so they would chat in English instead. Those were happy memories for me. When I greeted them in their language they seemed to treat me quite affectionately. The Indian Ocean was warm and the wind was far from cold.

My seven weeks in that beautiful land came to an end on 19 July 1996. The Zairean band Wenge Musica BCBG was staying at the hotel that day in preparation for their tour of Tanzania. These band members all looked very cool, very rich and had the characteristics of any Western R & B group, with their close shave hairstyles and designer sunglasses. The restaurant was filled with businessmen at lunchtime; I could not help noticing that almost without exception Tanzanian businessmen were well built, not at all like the slim men in Kongwa. On that last day, I was walking around as if the world was about to end. Tanzania had felt very homely, as I had grown used to life there. I knew I was going to miss the country, despite those angry moments. Shikamoo was a blessing for me: it served that role that salam alaikum fulfils today.

At the door I greeted the doorman and then said goodbye. We drove out to the airport and checked in for our flight. My time in that beautiful yet so struggling country was over.

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