When I signed up for Cross Cultural Solutions and I researched the organization I decided rather quickly I wanted to go to Africa. I had never stepped foot onto the continent and I frankly didn’t know when I would get the opportunity to do so. That, coupled with the fact that there is so much need in Africa and being that this was a volunteer trip, not just a vacation, made it an easy choice. CCS had 2 options for Africa at the time I signed up. One being Moshi in Tanzania in the Kilimanjaro region and 1 in South Africa in or around Cape Town. I thought that Cape Town wouldn’t be as rich of a cultural experience so Moshi won by a landslide.
To help you understand where I was below are maps of Africa and Tanzania specifically. On the Africa map Tanzania is in the East with Kenya and Uganda to the North, Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Rep of Congo to the West and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the South. Moshi is in the North East in Tanzania bordering Kenya.
To give you more background; Moshi is a municipality. A town consisting of over 200,000 people in the Kilimanjaro region based off of Mt Kilimanjaro, which is a dormant volcanic mountain. It’s the tallest mountain of the African continent and the highest free standing mountain in the world! I’ll get to more of Kili in a later post. More on Moshi. Moshi is a lovely town with even lovelier people. There are a lot of tourists given the popularity of hiking the mountain and also a lot of volunteers from the states and elsewhere that have decided to call Moshi their home. But what’s great is that you don’t get the ‘tourist’ vibe at all. All the mzungus (white people is the translated term. I know. Even I was called a mzungu because I was a foreigner. And it’s not at all meant to be derogatory) speak fluent swahili for the most part. Kiswahili is the national dialect of Tanzania, it is also the dialect of the surrounding countries I mentioned above that are in East Africa. I think it’s a beautiful language. The intonations and emphasized vowels make it seem like you’re singing happily. Hmm.. what else about Moshi? Moshi produces a lot of resources such as maize, sunflower oil, millet, beans, bananas etc. The local tribes are the Chagga tribe and the Maasai tribe. I’ll get into more of that later as well.
Anyways, I flew out of JFK and had a connection in Amsterdam. I wish I was able to visit Amsterdam this trip but I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Tanzania and many years ago I spent some time in Amsterdam so it was a quick layover of my eyes being overstimulated with fake tulips, heineken beers, and cheese then I was on my way to Tanzania.
My flight landed around 8PM and we deplaned in the middle of the runway in the tiny Kilimanjaro Airport. For being an International Airport it had the bare minimum when landing. Immediately I was in line for customs and once I got through that a few steps more and I was at baggage claim. Easy peasy.
I got in a day before most of the people in the program were scheduled to arrive. I had booked a hotel to get my bearings about me and get some good rest before I started the program. What was cool is that coincidentally the people I sat next to on the plane also booked the same hotel. It was a very lovely mother and her 2 also lovely daughters. They had booked safaris and such to celebrate one of the daughter’s college graduation. When we got to our hotel and settled a bit I met them at the bar and we chatted and hung out for a bit.
The next morning I met them for breakfast and bid them a good trip. Unfortunately, it was raining so there wasn’t too much I could do and the views were a bit restricted. I caught the tail end of the rainy season my first few days in Moshi. But it wasn’t too bad as the hotel grounds were beautiful. I talked to other guests staying at the hotel headed to climb the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro and tried to learn some swahili from the bartender.
I was getting picked up by the CCS drivers around noon so I had some time to relax beforehand but I was anxious to meet people and see the house and what not. When the drivers, Baba (Baba means father. It is said out of respect. Just like if it’s an older woman who likely has kids you call her Mama) John and Joseph picked me up we went to the airport to pick up 4 others that were on the same flight. As we waited Baba John and Joseph taught me a lot of Swahili. I already knew how to say hello or hey ‘Jambo’ and thank you ‘Asante” but they taught me how to say things like how is your morning/afternoon/evening, my name is, how much is that, car, brother, sister, etc.
Once the others finally arrived we had an hour drive northeast to Moshi. It was a beautiful drive. Endless crops of maize and sunflowers. It was during that drive when I really felt ‘holy shit I’m In Africa’.
Once we arrived at homebase we met Mama Thea, our program director, and were greeted with fresh mango and guava juice. Mama Thea has been with CCS for a number of years and gave us a brief intro and welcome to Moshi. We were to have our complete intro once everyone arrived in the next day or so.
It was myself and Nicole, one of the people we picked up at the airport, who were in our room first. Honestly, I expected the accommodations and bathroom situation to be worse so I was pleasantly surprised when we got there. I’ve had roommates on and off for the past 14 years but I’ve never had to share my room with anyone other than a boyfriend so I’m happy to report that it was an easy adjustment and we all got along very well and our shower and toilet schedules were not an issue in the least. All of that was definitely the biggest relief as I had some anxiety around it all.
A lot of the group arrived later that night after Nicole and I fell asleep. We woke up so confused with they got in; not knowing what the hell was happening or what time it was. And they didn’t even know we were sleeping in the rooms so there was a bit of chaos and confusion. hah!
The rest of the group got in the next day. That day we had an orientation, introduced ourselves to each other, staff included, and learned more about CCS’s involvement in the community. So much info to take in!
It was a bit overwhelming at first trying to get settled in and what not along with the jet lag and the simple fact I was in Tanzania. Also, the excitement and nervousness of volunteering kicked in hard. Nervousness seemed to be the group consensus as none of us were teachers and only 1 of the volunteers had done this previously. We didn’t know what we were getting into! Good thing we left our expectations in our home countries because we were definitely in for a ride!
More on my time in Tanzania to be continued. I am really enjoying reliving my experience in Tanzania by telling you all from the beginning how things played out. I want to hold on to these feelings as long as possible…