Traveling in Tanzania

Last week I traveled the entire length of Tanzania from Arusha to Mbeya in a day. I decided to buy my ticket a few days early to make sure I got a comfortable seat for the 18 hour journey. I chose the front row aisle seat, thinking about leg room, nausea, better air flow, etc. What I didn’t know was that there would be a wall separating the driver from the seating section and that the engine would be directly under my feet. It was a cramped, uncomfortable test of my patience with hot air blowing at my feet the entire time, not to mention the over-sized African mama next to me who had purchased a single ticket for herself and her 4-year-old daughter. She didn’t speak any English (or pretended not to) and I had to keep shoving my body into her to stay on my seat. Tanzanians don’t really open windows on buses either, preferring a sweat box to chilly air on their face. It got a little warm. Needless to say, I was thankful and relieved when we finally pulled into Mbeya at 1:00 in the morning.

Before the trip began, I encountered an incident that almost made me miss it. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 5:45 am, so I had asked a Tanzanian friend to call a cab to arrive by 5:00. At 5:15, I was still waiting at the gate in the pitch black, beginning to panic. I woke up my friend who didn’t know what to do, then woke up an American missionary family who graciously agreed to take me to the bus stand. I got there a few minutes before the bus left (which was surprisingly on time).

The rest of the trip was rather uneventful. Even though it wasn’t luxury service or as fast as a plane, I’m always glad after I do things like this. I’ve seen Tanzania now. There was a beautiful mountain range that followed us on one side for about half the trip. Rain poured on us as we looked out across the flat savannah. I met some interesting people who have to do this trip every month. Ultimately, I think that’s what travel is about: meeting the people and experiencing places along the way. And any destination can become cool if we choose to see it that way.

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18 hours on this beast

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Aquaponics Africa

Last week I said goodbye to Nairobi for the time being. More than anything, I’ll miss the people who made my time there worthwhile. But I have a feeling I’ll stay involved even from the States. They say that Africa gets under your skin and you always come back.

This week I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania to work on aquaponics projects at YWAM and an orphanage. Having basically no construction or farming experience, building aquaponics systems in Tanzania seemed like a pretty daunting task to accomplish in a week. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish the second system at the orphanage, but I learned a ton and got some valuable experience. And no two days are ever the same in Africa. One day we wanted construction materials delivered to the site, and since the store’s driver was drunk, we hired a guy off the street to pull a hand-drawn cart all 6 miles. Another day we bought fish and loaded them in buckets into the trunk of our car. I laid down in the back, getting splashed as I made sure the buckets didn’t topple over on bumpy roads. Overall it was a pretty memorable experience.

Tanzania is a different than Kenya. I’ve worked in Africa for two years and realize it moves at its own pace, but so far Tanzania takes the cake in moving slowly. Apparently, East Africans all hire Kenyans for their management positions because they’re so much faster and harder-working than everyone else. In Tanzania, everything takes longer than you think and to avoid complete frustration you just have to take it easy. It gets to the point where you’ve waited so long for something that when it’s finally about to happen, you don’t even feel motivated to do it anymore. We did end up getting work done though, and now I just hope the system is maintained so people here actually reap the benefits.

Tomorrow I start my journey down to South Africa. I’m really excited and slightly terrified. First, I head to Mbeya, Tanzania. The Lonely Planet description of the trip merely states that it’s, “a grueling 18 hours”. After that, I’ll go to Lusaka and Livingstone, Zambia, before passing through Botswana and finally making it to Johannesburg.

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The Grow Bed

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The kids’ new favorite toy

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My Friend Vincent

Arusha Round 1

I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania two days ago to do some research into constructing aquaponics systems at a YWAM base and orphanage. After doing the research, I’ll return next week to actually build the systems. Aquaponics combines fish and vegetable farming into a complete system that grows twice as many vegetables with less than 10% of the water consumption. The fish waste provides vital nutrients to the vegetables, and the vegetables filter the water so the fish can continue to live. These systems can be used to create sustainable food production around the world!

During my trip to Tanzania I got conned for the first time ever 😦 My only excuse is that I had just woken up and stumbled off the bus to cross the border. After getting my exit stamp at Kenya’s immigration office, I walked through “no man’s land” to get into Tanzania. At the end of this area, a group of official-looking guys (looking back, maybe not THAT official-looking) stood next to a gate, which I had to go through. Claiming to be Tanzania’s immigration authority, they asked for the $100 visa fee to let me pass. While I got my stamp, they said they would get my visa processed and meet me on the other side. Needless to say, I didn’t see them again. I thought about complaining to the police, but realized they were probably in on the scam too. After a short burst of anger, I felt like Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, when he has to credit “the Jackal” for her excellent performance. You win this time con men, but when I come back next week I have some choice words personally prepared for each of you.

After running around town on Wednesday looking for pricing information on construction materials and meeting with people, I decided to go with a YWAM staff to the daily football (soccer) game. I thought this would just be an informal pickup game with other YWAM staff but it turned out to be an official practice for a local football team. With just a pair of sneakers and khaki shorts I felt under dressed, but the guys were friendly and we had a great time. I even earned an invitation back by scoring a goal!

Playing there was iconic Africa. Wooden frames served as goals, the ball disappearing into clouds of dust every time someone kicked it. With beautiful thunderclouds rolling into Mount Meru, I thought about my last weeks in Africa and how I would like to enjoy them. No more complaining about poor service or slow internet. Just making the most of my time and seeing the people who have made this almost two years possible. Who knows if I will come back, but I’ve learned a lot from this place and believe that the experience will be vital in whatever undertaking comes next.

I couldn’t take pictures because I was playing football, but here are some photos to give you context. Oh yes, and yesterday was my Birthday so thank you for all the Happy Birthday wishes 🙂

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Imagine playing football here!

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The goal looked something like this