A Travellerspoint blog

The Zanzibarian guilts

After 3 months of volunteering, my friend Emma and i were ready for a holiday. We planned to do the touristy things that people come to Tanzania to do. So we went on Safari, followed by a trip to the exotic island of Zanzibar. And that's when the guilt set in. I had just spent the last 3 months telling people i had no more money to give them. And when people asked me if i was going home after Tanzania i started saying yes. It was easier to lie. Easier than explaining that Tanzania was just the start of my trip and that London was my next destination with the rest of Europe at my feet.

So we went on safari and tried not to think about what this kind of money could buy in a local village and how many kids you could send to school with it. With that pushed to the back of our minds we enjoyed being tourists and seeing more of the country where we had been working and what was outside the village of Tengeru where we had been living for the past 3 months. It's just sad that most people who live there, dont get to see what the torists see of the beautiful East African country. most locals will never get the chance to go on safari or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. And the tourists who do get to see the major attractions don't get to see the real Africa and how people really live. Most seem to come for just enough time to fit in a safari and maybe a trip to Zanzibar or a trek up Mt Kili. And in between, they get private vans or taxis to and from their destinations, whizzing by the real Africa. I felt privalledged that i had been a part of village life and let into the lives of so many Tanzanian's.

After safari we finally made it to beautiful Zanzibar and this is when we felt like real tourists. Tourist prices, tourist swahili songs, tourist snorkelling trips, and tourist language. Everything is set up for tourists as everyone tries to make some money from them. It seems everyone or anyone will take you snorkelling or cook you dinner. They are all just trying to make some money anyway they can.

It took us a while to get into the swing of being on holiday and not doing anything more strenuous than lying on a beach in a hammock. And it's all very lovely until you get a tinge of the Zanzibarian guilts and think about the price of the cocktail you're drinking.

Walking along the beach on our last night i was fed up with every person i passed rushing over and trying to sell me a snorkeling trip. But when two little girls rushed down the sand at me, the only thing they wanted from me was a pen or a pencil. They were not asking me for money or ''pipi'' (sweets) all the wanted was a pencil. It was such a simple thing. They probably wanted it so they could go to school. But i didn't have a pen or pencil in my pocket. I didn't even have any money. I had nothing to give them and it was such i simple request. And on the beach that night, there was nothing i could do to help them. I was so frustrated i felt like crying. Three months of volunteering and still i felt like i hadn't done a thing. I knew it was time to leave Africa. I think after dealing with so much poverty and corrupt systems you become a little numb and i thought perhaps ammune to it all. But sometimes it's the little things that get to you.

Posted by marni-j 03:40 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer

Learning to swim in the deep end

Arriving in Tanzania as a volunteer i had no idea what to expect. We planned to work as part of a HIV/AIDS program, and had a vague idea about what that may involve. My ideas about HIV/AIDS was also vague. We assumed we would be given training of some sort. We were wrong.

The first two weeks were the hardest of the entire 3 months. We spent our first couple of nights making lesson plans for teaching orphan girls english and bluffed our way through it, making it up as we went, pretending we knew what we were doing.

Our introduction to Africa and HIV/AIDS was a series of home visits to patients living positive. One of the first people we met was a lady with leprosy and the last stages of AIDS. I had never seen someone so sick. She died a few weeks later. In those first weeks of 4-5 home visits a day we listened to peoples stories and heared about how they had become infected and their CD4 count. Welcome to Africa.

I don't think the people we worked with understood how different everything was for us in Africa. In other words they had never experienced culture shock. It was almost impossible to explain to them how different our home was from their home and their way of life. For example walking down the street they pointed to houses and asked us do we have houses like that in Australia? How do you explain that we dont live in small mud houses? And how do you begin to describe what it's like? Walking through the market one man pointed out different fruit and vegatables telling us the names of them and asking us if we had carrots in our country. He was suprised that we not only had carrots at home but we also had watermelons and tomatoes. Some women showed us how to clean rice and sift out the gravel and asked us how we clean our rice at home. We tried to explain that we buy our rice in packets at a store.
Everything is so different to what we knew that simple everyday things were just made harder. I think it took us the best part of 2 months for us to simply work out how things worked and the best way to contribute and how to actually be useful. i definately felt like we were thrown in the deep end in our first weeks as volunteers.

Since Emma and i volunteered with Tanzanian Millenium Hand Foundation (TAMIHA) and set up WALIPO, the CEO Crispin who we worked with has decided to take on more volunteers and organise it directly instead of going through the Green Foundation which the volunteer company ELI (Experential Learning International) set us up with. For more info. check out: www.tamiha.com. I've only just visited the new website myself and discovered that Emma and I feature quite a lot on the site!

Posted by marni-j 03:18 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer

Being Mzungu

I don't know if you ever get used to being mzungu in Tanzania. It translates from swahili basically as 'white person'. Living in Tanzania mzungu pretty much becomes your name. Kids chant it, yell it, adults address you as it, call after you shouting mzungu in your wake.
The kids don't seem to get tired of screaming out mzungu at you as you pass by them on the same road you have walked down for the last 3 months. It seems the novelty for them will never wear off. It's like they have spotted a new species and have to scream it out to let everyone else around know of their discovery.
For them they are just trying to communicate. For me it just got frustrating. It's just that its yelled at you everywhere you go and you can't get away from it. You get it everywhere you go. Sometimes it feels like they are calling after you, whistling to you like a dog.
But the frustrations of being white in Tanzania don't stop there. As a white foreigner you stand out and get stared at and pointed at, kissed at and laughed at. But that's fine and it's to be expected. It's the money thing that's hard to deal with. You' are looked upon as a walking cash machine; because you're mzungu. And i guess in this context we are rich. To the locals we are so rich and it's no use trying to persuade them otherwise. A broke, shoestring backpacker, unemployed, recent graduate with a huge student loan debt does not translate into swahili. As a volunteer you save up all the money you can for a ticket and a program fee and all the other fees to become a volunteer, and after that you think that the all the time and hard work that you've come to give to these people will be enough. But it's never enough. As a volunteer it is hard to acheive anything without money. As soon as you have money to give, things start happening very quickily. Advise to future volunteers: come with money to contribute to projects etc. fundraise beg and ask.
As a mzungu you get asked for money everywhere you go. And who can blame them. Seeing how these people live, they really have to try whatever they can. I think the first english phrase kids learn is "give me my money." i heared that at least twice a day just walking home from work. And it's hard to hear after a whole day of working out how to help these people and building chicken sheds and vegie gardens.
Sometimes it was hard being mzungu.

Posted by marni-j 11:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer



Dalla-dallas are Tanzanias public transport. They are mini-vans with as many extra seats as possible crammed into them. Often they have pictures of Bob Marley on the outside or large words such as 'Lord Jesus will Save Us' printed accross them. Maybe this is to get your attention and persuade you to choose that particular dalla-dalla. I'm not sure, i never worked that out.

I think it only took us 2 weeks or less for the novelty of the dalla-dlalla riding experience to wear off. This was probably around the time our dalla-dalla on the way home from work was delayed because a sheep had escaped from the boot and we had to wait for a couple of men to chase it down the road and re-capture it and stuff it back into the dalla-dalla. I know how the sheep felt.

Another thing about catching dalla-dallas is that just because all the seats are filled it doesn't mean that the dalla-dalla is. People stand, crouch, lean, push and somwhow you end up with a good 25 people jammed in on top of each other. There is no such thing as personal space in Africa. Sometimes you step off one feeling battered and bruised and somewhat obligated to marry the man who you've been pressed up against for the last half hour becoming intimate with his armpit.

When a dalla-dalla pulls up you can be confronted with a wall of people and you think you will never fit on, but the dalla-dalla 'conductors' somehow shove you in. There was one particular ride home from Arusha i recall where the door wouldn't even shut and my bum was left handing out the side, blowing in the breeze.

One of the major differences i noticed catching public transport in Tanzania compared with home is how everyone helps each other. Babies are passed along so that the mother with a basket on her head can get on and find a seat. Kids will sit on anyones lap unconcerned about strangers and no one minds. You find yourself holding peoples bags and buckets filled with vegatables that they have bought at the market. Chickens under your feet also became the norm for us as we rode to and from work.

The dalla-dallas in zanzibar are a bit different. They are like trucks that you sit in the back of under a very low roof. people pile their bikes and what looks like half a house on the roof. On our way to the east coast from Stone Town we had some small school kids jump on on their way home. the little boy sat next to his sister and leaned on the man next to him. Then the little boy started to sing in a very loud voice, a song he had obviously learnt fom school. The repetative song was acted out with big actions in a big voice from a very small boy. He was completly oblivious of the crowd of people crammed in around him and kept this up for a good 20 minutes. We couldnt hold the laughter in, the little boy was so funny and soon the entire dalla-dalla of people were joining in laughing with us. The little boy, still oblivious, sang on and we all looked at him and each other and smiled. Moments like this make catching a dall-dalla worth while.

Posted by marni-j 03:00 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer

Hot springs


We're in our last week volunteering and counting down to safari. Starting to get itchy feet to start travelling and looking forward to seeing more of the country. Also hanging out for Zanzibar and to be on a beach. I think Emma and i will get there and fall in a heap.

Looking back at our time as volunteers we feel like so much of it was spent waiting around for things to happen. But that's just Africa, and sometimes its frustrating because there's so much we want to get done while we're here. Now with only a few days left, we are trying to cram so much in and realising some things wont happen but also looking at what we have achieved. And apparently its quite a lot.
In fact our program coordinator Lema, sat Emma Stephanie and i down (we are all involved in the HIV program) and told us we were the hardest working volunteers they've had and no one has contributed more than us. And so he had organised us a suprise for us. He and a friend took us camping overnight at some hot springs. It was so nice to get away from Arusha and our village and work for a break. The place was magical and the locals had lots of stories about al the 'voodoo' that happens there.

Lema's Range Rover was broken so he ended up driving us in his tiny two-door bubble of a car through some of the roughest 4WD drive tracks i've ever seen. His friend rode his dirt-bike there to show us the way, guiding us through the mud puddles left by the wet season. There were some very close calls. Such as a river crossing and a bazzar moment of getting bogged in the mud and us three girls getting out and walking in the middle of no-where while all these massai people crowded around to watch. After leaving the whole exhaust pipe from the car behind on a rock, we eventually made it to the springs.

Sitting around the water were a whole bunch of tourists, some with beer cans in hand. Sadly i think this might be a glimpse of whats to come. eventually they all left in their mini-van and we were left to have the place to ourselves.

The water was crysatal clear with a strong current running out of the rock from undergound. It was warm but apparently in summer its really hot. There were ancient looking trees that seemed to come from Lord of the Rings. Their massive roots twisted down to the waters edge and trailed away under water.

It's a very special place. I had a moment to myself at sunset as the cloud lifted enough for us to see the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro on one side while the sun set behind Mt. Meru on the other. I was standing in my bikini in the middle of no-where and i finally had a good look at Africa. Some massai women walked past and i tried to cover myself as much as i could in my sarong. They were wrapped in their massai blankets carrying sticks on their heads with babies wrapped to their backs and we greeted each other in swahili.

Then the silence was broken as Lema's friend decided to show off by doing some jumps and donuts on his dirt bike with Mt. Kilimanjaro as his backdrop and me in a bakini standing barefoot as the sun set on a landscape that looked like what you imagine Africa to be.

Posted by marni-j 00:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged volunteer

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