Although we had been in Africa for two months before heading to Tanzania, we were in areas that the locals referred to as ‘Africa Lite’. South Africa and Namibia are westernized; they have all the modern conveniences of home. That’s not the case in Tanzania.
When I arrived in Dar es Salaam I was transfixed by the scene outside the taxi window. We were in another world. Women, dressed in bright, colorful kangas were carrying all sorts of items (bananas, fire wood, sneakers) on their heads while walking along litter lined streets. Traffic had no discernible order — as far as I could tell traffic lights and signs were ignored. Then there were the vehicles: small vans overflowing with passengers, like circus clown cars, and motor bikes weaving through the mayhem. I couldn’t be more thankful that we wouldn’t be renting a car here.
We spent a month in Hostel Hoff, a volunteer hostel in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. There, we met an international group of young, energetic, dedicated volunteers. Having all these new people to talk was a godsend. We ate together, spent weekends on local excursions and discussed our various volunteer projects.
Some of the stories from other volunteers were heartbreaking. For instance, due to a mix up, one middle school student was accidentally prescribed HIV/AIDS medication that was poisoning her body. The disproportionate amount of volunteers working at orphanages was another reminder that the country had been ravaged by the disease.
Then there were the stories that highlighted the structural problems the country faced. Medical students from our hostel explained how they had to finish stitching a wound by iPhone light when the hospital’s power went out. This in a town where the power went out every other day. The education system was no better. Tanzania requires students to pass an exam to attend high school; half of the students fail and are effectively thrown out of the system by the age of 14. It’s not exactly a system that inspires hope for future. However, there were some bright spots in this otherwise shitty situation — one of which is the Good Hope School. Volunteers at this school teach the kids that the system failed. It also tries to set them up with sponsors that will pay for boarding school. We were lucky enough to spend a day with friends who were volunteering on this project and are now sponsoring two deserving students.
Our volunteer assignment included developing a business plan for a micro-finance organization, attending meetings with city officials and teaching people how to use excel. The idea of setting up a successful lending system in Tanzania was daunting. Tanzanian banks are in their infancy, credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere, credit bureaus don’t exist and there’s no record keeping. It took us just over a month to draft a comprehensive business plan. By the time that was done most of our friends had left the hostel and we decided to do the same. Based on recommendations we decided to spend our last days in Africa visiting Rwanda and Uganda. More on that soon…