Hakuna Matata!

Karibu from Tanzania! I have made the schoolboy error this time of leaving the blog update a full six weeks so don’t really know where to start with this one so maybe with a quick numerical summary as a LOT has happened since my departure from Ghana.

So, here it goes and all since the second week of October;

12 flights, 3 countries, 2 holidays, 1 visitor from the UK, 5 islands, 6 WHALE SHARKS, 3 white tip sharks, 15 turtles, 7 mountain gorillas, 20 giant tortoises, 4 of the big 5, 6 Pulse reunions, 1 eviction, 1 new apartment, 1 new language, several Afrobeats dance classes, 3 all day workshops, 20 meetings and 1 new niece. Wow, even I’m surprised by that list.

Disappointingly I have received 0 local marriage proposal this time around so I will need to up my game there.

So the journey started, as it always seems to, with 4.5hrs of heavy turbulence from Accra to Nairobi where shattered and on a knife edge I met James, my fellow TBFF volunteer, to spend the next four days in Mombasa and Nairobi getting to know our potential local implementation partner on the ground. Due to the security situation we were limited to the compounds of the hotel while in Mombasa but a nice place and we felt very safe. While in Nairobi we met with various malaria stakeholders and celebrated James’s birthday over sushi with fellow Pulse volunteers and it was nice to hear about their adventures too so far.

Then from there to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I was to be spending the final couple of months of my assignment. On arrival I was surprised to see how orderly and clean everything was. Yes of course it was a bit loud and hectic but a desk for prepaid taxis, no issues with the luggage or customs and straight out and at the apartment that fellow Pulse volunteer Emma had kindly offered to share with me for the duration of my stay.

A quick tour round the town and a nice day trip to one of the islands close by, I started to feel very settled. Of course within days I had already attended some new Afrobeats dance lessons, to try to improve on/erase from my memory what was posted on facebook in Ghana, and booked in my Swahili lessons but all essential for me to take on my local ‘cameleon’ persona, as everyone knows I enjoy doing so much.

Work wise, a slightly slower start due not having any existing contacts here and a far greater necessity to speak the local language Swahili, but after making a few US donor contacts I found myself invited to a two day workshop facilitated by Global Fund and the National Malaria Movement with even a slot on the agenda for day two to present the foundation’s work and kick off the behavioural change session! I don’t know how these things happen really but I guess it’s because everyone is so warm and welcoming where I’ve been and genuinely interested in learning about new things, so why not get them to open the session…

Strategically, I planned my holidays for while in East Africa so took full advantage of my proximity to Zanzibar and Mafia island of course. That in addition to visiting Becs in Uganda to see the mountain gorillas!! But first to Zanzibar in a ‘box with wings’ as Chas described it. 12 people, no seatbelts that worked and having to pack my own luggage into the underside of the plane we took to the skies for the 20 minute journey across from Dar to Zanzibar. A quick visit to Stonetown and Prison Island to see the giant land tortoises then up to the northern, stunning part of the island to engage in my number one hobby, diving. Amazing. Lovely beaches, diving, people and food. Oh yeah, I got bitten by a turtle, and a big fish! Who gets bitten by a turtle, seriously – one of the friendliest and most placid creatures of the sea?! I still love them though and I’m sure it was simply a case of mistaken identity.

And then on to the other amazing week I spent in Uganda. Joined by Chas we spent some time in Kampala with Becs then headed off with her in-laws (obviously) to spend the rest of their holiday with them, including a day’s trekking through Bwindi impenetrable national park to see the mountain gorillas, something I had wanted to do my whole life. What can I say? Absolutely mind blowing and something I will never forget. Only rivalled (but not even quite) by the weekend we then spent on Mafia island snorkelling with six whale sharks – my other holy grail, as well as diving with sharks, rays and turtles. Writing this blog just brings home how amazing this opportunity is and how fortunate I am. I am able to work on something truly meaningful and then take my breaks in the most incredible locations just a stone’s throw away. Very, very lucky.

And then back to reality, well not really reality…Unfortunately while I was away the landlady had been in touch with Emma and had served notice on me as I had outstayed my 14 night visitor rights! I was therefore being evicted as punishment a few days later. Oh well, I posted on expat websites again and had found a new place by the following evening and committed my stay to the end of the December.

A final little work story to leave you with. I was all excited about finally securing meetings with both the Tanzanian Christian Commission and Muslim Commission in the same week so when I arrived at the latter in full, conservative dress to my meeting at the BAKWATA head office I was lead into a hot, stone room while I waited for the Secretary General. As is custom here I was given a Coca Cola while I waited and immediately befriended by my contact’s secretary who pointed at a chair for me to sit on no more than 20 cm from hers even though there were plenty of other options. I sat down as I was told and a ’10 minutes’ wait was confirmed, also standard here.

35 long minutes passed, hot from the stone room and the fact the electricity was out so no air flow and still being spoken to/at in Swahili. However, I was duly informed that we were now friends. As a celebration of this new bond we took pictures of each other and I was then instructed by my new rafiki ‘friend’ Halima to eat half of her cooked lunch, even though I had just eaten mine before leaving for the meeting. I protested but as she couldn’t understand me I thought it only right to tuck in. 2 spicy minutes later Halima accidently dropped her red sauce all down my long white skirt and then proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes washing my skirt with me in it. All was good and I was passed a towel to wear on my legs under my skirt, adding to not only the awkwardness of now being sat in the Muslim headquarters of Tanzania in a see-through wet skirt but also the unbelievable heat. Many more minutes passed, still no sign of my contact and my new best friend just staring, smiling at me. She then excused herself but didn’t want her new best friend to be bored so set her phone up, raised on the desk with a Maria Carey music video blaring out of it. “Ol’ dirty b*stard, Fantasy version” was the choice for me and I’m only thankful that my contact even after 1hr, 50 minutes didn’t show up as I don’t know how I would have explained that I was sat in his office, on my own with an empty plate in front of me, watching a raunchy MTV video in a wet skirt with a towel wrapped round me. In Swahili.

He did call me that evening, just the six hours late for the meeting, saying he’d now arrived at the office. Needless to say, I met him the next morning and nothing more was said about the event. That reminds me, I do need to call my new best friend back (and work out how we are going to communicate) as I have six missed calls from her…

I do love my life 😊

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