Tanzania, take two

Nairobi airport, 7am, after an overnight flight but little sleep.

Squinting through tired eyes at the departures board, I realise – with a mild sense of panic – that my flight is the only one without a departure gate listed next to it. Cancelled. No reason given.

Panic levels increasing, I’m told the next flight to Mwanza wouldn’t be until tomorrow. Tomorrow! The only thing running through my mind is that I do not have the wherewithall to spend the night in Nairobi by myself.

Luckily, I’m put on another flight, leaving in an hour or so, to Kilimanjaro. From there, I ‘should’ be able to get another flight to Mwanza. I’m assured that my hold bag will follow me to Kilimanjaro, and then again to Mwanza. I want to believe this, I really do, but my sleep-deprived self does not trust in the unlikely so easily.

But if you are ever re-routed through Kilimanjaro, do not fear. It is possibly the most beautiful airport in the world. Like some luxurious beach-side hut; wooden decking and courtyard cafés, brightly-coloured cushions and trees growing through the roof. Flying in, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro peaks majestically through the clouds. (And my hold bag did follow me all the way.)

I’ve been back in Buswelu for about ten days now. Despite some big changes since my last visit six months ago, it feels like I never left. It’s incredible how much difference a little rain can make. Luscious green plants and trees are everywhere you look and the corn plants tower over six feet. It makes the place seem more prosperous, healthy and full of life.

We are enjoying trying the little cafés that seemed to have cropped up around the village since last time. We’re making a habit out of sampling each one on our walk back from site at lunchtime. At 35 degrees, we’re usually gasping for a cold soda in one of the cafés.

Tanzania

When I tell people that I’m going to Tanzania, the usual response is something along the lines of: “Oh, but it’s alright there, isn’t it?”, hinting to the fact that it hasn’t endured as many natural disasters or drawn-out conflicts as other African nations.

This is partially true. Since independence in 1964 – when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form one country – Tanzania has faired rather well and avoided many of the catastrophes that have plagued its neighbours. This can be partially attributed to Tanzania’s first President, Jules Nyerere.

President Nyerere based his social and development policies on the concept of Ujamaa, a KiSwahili word meaning extended family or family-hood. It is most commonly distinguished by the notion that a person becomes a person through the people or the community. Nyerere emphasised the need for an African model of development in his blueprint, the 1967 Arusha Declaration – today known as Tanzania’s most prominent declaration of African socialism.

“It is stupid to rely on money as the major instrument of development when we know only too well that our country is poor. It is equally stupid, indeed it is even more stupid, for us to imagine that we shall rid ourselves of our poverty through financial assistance rather than our own financial resources… Firstly, we shall not get the money. There is no country in the world which is prepared to give us gifts or loans, or establish industries, to the extent that we would be able to achieve all our development targets… And even if all the prosperous nations were willing to help the needy countries, the assistance would still not suffice.”

Nyerere was a popular president and his leadership attracted worldwide respect for his consistent emphasis on ethical principles as the basis of practical policies. And Tanzania made great strides in vital areas of social development under his governance:

  • Infant mortality decreased from 138 per 1000 live births in 1965, to 110 in 1985
  • Life expectancy at birth rose from 37 in 1960 to 52 in 1984
  • Primary school enrolment was raised from 25% in 1960 to 72% in 1985, despite the rapidly increasing population
  • Adult literacy rose from 17% in 1960 to 63% by 1975, and continued to rise.

But like all political policies, Ujamaa was not perfect and cracks began to form. The oil crisis of the 1970s, the collapse of export commodity prices and the onset of war with Uganda in 1978 to overcome dictator Idi Amin all starved Tanzania of valuable resources, leading to two consecutive droughts.  By 1985, after failing to lift Tanzania out of its poor economic state, President Nyerere resigned voluntarily.

And today, while Tanzania may seem peaceful, luscious and bountiful, social and economic figures identify a nation in desperate need of development and growth. According to the UN:

  • Life expectancy average 58.25 years
  • There are 11 hospital beds per 10,000 people
  • 82.4% of the population live on less than a dollar a day
  • At the last count in 2002, there were an estimated 822 physicians across the entire country. As of 2009, there are 43.7 million people living in Tanzania. That’s roughly one doctor to over 53,000 people, give or take.

Fortunately, Tanzania is one of those countries that completely captures your heart and there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of organisations and social entrepreneurs working tirelessly to turn these figures around.

Forever Angels Baby Home is located in Bwiru, near Mwanza airport on the outskirts of the city. It was set up by British ex-pat, Amy Hathaway, and provides a loving and safe home for children under the age of five who were abandoned or whose parents cannot look after them. Forever Angels aims to reunite the children with their parents or close relatives or find suitable adoptive families.

The Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP) trains people from all over the region to make high-quality bricks out of agricultural residues, such as rice husks. These bricks are then used to built sturdy, permanent homes in an area where most families must re-build their houses of mud and sticks every year. After the initial training and support given by MRHP, most brick-makers go on to establish their own independent brick-making enterprises.

And lastly, Tanzaid, established by Victoria Randell, manages Kuleana Street Children Centre, a transitional home for children coming off the streets. The centre has a team of social workers providing regular counselling to each child before they return to their communities. Children are given the time and care to help them deal with traumatic experiences, talk about their family situations and think about their future. Life skills sessions are also provided covering subjects such as rights, responsibilities, behaviour, choices, hygiene, future options, drugs, sexual health and HIV awareness.

When I visit Tanzania in January, as well as spending time with the amazing kids at Upendo Children’s Home, I’m hoping to go out and visit these amazing projects and organisations, and others like them. If my internet connection holds out, I’ll report it all back here. Stay tuned.

The great blog avoider

Hi. My name is Katherine and I’m a blog-avoider. It’s been three months since my last blog post.

In the last three months, there have been times when everything has been happening all at once and I’ve hardly had a minute to pause, and there have been other times where nothing has been happening and I have had plenty of time to sit, contemplate and mull things over.

Either way, none of it has seemed worth writing about.

But this is just not good enough. (Even my parents have said those immortal words: “You need to start writing again!”)

But, quality is better than quantity, right? Right?!

The good news is that my horrendous blog-avoidance will be a thing of the past in a few short weeks. In January, I’m travelling back to Mwanza, Tanzania. Alongside some volunteering, I’m hoping to meet with some NGOs, social entrepreneurs and pioneering business people – particularly within the fields of development and global health. My journalist brain has already kicked in and I’ve been brainstorming some story ideas to get excited about.

And, depending on the access I’ll have to the Internet, I’ll be posting all my stories right here.

I miss Tanzania

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog post.

After my exams, I did a two-week work placement at the Kentish Express, then I sat my final two NCTJ exams. Straight after that I went to Tanzania for a month to volunteer. I’ve been a little busy.

I’ve been back in the UK for over a week and I think the real reason I haven’t written about my time in Tanzania is because I’m struggling to describe just how amazing it was.

I miss it. I miss the baking sunshine and refreshing light breezes. I miss lying in the garden at night and staring up at all the stars. I miss sleeping under a mosquito net, wearing long-sleeved pyjamas and socks to bed and still waking up with bites. I miss cold showers. I miss going to bed to the sounds of dogs howling and being woken up at 6am by the cockerel in the garden. I miss getting hot and sweaty on crowded dala-dalas and bombing down dirt-track roads on the back of a piki-piki. I miss the blaring music from Corner Bar. I miss walking to Buswelu Corner to buy fresh fruit and vegetables each day and waving to Christina in her shop. I miss Stoney Tangawizi. I miss all the children and the sounds of them running into the house at 4.30pm every day. I miss Mariya and the way she won’t let you see her work or drawings until she’s completely finished. I miss Mussa and Masalu and their comedy double act. I miss Edward and how he can’t help hand-balling during football games. I miss Edina and her dramatics and dancing when she’s in goal. I miss Joshua and the way he runs absolutely everywhere. I miss Ema and the way he likes to lead and protect the other children. I miss Joice and her incredible sass. I miss Nuru and his inquisitive mind. I miss cooking with Joice and Prisca. I miss Eric and the way he laughs at the dramatic bits in action films. I miss walking around Mwanza (and even the shouts of ‘Msungu’). I miss power cuts. I miss the view of Lake Victoria from Hotel Tilapia. I miss watching football games in Corner Bar. I miss not having street lights. I miss haggling prices with market sellers only to give in. I miss jam with dozens of different E numbers. I miss geckos scaling the walls and checking the long drop for cockroaches, armed with a baseball bat. I miss having dirty feet. I miss not wearing make up and not looking in a mirror for days on end. I miss buying chapatis and rice and beans from Martina at Buswelu Corner. I miss getting shocks from the electric cooker. I miss the two-hour round trip into town just to check emails. I miss speaking Swahili. I miss Tanzania.