In the summer of 2014 I spent 4 weeks gallivanting around Tanzania – most of which was spent making friends and cuddling babies – but my purpose for being there was to volunteer.
I’d never really volunteered before. Nor had I ever stayed in a hostel, and my experience of third world countries was next to none, so as I landed at Kilimanjaro airport I didn’t really know what to expect. My trip took off on a pretty shaky start if I’m honest. There was a lot of staring, a lot of begging and an abundance of awkward scenarios (my glue-sniffing tour guide ironically didn’t help me to begin my trip on a high), yet a few days in and I began to see the wonders that this amazing country had to offer.
Here’s a list of my top 10 highlights…
10. The Second-Hand Market(s): I’m sure there are tons of these across Tanzania but I visited a rather large one in Arusha, located just outside the city centre. Essentially its a charity shop, but after a bit of rummaging you’re almost always guaranteed to come across a gem. One of the girls I’d met at my hostel found some converse, whilst others purchased tops, dresses and skirts. A lot of the local women still maintained their African way of dressing but there is a still quite a heavy Western influence so most of the clothing in the market is similar to what we wear in England. The prices here are very low anyway, but there’s always room for a bit of haggling!
9. Chips Mayai: I’m not sure how something so simple can be so delicious – this exotic sounding food is literally just a chip omelette (think chip butty but with eggs) and can be cooked up in a matter of minutes. It might not be the healthiest of meals but in a country where lunch time options are fairly limited this is a great option for everyone.
8. Oyster Bay: Found in what many people consider to be the capital, Oyster Bay is located in an affluent area in Dar Es Salaam. This gorgeous coastline is home to people from all over the world and hosts frequent ferries across the waters to Zanzibar. I was fortunate enough to be staying with my friend Khadijah’s (met in my hostel in Arusha) family who lived in Dar, and they brought us to Oyster Bay to sample some local delicacies. Being the last day of Ramadan the shores were filled with people dressed in the most incredible clothing -elaborate frills and floral covered women and children from head to toe as families brought out their finest outfits. We perched on some decking chairs as stall owners brought us coconut water, figs and other unique (and bizarre) treats, and watched as the sun set over the sea.
7. Fresh Fruit: I’m a big fruit eater anyway but there is honestly nothing better than fresh fruit, locally sourced and a stones throw away at all times. After exploring Arusha with friends, or on my way back from volunteering, there would be nothing better than grabbing a fresh orange (they would even slice it up for you) and going to town on it whilst the juice traveled along your chin and down your neck. Sticky? Yes. Messy? Incredibly. Delicious? Absolutely.
6. The Landscape: Oh my goodness. The lush bushes, the vibrant colours, the dense forests, the incredible waterfalls, and of course the jewel that is Mt Kilimanjaro… Tanzania is gorgeous. It might sound bizarre but there’s something so beautifully raw about a developing country. With the dusty roads contrasting against the greens at the side of the road, with no pavements and the occasional cow wandering aimlessly. It’s just so alive. And so free. And as you look up into the sky, searching for one of the most climbed mountains in the world, you have to crane your head back even further as you underestimate quite how large Kilimanjaro is. It actually looks like it’s in heaven (or space, depending on your creationist vs. evolutionary perspective).
5. The People: Minus the begging and occasional bout of racism (I can’t count how many times I was called a ‘Mzungu’), the locals are the nicest people. In a dala dala on my way to work I would often have a chat with the person beside me (whilst the person behind me played with my hair and the chicken in front tried to escape out of the window) and they were always so polite and welcoming. I had to be a little bit careful, being a young white female, but everywhere I went I was warmly greeted and made to feel at home.
4. Fresh Fish: Perhaps I’m a little bit obsessed with food, this being my third mentioning of food in this post, but anyone that likes fish will understand how much better it is when it’s fresh. Whilst my search for lobster and crab was unsuccessful, I did find some Swordfish, Tuna and Calamari – all of which was divine. One of my favourite memories of being in Tanzania was being sat in a restaurant with Khadija (American), two Brits, a Spanish man and a guy from South Africa, sharing food and exchanging stories.
3. Stone Town: For those looking to explore ruins and visit a place filled with history and culture then Stone Town in Zanzibar is perfect. I only spent a couple of days here but I had so much fun journeying through the tiny alleyways that criss-cross across most of the city. Khadijah and I were captivated by all that we could learn about this place, and despite getting completely lost trying to find our hostel, I think we’d both agree that this was a definite highlight of our time in Tanzania. (Side note: There are night markets most evenings in Stone Town that offer a variety of food and drink, both Western and local, including chips Mayai, fresh fruit and fresh fish = winning! It’s a great place to meet tons of people, eat amazing food and listen to some brilliant music.)
2. The Beaches: I stayed at a place called Kendwa Rocks for three days, and this really was not enough. Voted in the Top 10 best beaches in the world, Zanzibar is home to the most spectacular-ly breath-taking beaches! It sounds so cliche so but the sea was actually transparent – and so warm! The sands were soft, and golden, and.. well, just perfect really. We also visited a place called Prison Island, a little Island (shock) just off of the mainland. Once an Island used as a prison (again, shock), it is now home to some of the largest turtles – some of which are over 100 years old (I feel a Finding Nemo reference coming along). After visiting the turtles and the prison, we (Khadijah, myself and an Irish guy called Michael – who was almost as beautiful as the scenery by the way) jumped into a boat and went snorkeling. After three weeks of volunteering this was the perfect way to unwind and reflect on how amazing my last few weeks had been.
1. The Children: My number one highlight of this adventure was, of course, the children. The soul purpose of this trip was to work at an orphanage (and after a tough few days teaching at a very run down school, with thirty-five 13-16 year olds, who knew no English whatsoever, staring at me whilst I tried to explain to them what a butterfly is…) I eventually made it to the Cradle of Love Baby Orphanage in Arusha. With four groups – the babies, the crawlers, the wobblers and the toddlers – I fell in love with every single child at a moments glance. As myself and an Australian couple meandered down the path to the garden, we were instantly rugby tackled by about seven children. Almost all of them had no parents, or had parents who could no longer afford to keep them. Others, such as a tiny Albino boy named Jackson, were there for their safety as the people that lived in their village attempted to kill them for being different. And whilst hearing how these children had been abandoned, I looked at them and realised that they were just happy to be in such a wonderful orphanage. With play equipment and food and constant cuddles. These children were lucky. After playing and teaching and feeding most of these children, a bond began to grow between myself and one specific child – Raymond. The owners of the Orphanage didn’t know how old he was, we could only estimate that he was around 3, but he was the sweetest, funniest most loving child who was so eager to learn about everything. I was told that when children turn four they move on to an older children’s Orphanage – sometimes far away, surrounded by people they don’t know, for a life filled with uncertainty – and so now I can’t be sure of Raymond’s whereabouts. But he and all the other children, and the people of Tanzania, will always be in my heart.