the year after my england trip i had my next overseas adventure. in the summer of 2007, jamie (of marriage in ireland fame) and i packed up our gear to travel to tanzania and do a documentary.
the whole set up took a bit of planning. in my junior year of college i had decided that i wanted to do something with my “skills” to give back or do something that was bigger than myself. i researched many non-profit organizations and talked with a few to decide what it was i fully wanted to try and do. after finalizing my thoughts with a group based out of california called global partners for development, the opportunity to travel to tanzania with them came up.
global partners focuses on a few areas of development- water projects (water sanitation and even being able to have a water resource near a village is a huge problem in tanzania), primary school funding (attracting good teachers, making sure there is funding for the school itself, along with supplies), scholarships for secondary schooling for girls (a lot of times a family will only have enough money to have one child continue their education and the male child will get chosen every time), animal projects (teaching a village how to raise an animal and have them procreate/used in the village instead of killing it right away for food), and women’s social/ecomical business (giving small start up loans to women [usually whose husbands have died of HIV or AIDS] and teaching them business skills, a trade, etc.)
i thought these projects were fantastic. global partners didn’t have a christian or religious focus (not that having one is a bad thing, but i wanted a place whose focus was the people), but they were doing so many things that spoke to the heart of what i believe. the major set back was they, being a non-profit who gave away a good amount of their earnings, did not have camera equipment nor the funding to send me with them for this trip.
i started talking with my college to see if there was any type of funding for this type of project. fortunately, there was a grant that i qualified for which gave me a bit of money. my hometown church gave me some more. and from that point, people came from out of the wood work to donate money to help me get to tanzania. i was overwhelmed with the positive response i was given and determined to make the best documentary in my capabilities (which, given that it was my first and only documentary to this day, was a feat in itself).
now where does jamie fit into all of this? jamie, who went to school for broadcast journalism in nebraska, was visiting me at college when i casually mentioned my plan that was in the works. her passion and response was immediate: i am coming with you. i told her about the money, the equipment, and the time/dedication needed. she did her part (and then some) and we were well on our way.
there was a larger group also heading to tanzania with us (we received biographies and information about everyone/the places we were going beforehand), but jamie and i were flying out of des moines and not california (like the rest of the group), so for a majority of the trip out there we were on our own. we finally met up with our group in tanzania, after our 20 hour plane ride.
tanzania is amazing. it’s beautiful. it’s rustic. it’s peaceful, it’s life-affirming, and a part of my heart has been left there. the children that we met at the schools were wonderful. they were playful; we gave them coloring books and stickers. most people spoke english rather well and were so appreciative of the work we were doing and for the money that the donators had brought. we were able to sit in at an actual tribe’s meeting (all in swahili so we were filled in later about what it was about) where the masaii chief leader was scolding the group for not caring about women’s education. (in most tribes girls will be married off at 12 or 13 and they will not continue schooling but rather be at the home).
a lot of what we saw in tanzania was heart breaking as well. not because of the poverty so much, but because they were so thankful for what they had. for opportunities to speak with us. we were sang to many times, presented with gifts, and many hugs and handshakes were given. jamie and i tried our hardest to document everything, take copious amounts of notes, and gather information, but it was so hard to not just get swept up in the culture instead. we stayed in beautiful areas, ate delicious food, and bonded with our group of people. it was an experience i will never forget, for multiple reasons.
the last few days we were there our bus drivers (pascal and rama) took us out to a few safari places. pascal really took a liking to jamie and me, he always made sure we rode in his vehicle with him and called us simba 1 and simba 2 (lions).
the animals of tanzania are wild- and i mean that in the double sense. wild as in… radical, amazing, and unbelieveable and also wild in the- oh, what the hell, there is an elephant about 10 feet away from me! sort of sense. we saw four of the big five while were there. a couple of lions, some cape buffalo, plenty of elephants, and one lone rhino we almost missed because he was so far away. also, poachers like to kill rhinos because their horns are worth a lot of money, so they are becoming scarce. the only ones we did not see were leopards because they had migrated away from the area during the time were there.
i could literally go on and on about tanzania, but i will wrap up with some final thoughts below. my hope is to return to that area some day and see the progress and difference the projects have made to the culture and economy of the country itself.
things i remember about tanzania:
- a baboon stole my lunch. no, literally. he (she?) lunged across the picnic table towards me and i instinctively grabbed my camera rather than the edible box of goodies in front of me. it looked at me, stuck my bread roll in its mouth, picked up the box and bounded away. rama, our bus driver, threw rocks at it, but it was too late. and there were no more extra lunch boxes so i did not eat much that day.
- this crazy lady we went with told me if i stick a penny in my belly button i wouldn’t get my motion sickness. i didn’t try it– because it sounded crazy. and that was one of the more sane things that she said.
- we had goat on a stake a couple of times in the same day while we were out there. they cook it, over a fire, stake it to the ground, and then cut off pieces with a giant knife. wild dog will hover around you in hopes of getting some scraps.
- “asanti sana, squash banana” (like rafiki says in The Lion King) does not mean “you’re a monkey’s uncle… and i am not.” it means “thank you very much… squash banana” (no direct translation on the last part)
- giraffes are the most hilarious animals in the world to watch fight. they kick at each other and swing their necks, but they are so awkward and strangely built that it looks like they are fighting in slow-motion.
- if you are sitting behind a leaking bathroom that smells like piss on a plane (and i pray this never happens to you), ask the flight attendent to sprinkle coffee grinds around the area. some guy on the flight next to me asked her to do this on our trip (he had already been through this sort of experience) and the smell cleared right up.
- hyenas are awesome. i don’t care what anyone says about them being unlikeable animals. they (at least the type we saw) look nothing like they do in The Lion King; hyenas look super majestic, powerful, and… damn, are cool. they are fearless.
- it’s embarrassing to try out your swahili on a tribe that doesn’t even speak the language. i thought the children were giggling at my pronunciation. no. they just had no idea what i was saying, in english or otherwise.
- do not take glass coke bottles out of tanzania. they look awesome because they are so retro- but once the pop is gone they are returned to a recycle center, sanitized, and new pop is put in them and returned. if you take a pop bottle you are basically stealing a life-time of pop from the country.
- you can get gifts and such for ridiculously cheap because of the poverty level. if you are going to a more populated town they are used to tourists and know a bit more about haggling and prices that we are used to. the more rural parts are anxious to sell you anything for any price you want. i tried not to take advantage of that too much because i really wanted to help the people.
- ^ speaking of gifts, they really make some AMAZING things. beaded jewelry, carved wooden sculptures, hand painted canvases. the gifts i remember buying were many small beaded necklaces from a woman’s economic group we were helping, 3 hand carved masaii men (for my parents, my brother’s family, and me), hand carved wooden animals (that i gave away as gifts), some delicious coffee grown at a resort we stayed at, and two canvases that i had stretched and mounted immediately when i got home.
- hippos kill more people every year than alligators and crocodiles combined. they can run at speeds up to 40 mph. they sneak up underneath boats, open their jaws, and can snap the thing in two. the game hungry, hungry hippos took on a whole new meaning after finding this out.
- jamie really is a swell gal. i’m lucky to know her and to be in her life.
- mazunga means “white person.” though i am not, i got called it many times while village children chased after our vehicles and pointed.
- there are tiny antelopes called dik -diks and they are the cutest things in the world. there are large antelopes with impressive horns as well, and impalas, but the dik-diks take the cake for african animal you want to take home.
- global partners for development is an amazing non-profit organization filled with people who are desperately trying to make a positive impact on the world. donate if you can, but just check them out for sure.