First impressions from Graham.
First impressions of Tanzania may be a little blurred given that they came after thirty relentless hours of travel, but nothing ventured.
I think the oddest thing is how much this place reminds me of Chad. Standing at the main entrance to the airport with that too-tired numbness of mind while the local muezzin fires up his PA and sends the call to prayer around the neighbourhood. Sitting in the a departure lounge – which incidentally outclasses anything N’Djamena airport had to offer in sophistication or comfort – and watching the sun come up so much faster than it ever does in the UK. Driving around Mbeya on hard packed dirt roads, the poorer houses made from bare bricks or wattle and daub, the richer ones distinctive by their whitewashed walls and corrugated iron roofs. The open drains running down the sides of the roads, the occasional field of detritus, the ever-present escort of running, laughing children, eyes and teeth flashing brilliantly in their dark faces.
The place is different though. The airports at Dar es Salaam and Mbeya are modern and as pleasant as any airport can be, the planes that fly in and out of them seem reassuringly well maintained. The land is greener than much of Chad, with sisal plants dotting the landscape, the dark green of their pointed and fleshy leaves contrasting with the typical hay yellow of the grass. There are acacia trees, gum tree, fern trees – many familiar, but some new ones as well. Signs of industry line the roads with all manner of businesses simply getting on with whatever they have chosen to do in front of their small shop buildings by the side of Mbeya’s main – and smoothly tarmac surfaced – road. Carpenters, welders, hairdressers, upholsterers, you name it, it’s probably there somewhere. The place seems to have a sense of expectancy, a faith in a better future, and that’s probably the greatest difference with Chad.
Arriving in Dar, and then again in Mbeya, is the usual queue up and wait. Wait for visas to be processed, wait for passport control, wait for customs, wait for the trucks and minibuses that have come to collect us. In part it’s the intricate procedure of processing a plane full of new arrivals into a country, but it’s exacerbated by the African speed of life, or lack thereof.
We eventually make it onto the road; ten of us plus a driver in an aging but valiant minibus, the rest of the group and all the luggage distributed between a couple of small pickups. It’s unsurprisingly quite a lot warmer than England. Enough to notice, but not quite enough to merit a complaint. We find ourselves following a funeral convoy off the airport, music blaring from the loudhailers attached to the lead truck. We make it past and onto the open road, where there is the faint hint of exhaust fumes from an aged and poorly maintained diesel – another memory with African associations.
The Karibuni centre lives up to its name – karibu meaning welcome in Swahili. A short, but bone jarring, ride off the main road leads us to the compound. Stone buildings within stone walls, but welcoming in their appearance. We are given a welcome drink (I elect to strain tea leave through my teeth after the second out of two tea bags tears) before being taken to our rooms. It seems that laying those rumours about my snoring has paid off, as I have a room to myself. It’s as wide enough to fit a bed and about as long. It has an en-suite with a shower that drains into a ‘squat and take a pot shot’ style of loo. A decent sized mosquito net hangs from a wooden frame over the bed, although I can’t say I’ve noticed any of the aforementioned yet. Rain has been threatening most of the day, and it’s moderately cool, so it may be that there aren’t (m)any about. I imagine we’ll find out sooner or later.
After a much needed rest, in which I manage to catch up one of my lost hours of sleep, we head out to Airport – the site of the original airport in Mbeya, the runway still recognisable despite being converted into a road – where lunch of rice, peas, spinach and fruit salad awaits. Yes all on the same plate, and decidedly tasty it was too. After eating, the majority of us head off to take part in a feeding program.
The kids are being led in song when we arrive at the nearby house of Kevin, one of the Grassroots helpers out here, and also one of our chauffeurs at the airport. The kids are a delight of smiling faces and curiosity. Wherever we go we have at least two escorts and a couple of hands each to hold. We play games with them and exchange what limited ideas we can manage given the language barrier, while they wait to be served. My little group seem fascinated by my hairy arms more than anything, and I end up being stroked and tweaked experimentally by more than one.
Back at the centre in Airport, some of our group have been conducting interviews with kids and their carers. We join in where we can, but the long trip is still affecting me, and it’s time to head back to Karibuni when I fall asleep on the job.
I’ve managed a couple more hours this afternoon, and hope that by tomorrow I’ll have returned to something close to normal, at which point blog entries might be a bit more interesting.