Published: August 20th 2008August 20th 2008
I am now back from safari in the serengeti, Lake Manyara and Ngorogoro crater. It was spectacular - the group who went a couple of weeks before us had loads of problems but ours went swimmingly. We spent the first night in the volunteer house in Arusha, up in the north of Tanzania. The 10 hour bus journey was pretty good; it was an air conditioned coach and they made a stop for lunch, which meant I could happily enjoy the gorgeous scenery the rest of the time. On Friday we drove first to the campsite near Lake Manyara, then on to the national park itself. The park was fanastic, really lush and green with interesting wildlife verwhere. We saw a lioness in a tree, which is really lucky as Tanzania is the only place where they climb trees apparently. Manyara was definitely the leafiest of the three places we visited, and we had great fun sticking our heads out of the open tops of the jeeps. Spent the night camping nearby in a site with a pool and, more excitingly, hot showers! Well, I use the term "hot" in its loosest sense, but a definite improvement on the last month!
Saturday was spent in the serengeti, which was a complete contrast to Manyara - miles and miles of open savannah. For the first hour we were pretty worried that all we were going to see were gazelles (an experience made only worse by the fact that our driver ran one over...). In the end it was amazing - we saw 4 out of the Big 5, including a leopard! The others were elephants, lions and buffalo, which just left rhinos to see. I took some fantastic close-ups of lions, including 3 cubs eating the intestines of half a zebra. The freakiest animal has got to be the hippo though - they sit there, submerged in water with one eye on you, and my God can they move when they want to! We camped in the serengeti overnight which was interesting - I managd to come to Africa and catch a cold (good going), so I woke up slightly delirious in the middle of the night to the sound of hyenas and a black shape going past the tent window! Made me determined not to need the loo in the middle of the night!
On Sunday we went to Ngorogoro crater, which was my favourite landscape - it had a bit of everything, including a salt lake. We saw a rhino here so completed the big 5! Camped back at the Manyara campsite, then on Monday drove to Moshi via a Masai village. That was a really interesting couple of hours - we saw the school that Art in Tanzania sponsors. 107 children cram into 1 classroom, which is made of sticks, mud and thatch. They have bascially no materials and 5 childre sit at a desk that in England would seat 2. There are 2 teachers and they teach English, Maths and Swahili. Art in Tanzania have just completed a new building, which the kids will move into before the end of the year so that was great. Because the Masai make their living from cows, there are flies absolutely everywhere in the village - one kid was sitting at his desk writing with about 15 flies crawling over his face. It was really moving, but in an odd way I find it difficult to feel pity for the people here - the children are all so happy all the time, and so polte and helpful. The way of life here is very relaxed, and people often go out of their way to help each other. I don't think people should have to live in some of the conditions we've seen here at all, but I don't pity them because they have something here that we lack at home, that community spirit and caring about everyone around them. I hate to use the phrase poor but happy, because people here know that there's more out there, that not everyone lives with no power and no water etc., but it would be so great if communities at home could recapture some of that indefinable spirit that has not yet been lost here.
We spent Monday night in the Moshi volunteer house, and came to realise that it's about 100 times better equipped than ours in Bahari. Here we constantly suffer water shortages, which means toilets don't flush and there are no showers. There's nowhere to eat breakfast, and until yesterday we had to walk 15 minutes to a different house for lunch and dinner. The Moshi house has everything that we're lacking! Yet somehow most of us came away glad that we did it the way that we have - I don't think I would have taken away as much from the experience if I had come back from project every day to basically western conditions. Somehow that would almost water down the experience.
Today I spent the morning in the nursery and got the best greeting ever, having been away for 5 days. One of the teachers invited me to dinner at her house tomorrow and I'm looking forward to that. Three of us did another HIV seminar this afternoon, and had a whole new batch of crazy questions to contend with! Tonight there's a fundraising event at the house to raise money for one of the local guys here who has polio and needs a leg brace to walk properly. Four of us are in a team called the pumbas, so we have to dress up as pumbas (or warthogs) - that could be pretty interesting! So I'm off in a minute to make tusks...
Having seen how difficult it is to achieve volunteering goals in 3 weeks, I've decided that if I can only take away one thing from this month I hope it will be a sense of perspective. Like a lot of people I have a tendency to get a bit wound up about little things that really don't matter that much, and I get wound up about the because they're the worst things I have to worry about. I've come to realise first hand, rather than just saying the words, that that makes me pretty bloody lucky. It would be really great if that knowledge could stay with me when I get home and settle back into western life; twee as it sounds, I think that would be a really valuable lesson for me to learn here.