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Published: September 30th 2014
Life is a ridiculous riddle, innit? I’m just trying to learn the meaning without bursting into a spontaneous Monty Python skit.
My trip through Africa has been leading up to this very moment...an opportunity to volunteer and give back as modest thanks for my fantastic adventure so far. While the rest of my group climb Kilimanjaro, I have chosen to spend ten days with a non-profit organization that rescues homeless children, and I am irrevocably humbled by the experience.
Amani House provides street children with a nurturing place to live with the eventual goal of social reintegration. Prior to my arrival, I did some research and discovered that almost half of their private funding comes from my fellow Canadians, so it felt like a good fit for me. There are currently 90 boys and 9 girls residing at Amani, which means ‘peace’ in Swahili.
Each morning, I walk the mile or so from my home stay to the Amani compound. Moshi is a lush steamy town where smoke from breakfast fires hangs in the air and the frequent overnight rains transform the muddy red earth into sticky roadways. Brightly frocked women pass me balancing gigantic packages on their
We met a family living in the hills of Kilimanjaro and they invited us for lunch. They were delightful
heads. The kids greet me at the gate like I’m lady gaga.
Joining me for this volunteer challenge is the man from Portugal I call the Portugoose. He decided at last minute to hang back, we both work in human behaviour fields so we have lots to talk about. We set aside our professional interests and do what we came to do. Play! Most of the children have forgotten how to be children. While I do crafts and faun over the girls, the Portugoose becomes unofficial soccer coach for the older boys. With a small compliment of staff, Amani House is run by the director with military precision and basic care and education are provided while the Mamas shuffle around cooking, cleaning and scolding. We do anything we can to help out, some days I’m standing in front of classroom teaching geography and world events, or helping wash piles of endless laundry, or taking the kids out on small excursions, or putting band aids on scuffed knees. In the evenings, we explore Moshi and enjoy eating and drinking at the establishments with the locals.
Amani is not all sunshine and lollipops though. My heart twists in anguish because
Love African food and enjoyed trying out several dishes at each village we stayed.
these children are a delight...but they also harbour deep scars from past abuses and trauma. Some suffer from significant cognitive deficits but also underlying signs of mental illness or brain damage from sniffing petrol, autism, foetal alcohol syndrome, PTSD, you name it. Since there are no psychiatric therapies available for them, some of the older kids act out and as a consequence for misbehaving, are segregated to a punishment room. Many run away periodically, slipping over the compound walls in the dead of night to go back to a life they are more comfortable with, the chaotic streets that offer no rules. We go out with the Amani social workers in the middle of the night to scour the streets looking for them, but usually end up bringing back a matatu full of other street children needing our help.
Overall, it was a heartbreaking and heartwarming experience and on our last day of tearful goodbyes we hitched a truck ride up a bumpy goat trail to meet up with our group at a home stay in Marangu, which means ‘a place with too many water streams’ in Swahili. Irony not lost here!!
Between power outages and torrential rains,
Hiked early one morning to see this beautiful peak. Very lucky as it is usually shrouded in clouds.
we eat and drink before retiring. Our tents are pitched on a ledge off the cliffside and I wonder fleetingly if we might get swept away in the night. But sheer exhaustion guaranteed that I slept like a baby, only to startle awake when the local guide knocks on the tent in the wet dark. Our plan is to watch dawn break over the Kilimanjaro peak. So we trudge up slippery moss-cover trails through the banana and coffee plantations in silence to find a vantage point. Worth it! Kilimanjaro is glorious!
We continue our hike through the little villages clings to the sides of the mountain. It is Sunday and uplifting song pours from the churches of each place we encounter along the way. We are offered lunch by some local women for a fee and gladly accept, indulging in their beautiful home cooking and lovely interaction under a canopy of lush jungle.
The group all want to hear more about my volunteering gig, while I ask them to relive tales about their Kilimanjaro trek. Honestly, I am green with envy, hiking summits has always been a passion of mine, and Kilimanjaro was top on my list.
Standing at the top of the Usambura mountain range waiting for the mist to clear, you feel invincible.
However, after suffering a pulmonary oedema in Peru a few years back, I am now too fearful of altitude. I know someday I’ll be back to this region and ready to summit.
Perhaps for my 50th
Back on the overlander, we continue towards the coast, our crazy cook Animal keeps us entertained with his broken English and music selections. He is like a proud papa and goes about spoiling us with American favourites like French toast topped with a selection of fresh tropical fruits from his market stops. We are so lucky. At this point, I have to take a minute and commend our top notch crew. We are travelling in the same overland truck that only a few months later, went over an embankment and killed two Australian tourists. I never once doubted the crew’s abilities and can happily report with relief that Captain Orange, drivers Karaoke and Boss John, trainees Layla, Q, and Nash weren’t on that doomed truck. My thoughts go out to the families that lost their loved ones in this tragic accident.
I am constantly amazed by the diverse terrains in Tanzania, this is one beautiful country. Along the highway
We enjoyed playing footy with the kids at Amani.
on the eastern corner of Tanzania runs the Usambara mountain range. For a moment it looks like I’m travelling through Mexico because they grow a plant here that looks like Agave in endless blue rows on the valley floor.
Karaoke turns left and inches the overland truck up a steep mountainous switchback as we all hold our breath, tree limbs drag across the roof, and one or two of the Australians shriek when we roll backwards towards the edge as Karaoke attempts to grab a lower gear. Swollen rivers of chocolate froth rage over waterfalls and cascade down narrow gullies, we peer like lobsters out the steamy windows as brightly dressed locals wave to us from their cliffside perches.
We are staying on the grounds of a guesthouse run by a crotchety old German who amps up the comedic charm as he greets us in the driveway with his scruffy dogs. He is married to a local woman and she is a hoot. At one point Maggi insists on blow drying my hair in their tavern while I sip a coffee. The little fireplace in the corner feels nice in this bone chilling wet, nothing dries here. Aerosmith
Blow dry and a beer
After a very wet hike, I sat at the bar while the barkeep blowdried my hair. It was weird.
70’s classics blare from a crackly radio overhead and most of the guys are watching a footy match on the satellite t.v. in the smoky lounge.
Our tents begin to float as it literally hammers down rain, so for $12 we upgrade to what I call the mushroom cottage...because it smells rank and musty, and has literal fungi growing on the walls. In the morning Maggi arranges for a couple locals to take us for hikes in the area. It is still raining elephants. The guides hardly speak any English but we have fun navigating the slippery worn paths through several villages. Children follow us as usual. It took about four hours of uphill climbing before we reached the Irente viewpoint and stood on a gigantic boulder teetering the top. Now if only the mist would clear we'd have an unbelievable view.
Finally it did. Spectacular!
Along the way, we play with chameleons plucked from branches. My new little friend boy George
hitches a ride, his eyes non-simultaneously go up and down as he tries to work out how to make himself black, like my raincoat. As you can see from the picture, he couldn’t quite pull
Our little following weren't too sure of us Mzungus. We did get them laughing eventually but the kids are way less friendly.
Our next day was the longest drive yet, almost 8 hours to get to the coast.
Into Dar es Salaam, our overland truck was quickly consumed by a traffic jam of biblical proportions. We spent hours inching maybe two city blocks, so our group passed the time in the sweltering tin can by reading and playing bullshit. One of the Australians was out the window pretending to be a photojournalist. Periodically, I’d look up from my book and notice we had been keeping pace alongside a city bus jam-packed with locals just trying to get home. As expected, the passengers were extremely interested in watching us, a little too interested,
I remember thinking. But what else is there to do in horrendous traffic like this. In hindsight, maybe we looked a little too happy amongst traffic misery.
After we made a left at the gigantic intersection onto a bridge, we suddenly heard people shouting. On the other side of the intersection, the entire contents of that bus emptied out and were running in our direction. They swarmed our overland truck, yelling and throwing things. Although I could not translate what was being shouted, I quickly
Camping in the Mist
Our campsite was perched on a cliffside overlooking the beautiful Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately it wasn't spotted often as it rained constantly
assessed and filtered out yelling. These people looked angry but their body language told me they were having fun.
In an instance, I knew exactly what this mob was up to. Extortion.
I sternly encourage everyone not to engage the mob, no sense adding fuel to this situation. Captain Orange seemed perplexed. He was conferring with Karaoke through the rabbit hole before he marched past me to the back exit door. “They are saying we hit their bus.” A peppery sensation crossed the bridge of my nose like it does when I’m in a dangerous situation at my workplace.
The crowd ramped up their actions, shouting, spitting, and banging their fists on the sides of our truck, rocking it. Most of our group was terrified except for the one Australian who was cheekily yelling at the crowd to bring it on. Captain Orange scrummed into the crowd, which had now grown from the bus passengers to hundreds of onlookers all taking up their cause. My instinct was to follow him but I held fast.
Karaoke stayed seated, while Animal wades out to the front of the truck. The crowd swarms him too, some pushing and shoving
Playing with his wheel and stick, this little guy wasn't shy and wanted a picture.
commences. I’m still not sure what the heck is happening. Karaoke tells me the crowd is accusing him of hitting their bus and fleeing the scene, so they wanted him to get out so they could deal with him. Karaoke calls the police on his cell. The crowd want immediate compensation for passenger injuries and their damaged bus. They rub their fingers together with the international symbol for money at us.
Luckily, the police arrived quickly, their station only two blocks away, and Karaoke was instructed to drive to it, as was the other bus with the passengers. The police assessed the bus and there were no visible damages. Now the story changed. The bus driver was questioned and said his bus had not been hit by us. Some of the passengers sheepishly laughed and whispered with each other while staring at us.
Karaoke was fined $50US for ‘insulting the president,’ and his driver’s license was revoked for 24 hours. We were flabbergasted, but relieved we were allowed to get on our way.
Not a great introduction to Dar. And it was pretty much down hill from there.
For the rest of the evening,
A bunch of rain soaked Mzungus getting a nice lunch from the villagers of Lushoto.
I could not shake my heightened level of alert, even after I set eyes on the Indian Ocean for the first time in my life. Posted warnings around our beach campsite warned of eminent crimes against tourists. Not helping.
With a picturesque honey sunset swirling calmly into the sea, the Portugoose pleaded with me to join him for a dip. Absolute beauty was all around me but I had a shitty dinner, shitty sleep, shitty shower, and woke up in a, well, shitty mood as the wail from the call to prayer sounded somewhere in the distance.
Oh, and yesterday’s shenanigans were not to be outdone by today’s events.
A miscalculation of time had us literally sprinting with our packsacks through insane crowds to board a cargo ferry just seconds before it pulled away from the shoreline. Once aboard, we crammed together with angry commuters whom all leered at us inexplicably. I stood looking out upon the bay as diesel fumes belched from an overworked engine. The Dar skyline of the downtown core illuminated orange in the morning sun.
Every man for himself as we are pushed and shoved in a disembark scramble and mad run
Loved all the vistas and beautiful places near Kilimanjaro.
towards the Zanzibar ferry dock. Captain Orange knights me second-in-command and I herd our reluctant group in the opposite direction as he goes off to find tickets. Although we are making good time, weaving in and out of traffic at a trot, we are slowed by an encircle of aggressive touts and beggars. Of course, one of the Australians doubts my leadership so I start yelling.
The ship sounds its warning as we are pushing our luggage through the x ray machine, the boat crew starts to fret. The Mzupaki breaks a bottle of red wine in her packsack at this very moment and is instantly hysterical, the doubtful Australian suddenly cannot find the backpack he set down for a second, and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the right berth. We are frantically directed down the gangplank, stopped and started because of our lack of tickets, when I see the Portugoose has strayed off towards the gift shops. Ah come on.
Captain Orange is bringing up the rear waving FREE 1st
class upgrades. Yah, Mr. Boombastic does it again!
With all ten of us accounted for, Captain Orange and I give each other a victory
Huge choir to wash and hang clothes up. Most of the kids did their own but needed help
high five and the ferry cat pulls away from the docks. I settle in a comfy recliner seat, only to be handed a barf bag by the porter. Oh God no.
Yep. We ride a deranged pony all the way out to the island. Everyone onboard is puking. Even I feel a tad woozy but kept my eyes fixed on the horizon.
Zanzibar where are you?
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