Sunday, April 2nd and Monday April 3rd:
We left early in the morning for our LONG flight to Dar Es Salaam. It was nice that Swiss Air had so many movies but by the time we stopped to refuel in Nairobi, I needed to get out of the plane. Apparently this isn’t an option! Haha. I finally just forced my way to the open back door to get some fresh air… it did help my nausea and headache temporarily and it was nice of the flight attendants to not make me go back to my seat right away. We arrived late night in Tanzania and they took about 2 hours to process everyone with tourist visas in a basement section of the airport.
Luckily, Sher had booked our hotel close to the airport and a ride came to pick us up so we just went in and tried to sleep a few hours before our 4am wake up time to catch our early morning flight to Mbeya, Tanzania.
We arrived Monday morning at the Zion house, the main building of The Olive Branch For Children which is an organization that supports communities near Mbeya in many different ways. We are lucky enough to stay with and get to know the kids here at The Olive Branch for the next 10 days. Cristina, a volunteer from Italy who originally planned to stay 8 months to help out the kids and learn Swahili, has now been here more than three years. I’m SO glad that she is still here… she is a delight, charming, and so caring for the kids. I think she will have to move on eventually but the program definitely has been positively impacted with her presence. You can tell that she gives all her love and attention to the kids and also the surrounding community…. people shout out her name as we are walking on the streets! It’s really interesting to see how she has become a beloved local in the time that she has been here. So Cristina gave us a tour and explained a bit about the program and what our role would be, to some degree. We left pretty soon after to get SIM cards for our phones and explore the main market in Uyole (the village about one hour from Mbeya that the Zion House is located in). It was a fun afternoon walking around and been more fun back at the house, meeting the three other volunteers there (Daniel from Italy, Erica from Toronto, and Ellen from Ireland) and all the kids that we bumped into. So many names! I hope I can remember at least most of them! We did our laundry with our Scrubba camping bag later in the afternoon and it was funny to be in the spotlight… a lot of them watched us and chatted about us in fascination while we fumbled around with buckets and their big outside bucket of shared water, trying to make it all work.
In my journal, I do some complaining at this point about the toilet, cold bucket shower, rain, power situation (power ended up shorting out for more than 24 hours after that evening rainstorm and all our devices were dead or low battery)… BUT in hindsight, it was just me adjusting to the situation that night. I felt a little trapped due to the rain and so many new people but no clear direction of our purpose there other than a dental talk for the kids, a chiro talk for the kids (on what? Unclear…), and a big talk in a more remote village on the weekend. But in between, it was all hazy. I was feeling sick and sore at this point and it’s also a HUGE change to be in a place like the Zion House with a squat toilet, bucket shower, and frequent afternoon rain showers this time of the year.
Sher’s take on Africa so far-
We have arrived in Tanzania… Mariam wants to go home… wait for immigration is too long. She is tired, feeling sick, and grumpy. We walk our of Dar es Salaam airport and our shuttle driver is waiting with our names on a piece of paper. Mariam feels better. I gain her confidence that the trip is organized. We get to the hotel for a quick four hour nap before we wake up at 5am to catch our flight to Mbeya. We don’t sleep much of those four hours even though we are both super tired from our long flight and stressed about having to wake up so soon. Mariam is doubting the honeymoon and the adventure yet to come. She is unsure if she’ll be able to keep up with the on-the-go adventure I’ve planned for her. I reassure her that our trip is flexible and we don’t have to be constantly moving like we had been in Europe. She feels better, somewhat! We sleep on the hour long flight to Mbeya, walk out of the plane to a beautiful African landscape with green lush hills in the background and flat plains with long grass. The sun is shining down with clear blue skies. As we walk down the stairs from the plane, I look back at Mariam and she has a smile on her face.
As we wait for our luggage, I have no idea what to expect, who is picking us up, or where exactly we are going. I am lucky that Mariam has so much trust in me to go along with my plans blindly. We walk out of the Mbeya airport and there is a guy waiting for us. He takes our bags and we follow him to his car. He starts driving and we can’t ask him any questions as he only speaks Swahili. Not much we can do now but to go along with it. Mariam falls asleep and I enjoy the Mbeya countryside looking out the window. An hour later we are greeted by Cristina at the orphanage. She gives us a tour of the house and then shows us around the village. We buy a local SIM card and bottled water and try to settle in. I am worried for Mariam as living conditions are pretty crowded and rough although we have all the basics. There is one squatting toiled and one “shower” room that is shared between all volunteers. There is no shower like what we are used to but instead a bucket full of water with a small cup to clean yourself. This is not at all new to me having seen this setup in Pakistan but I thought it might be a shock to Mariam. As the day goes on she tells me that she lived in a similar place in Thailand once and she survived it. It put me at ease. We nap during the day and wake up to kids playing. We walk around the house and the kids are all back from school.