As many of you know, I recently spent a month volunteering with Cross Cultural Solutions in Tanzania, Africa.
Although I know I can’t truly describe the experience in words, I thought I’d share some of the highlights of my trip with you.
So why travel to Africa? Several of my co-workers thought it was a strange way to spend the holidays, but honestly, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than being of service to those in need and experiencing a whole new culture at the same time.
With those thoughts in mind, I packed up my bags (with lots of DEET and sunscreen in tow), and hopped on a plane. I connected first through Amsterdam, then went on to Nairobi, Kenya and finally landed at Kilimanjaro Airport, Tanzania some 25 hours later. To say my internal clock was off, is a massive understatement. There is a 9 hour time difference between Kilimanjaro and Dallas, and after spending 25 hours on an airplane, I had a drunken stumble as I exited the plane and walked the tarmac towards the terminal. Local time was around 11 p.m.
Kili’s airport terminal boasts a single baggage belt and has wooden slat floors reminiscent of an old 30s movie or perhaps a Hemingway novel. I had a feeling I wouldn’t see my checked bag for a few days since baggage in Africa often gets mysteriously “lost”, but to my amazement, it was one of the first bags off of the belt!
I moved over to a counter to fill out customs paperwork and noticed a dozen or so large beetles walking around on the floor. I think I was encroaching on their territory. 🙂 After handing in my immigration form, I made my way outdoors and met the van that would take me to my hotel for the evening.
We drove about 5 minutes in the pitch dark, and found ourselves stopped in front of the large front gate of the KIA lodge. Standing in front of the headlights, to my amazement, was a tall Masai warrior with spear in hand, dressed in full warrior garb (red plaid cloak, earrings, beaded bracelets, etc.) I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Now, THIS is Africa! ”
Though it was late, the hotel desk clerk greeted me with a smile and gave me some fresh squeezed passion fruit juice (yum). A different Masai warrior escorted me down a dozen winding paths to my bungalow room. I found out later, the Masai are hired as security guards across the country at many establishments.
He unlocked the door, and we walked into this…
…what a mosquito net! East Africa has a high incidence of malaria, so mosquito nets are really quite a necessity. This one, though, by any standard, is a serious luxury.
My escort left, and I stepped out into the night. Since there were very few lights on the property, you felt like the entire night sky could swallow you up. I’ve never seen so many stars at once. I took a flashlight and made my way back towards the main building so I could buy a bottle of water for brushing my teeth (tap water is a big no-no in East Africa unless you want to be best friends with the bathroom for the next few days). 😉
I met up with some fellow volunteers who had also arrived late and we crashed shortly after. Looking back, we really had no idea what was in store for us in the next few weeks!