A few summers ago, I flew to Tanzania to visit a friend stationed in Arusha to get experience for her social work degree. I will write a few posts about this adventure.
There were three things that I wanted to do while in Tanzania, but I only had time to do two. I wanted to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, go on a safari and visit Zanzibar Island. I was hoping that my friend Bethany would choose for me. She’d been in Arusha for a month, working at the Shalom Centre for Street Children. Her schedule and gender had prohibited her from wandering outside of the city. My plan was to let her decide and together we’d roam the country. (Because two single white women travelling alone are safer than one.) Short story: she made me choose. I figured that I’d enjoy the safari the least of the three, as the desire to take incredible photographs might prohibit me from living in the moment.
We took the bus to Moshi, one of the larger cities in Tanzania, based at the bottom of Mt. Kilimanjaro. For brevity’s sake I will say this: taking a bus from Arusha to Moshi is not as simple as hopping on a COTA bus or taking a Greyhound. When we got there, we found a coffee shop situated to attract mzungus – white people. Three things communicated the fact that this shop was designed for tourists: table cloths, brewed coffee and a bulletin board with advertisements for safaris and tour guides. A boy saw us looking over the board and within an hour, we’d booked a guided hike on the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The hike would include various sights, including a coffee plantation and a stop for banana beer. We followed our guide – a 16-year-old boy – onto a Dala Dala, one of the 10 seater passenger vans that the Tanzanians use as public transportation in the city. The bumpy van ride took us miles and miles to the very top of the road. At each stop, more people would climb in, until at one point, I had a grandmother sitting on my lap. “Karibu,” I said as I motioned to my lap. (I was jammed in such a way that it was physically impossible for me to get up to offer my seat.) The thirty or so people in the van stared wide-eyed and laughed as the confused woman finally sat down on my legs.
It quickly became obvious that the trail we were on was a heavily-travelled footpath. Children curiously joined us as they left school and headed home on the same route. The trail winded higher into the hills as we walked by the yards and vegetable gardens of people’s homes. I distinctly remember the children mocking my heavy breathing as we trudged upwards. What was for me a hike, was for them a daily commute.
The first promised sighting were the coffee beans. Tanzania is a major exporter of coffee to the western world, but it was clear the Tanzanians preferred tea. If they did drink coffee, it was of the instant variety. Perhaps it was more valuable for them to sell than consume. Or perhaps, with a lack of consistent electricity access, it’s just easier to make drinks that don’t require machinery.
The path, which led to a giant waterfall (known as Makoa Waterfall), was often accompanied by this stream. Our guide explained to us that several years ago, the people living on the side of the mountain carried bags of cement to create a concrete irrigation trough used to divert some of the water to various parts of the mountain, so that water would be easily accessible for gardens in the dry season.
As an aside, retrieval of good clean drinking and cooking water seemed to take up a good portion of time in the lives of the people we encountered. This was not an uncommon sight.
We eventually entered a banana grove, and were excited to try some banana beer. Every inch of somewhat flat land we encountered on the hike was used to grow food of some kind or another.
There is a reason that you can get Tanzanian coffee in the United States, but not Tanzanian banana beer. No one would drink it. I have a feeling they chose to drink this beer because it was easier to create a fermented beverage from something growing in the back yard than it was to carry a six pack of Safari Lager up the side of a mountain.
When we made our way back to the Dala Dala stop, we realized that we’d missed the final van back down into Moshi, and that we’d have to walk the six or seven miles back down. There were several reasons why this was a horrible thing, including bloody feet and two exhausted mzungus. But there was a bonus. It was on the way back down that we could finally see the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. We stopped for a moment to get a photograph. She’s a beautiful mountain, strong and with good character. And she stood perfectly still for the picture.