January 09, 2021

First Tanzania Trip Journal: 2011

I met Shamila in 2009 when we worked together at the bank of Montreal.  While training her, we got to know each other very well.  I learned that she was born in Tanzania and that her aunt runs an orphanage there in Tanga.

After learning about the orphanage, my husband (Rory) and I started by sending clothes for the kids.  Then, in 2010, we sent money for school tuition and did this as often as we could.

In 2011, we decided that for Rory’s 50th birthday, we would go to meet the orphans.  Before our trip, we held a big birthday party at a local pub and raised $1,700 for the orphans’ school-related needs.  Then, that December, we were on our way.

It was the trip of a lifetime.

Day One: December 25, 2011

We arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s financial and political hub which translates to “abode of peace” in English, at 4:00 AM with no one there to greet us.  We found a taxi and gave the driver the address of our final destination: Shamila’s mother’s house.  As we rode along, we quickly discovered that the driver had absolutely no idea where he was going as he stopped several times to ask for directions—directions from men who were often sleeping in cardboard boxes on sidewalks.

At one point, we asked the driver to stop at a place where we could buy some water.  Soon, we learned that place would be a worn-down shack.  Rory gave me his wallet and stepped out of the car onto a dirt road in the pitch-black night.  As soon as he did, the driver locked the doors.  It made me nervous for both of us.  Thankfully though, nothing happened.  Once Rory got back to the car, I’m sure you could hear my sigh of relief.

When we arrived at our destination, the taxi driver asked for more money than originally agreed upon.  We paid him, but we knew we had been gypped.  At least we got there.

We went up some stairs and met Shamila’s mother.  There, we found out that Shamila had moved, but we could wait for her to come fetch us.  After exchanging pleasantries, Shamila’s mom told us that she had to leave to work on her farm.

Soon thereafter, Shamila’s cousin came, took my huge heavy luggage, and put it on his head.  It was probably 50 lbs.  He then guided us through some dirt roads to get to Shamila’s apartment.

Shamila’s apartment was in a concrete building that was still under construction.  The elevator shaft was a big void.  On the 4th floor, a sheet of plywood leaning against the opening was all that was there to prevent a fall.  Water and electricity were not installed yet.

Upon entering her apartment, we found a maid sweeping the floor while carrying Shamila’s baby, Zainab, in a scarf on her back.  We were greeted by Shamila and settled in to have a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits.

After breakfast, Shamila and her cousin took us to the Kariakoo Market, first to exchange our Dollars into Shillings and then to buy school supplies for the orphans.  Shamila carried on her the $1,700 that we had raised.  Since one Canadian Dollar was equal to about 1,769 Tanzanian Shillings, it was a lot of money.  Thankfully, nobody would know she had it as it was safely hidden inside her hijab.

As we walked along, I could tell that Shamila’s cousin was in a good mood.  He would laugh at all of Rory’s jokes and constantly gave him high fives.  We were surprised of his good humour as he told us that his phone had been stolen out of his pocket on the bus six days after he had bought it.  While those two were occupied, Shamila showed me how to wrap a baby in a scarf on your back and cover their head to protect them from direct sunlight.

I thought that walking around Dar es Salaam was a nice way to truly see the city.  Had we been in a car, we would be in traffic that could take half an hour to move one block.  Some potholes in the road were so bad that you would think the town had been bombed not long ago.  But, it hadn’t been bombed; the road conditions were just that poor.  Still, walking had its own challenges, like dodging cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and other pedestrians.  In fact, I often needed assistance crossing the streets as I was scared and didn’t have the confidence to do it alone.

On the side of the road, there were merchants selling spices, all kinds of colorful fruits and vegetables laid out on sheets, and cooking meat that smelled lovely.  There were friendly faces dressed in colourful clothing who would say “jambo” (hello) and “karibu” (welcome) to us in Swahili as we passed by.  This friendliness made me feel at home in place that was much different than what I was accustomed to.

Equally, things were quite chaotic.  Other merchants would be walking around selling things like cigarettes, candy, and so on, making sounds with coins to get your attention.  There were skinny cats running down alleyways and fruit peels in heaps on corners.  Cars would honk at pedestrians to get out of the way and people on bicycles were carrying loads that you wouldn’t think were possible.  

In the end, we bought two full boxes of school supplies, material to make school uniforms, and two soccer balls for the orphans.  Every price was negotiated, but thankfully we had Shamila as our negotiator.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted.  That night, I slept like a baby.

Day Two: December 26, 2011

I woke up at 4:30 AM to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, followed by the local Lutheran church choir singing Christmas songs over a loudspeaker.  Still in bed at 6:00 AM, it was already too hot, even with a breeze coming in.  I heard crows, a rooster, and people already working on construction.  Then, at 7:00 AM, I heard church bells.  At that point, I was pretty sure they didn’t have noise bylaws like I was used to.

Shamila had ordered a large bucket of water for us to wash ourselves in her bathroom.  This would be the first time I’ve used scoops of water to clean myself and the water was very cold.  In addition, I discovered there was no mirror, so I had to use my makeup compact to make sure I looked OK.

Once we were done getting ready, I had to remind myself not to forget to take my malaria pills.  Shamila served us fresh pineapples from her mother’s farm for breakfast.  She tells us that she is reading the Quran more and speaks of adopting orphans herself as she will receive blessings from giving them love.  She tells us that properties where she lives, in the market district, sell like hot cakes and it will develop into a pricey area.  While it was a nice thought, Rory told me that it looked worse than Beirut on a bad day.  The area was certainly charming, but with no fire station or ambulance service, poor sewage and infrastructure, and frequent water shortages, I was certain Rory was right.

After breakfast, we took a taxi to the ferry that would bring us to where we would be staying the next few days: Zanzibar.  Once we got there, we were told that the ferry was sold out for the trip we had wanted to take.  While waiting for the next one, we walked around the streets of Dar es Salaam with our luggage looking for a place to have a snack.  As we passed every corner, we were asked if we needed a taxi.

At one point, we stopped to buy a newspaper from a stand and asked how much it was.  The vendor said it was 10,000 Shillings, but we could clearly see on the paper that it was only 1,000.  Rather than argue more than was necessary, Rory paid 3,000, knowing he had been ripped off.  Later on in the trip, we would learn to expect to be charged higher prices because we were “Mzungu,” which means “of European descent” (or put more bluntly, white).

With people constantly offering a taxi ride and having been ripped off multiple times, it started to get to us.  So much so that at one point, someone had said “welcome” to us in Swahili and Rory had responded with, “No, thank you.”  In the moment, Rory didn’t realize that he was simply offering a kind gesture rather than trying to get him to buy something.

Eventually, we found a hotel where we could have something to eat.  There, Rory asked for recommendations on a good hotel in Zanzibar.  After our snack and armed with good options of hotels, we set off for the ferry.

As soon as we arrived at the ferry, someone came to help us with our luggage.  He carried our bags all the way through customs.  However, once it came to the point when he couldn’t stay with us anymore, he held on to my luggage and I couldn’t take it away from him.  Both he and I never let go as Rory gave him money.  He said that he wanted more because he was unionized and had a set price.  It was as if he was holding our luggage for ransom.  But, Rory didn’t budge and wouldn’t give him more.  While he eventually gave up, the man surely was persistent!

Then, after having just struggled to get them back, we had to give our luggage to the ferry workers to put into storage.  Considering our experience, I was worried that we would have the same kind of problems getting them back.  Next, we had to queue to have our passports stamped and were checked for a temperature to ensure that we weren’t bringing Ebola to Zanzibar.

During the whole process, it felt like people had no concept of politeness or personal space.  An inch was enough for a person to cut in front of you while you were waiting in line to buy a ticket.  Also, I was touched three times from behind and, from then on, knew to always line up in front of Rory.  Even Rory was losing his patience.

Rory asked one of the people working in the ticketing area if there was a way for him to buy tickets in advance for when we come back from Zanzibar in a few days.  Since Swahili was the worker’s first language, he didn’t understand, but took us out of line and brought us to the booth where the agents were selling tickets.  Thankfully, this area was air conditioned and, being soaked in sweat from the heat, it was a nice reprieve.

Getting onto the ferry was just as bad as in the lineups.  It was a big mass of people all going to one place with no regard for one another.  And after we were on, we couldn’t find a seat, but a nice man pointed upwards to indicate that there were more on the next level.  Rory shook his hand to thank him for the tip.

Eventually, the ferry was on its way.  Now that I was upstairs, while we still couldn’t find a seat, at least I could see the horizon and avoid being seasick.  Worst case, I could rely on a black seasickness bag, which was given to all passengers upon boarding.

During our trip, a young man of 18 years came beside me and told me that he wanted to practice his English.  His vocabulary was pretty basic, but we were able to communicate.  I learned that he was in high school and was studying science in order to become a doctor.

He expressed a lot of interest in Japan and asked me a lot of questions about the country.  Of course, I didn’t know any more than the average Canadian and had very little information to offer.  For example, he asked why Japan is expanding and Tanzania isn’t.  After consulting Rory, we came up with the simplified answer that Japan is more disciplined and Tanzania is more laid back.  He also asked how he could go to Japan and we said that if he was to be disciplined and became a doctor, he could find a way.

The young man also asked me how I was dealing with the heat.  I said that I loved it, but if I was back home, I would be wearing shorts instead of the jeans I was wearing that day.  I told him that I was wearing pants to be respectful to his culture.

He asked why we show our skin in Canada and I told him that it's because we want to be the same colour as him.  He said that some people hate the colour of his skin.  I told him that some people in Canada sit in the sun for hours to get darker and he laughed at the thought.

In the end, the crossing to get to Zanzibar took two hours.  This was much longer than we had expected.  As we arrived, I remembered about our luggage being put in storage and that our passports and some of our money were inside them.  Since no one was given tickets to prove ownership of their luggage, anyone could claim them and it made me worry.  But, leaving those items inside was a risk we thought we should take as we could just as easily lose them by being robbed.

Thankfully, when all was said and done, we collected our luggage and looked for a taxi.  After seeing a sign saying that Zanzibar is a World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO, we were approached by a man who offered to drive us to our destination.  Rory asked him to produce his license, but he said it was in his car and Rory refused to go with him.  After waiting for the driver to go get it, he came back and showed a license, but it was a tour guide license.  As a result, we refused and Rory started looking for another taxi.  A couple of minutes later, he redeemed himself and came back with both his taxi and his license.

After paying our luggage handler, we got in the taxi and told the driver that we’d like to go to Stone Town.  He told us that we were already in Stone Town.  We then told him the name of the hotel our first baggage handler gave us and the driver told us it was right there, across the street.  Instead of going to that one, we told him the name of another hotel that was recommended to us and we were on our way.

The ride was very short and we came to a parking lot on a dead end street.  We got out, the driver grabbed our luggage, and we were guided through a maze of very narrow streets with traditional houses dating back to the 19th century.  Upon arriving at our destination, we discovered that it was a great location; it was right in the middle of Stone Town, within walking distance to everything, including the ferry.  We paid our driver and went in to book a room.

When we spoke to the staff at the hotel, we found out that the price was more than we would have liked.  However, we were able to negotiate it down from $180 to $160 per night since we were going to stay there for four nights.

After we had our room reserved, we could finally relax.  A man with a round cap in a traditional white shirt that went down to his feet came with wet face cloths for us to pat ourselves with.  It was very refreshing on this hot day.  He then came with our drinks, but the cocktail I was brought had ice in it—we were told not to have anything with ice because it could be contaminated.  It looked refreshing and it was difficult not to have a sip.

When we went to our room, we were pleasantly surprised.  It was very elegant and had four posts with mosquito netting.  I decided to take a shower, but it wouldn’t be a warm one because I forgot to turn on the water heater before starting.  Thankfully, however, it was still relatively warm given the heat outside.  Once I was done, I felt very refreshed now that I was out of my sweaty sticky clothes.  It was nice to be at a place with running water.

Rory and I were hungry and went upstairs to the rooftop restaurant.  There, we saw a picture of Bill Clinton and found out that he had stayed at the same hotel.  I ordered seafood chowder and fish and Rory had steak.  Meanwhile, we listened to live entertainment, with both male and female singers, but commented that it would have been nicer if it was local music in Swahili.  Overhearing our comments, the entertainers switched over to Swahili and Rory and I listened to it as we looked down at the old white buildings with rusted roofs and wooden shutters.  It was a very nice moment.

After our meal, we decided to go to the beach.  It was beautiful, with white sand, palm trees swaying in the wind, and wooden ships fishing or sailing.  Kids were playing in the sand and doing acrobatics.  At one point, some of them came up to me and asked where I was from.  After telling them I was from Canada, the common response was “Big country.  Good country.”

Later on, I went to a store across the street from our hotel to buy a hat and some pants that would be more comfortable in the heat.  Thereafter, we went out for a walk at 7:00 PM in the old town.  It was already dark and, at one point, Rory wanted to walk down an especially dark alleyway.  I refused as I was always paranoid about being pickpocketed or robbed.  Most of the stores were beginning to close and Rory found a square that included a playground with bicycles, trampolines, swings, and other items for children.  It was packed with local families who had just eaten meals in the park.

After a bit more walking, we ran into a security guard who asked us if we needed help and offered to escort us back to our hotel.  We decided to say "yes" and gave him 10,000 Shillings for his help.

Day Three: December 27, 2011

Today, I woke up with an irritated eye and it felt like there was a film over it.  I was worried about not being able to read and how bad my eye could get in a faraway place like Zanzibar.  I was sure that none of the markets would have eye drops and that I hadn’t brought any with me, but I decided to look through my luggage anyway.  Thankfully and to my surprise, I found some Visine in my medicine bag.  Was I ever lucky!

That morning, I also noticed that I had a swollen foot and the Visine only helped my eye a little.  Nonetheless, I didn’t let it stop me from going for a walk with Rory.

On our way out of the hotel, when I passed by the owner wearing my new clothes, he called me “Mama Africa.”  I thought the nickname was cute.

We walked through Stone Town and it was neat to hear the distant call to prayer throughout the day.  We found out that Stone Town has 50 mosques and four Hindu temples.  We went for a drink and danced at Mercury, which is a pub that used to be owned by Freddy Mercury of the band Queen.  For those who didn’t know already, Freddy Mercury was born and raised right there in Stone Town.

Later, we spent time at the beach until the sun set on the Indian Ocean.  We decided that we would make this part of our routine for each of the remaining afternoons.  Once the sun had set, we went back to the hotel for the rest of the evening.

Day Four: December 28, 2011

We got up late this morning and had breakfast at about 9:00 AM.  While getting ready, we decided we were going to explore as much of the city as we possibly could today.

During our walk, we saw a man at the side of the road changing a tire.  We watched in amazement as he dodged bicycles, motorcycles, and cars that went past him in the narrow cobblestone street.  To those who think changing a tire is hard: Try doing what he did!

At one point, we also came across a Maasai man in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the market.  I asked Rory to take a picture for me as I thought the contrast was beautiful.  We were thinking that he must have been there to get things that weren’t available in his village.

The market was quite messy, but the busyness made it exciting.  It was full of wonderful smells, children riding oversized bicycles, and skinny cats roaming around.  There, we got to practice one word that we knew, jambo (hello), and learned and practiced others like: hapana (no) for all of the tour guides and taxi drivers; kwa heri (goodbye, after saying “no”); and asante (thank you) after the locals say karibu (welcome).  We found out that after saying “hapana,” the workers would smile and more quickly leave us alone.  To me, it seemed like it came from a place of mutual understanding and respect.

Next, we went to a slave museum.  There, we learned that Stone Town was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa and the base from which slave trading’s opponents, like David Livingstone (of Scotland), conducted their campaigns.  We also saw the conditions that many slaves were forced to endure, like being held captive in dungeon-like stone caves, dying of suffocation from metal neck collars, and walking as much as 60 kilometers while being chained to one another and carrying 60 lbs. of material.  Further, we learned that they had to lay side by side on ships, in their own urine and feces, and that many died of diphtheria.  We also heard of an Anglican priest who would rescue them and bring them to East Asia, where they would learn a trade and find work.  I thought that story was very interesting and made note to read more about it when I had the opportunity.

Upon leaving the museum, we quickly got lost in the narrow winding streets of the market.  While lost, we met a local school teacher and he guided us back to our hotel.  In the end, we had walked for four hours, were drenched in sweat from the heat of day, and each had only drank two bottles of water.

After we arrived back at the hotel, I napped for an hour before going swimming in the ocean.  It was relaxing swimming in the calm, warm water.  In fact, the water was so calm that I swam out far enough for a boat to go right past me.  I was also greeted multiple times by locals in the water.  The children would swim up, smile at me, and say “hello” in English.

To cool off after our time at the beach, we went to get some ice cream.  There, we met a taxi driver named Babaya, which means “Father of Ya.”  He told us he comes from a town called Bububu, which he said was named after the noise the trains used to make as they pulled into the town’s train station.  After speaking with him for a while and getting to know him further, he kindly offered to give us a night tour of the city.  We decided to take him up on his offer.

As the first activity on our agenda, Babaya brought us to meet his parents.  While we were with them, I was given a piece of fruit that I had never seen before.  It was the shape of a pear, white inside, and very juicy.  When I bit into it, I found it to be really sweet and thought it tasted like a melon.  I can say that it was really good, but I have no idea what it was.

After spending time with his parents, we were brought to the police headquarters for a live show.  There, beside the police training facility and the jail, we saw a lit stage with a person singing.  It was quite dark in front of the stage, with people scattered around and drinking while sitting in plastic chairs.

For the most part, a band played Christmas music.  Again, we were disappointed because we were hoping to hear more music in Swahili.  Thankfully, however, they switched over to Zenji flava, which is a Zanzibari hip hop.  It was nice to listen to something new for a change!  They also played “No Woman, No Cry,” which was very pleasant.

After asking our waitress, we learned that it was OK to take pictures.  We would have taken many of them sooner, but we didn’t think that we were allowed to take pictures of policemen.

While listening to the music, I told Rory to pay attention to one of the men who was singing.  He sure had moves!  I referred to him as “Elvis Pelvis” with Rory, and Rory thought the nickname was funny.  I told Rory that his moves were subtle, but they were very smooth.  They were especially smooth during a song with the lyrics, “Sexy, sexy, sexy.”  Rory agreed that he was smooth, but his moves were too risqué to be on America’s Got Talent.  I told him that we haven’t evolved much since the days of Elvis…except for Elvis Pelvis.

Since no one else was dancing, Rory and I decided to get up and told Babaya that we were going to embarrass him.  Everyone’s eyes were on us.  I think we did alright for white people; we weren’t sexy, but at least we were in tune with each other.  In fact, we might have been the first white people to have been there, let alone ones that danced.  Anyway, we actually did well enough to get a roaring applause as we walked back to our chairs.  A young man even came by to let us know that he admired us for being confident enough not to care what people thought.

At the end of our night tour, which lasted from about 8:30-11:00 PM, we paid Babaya $100 (which is about 16,000 Shillings.  Rory told him to buy something for his parents and I told him to buy flowers for his wife.

Before going to bed, Rory and I both agreed that we loved Zanzibar.  We think we could live there 3-6 months of the year and could easily get used to the fact that there were no cinemas, shopping malls, or other luxuries of life in Canada.

Day Five: December 29, 2011

After getting ready this morning, we went out into the city.  Today would be our last day in Zanzibar before going to Tanga to see the orphans.

To start the day, the plan was to get gifts for family back home.  However, things didn’t begin as we would have hoped as we had difficulties finding a working bank machine.  Once that was sorted, we went out to the market to find some interesting trinkets.  For Tammy, my daughter, we found a chest set and a leopard wrap.  For Serena, my granddaughter, we found a black African doll.  For Blake, my grandson, we got a hand-held drum.  And for Thomas, my son, we got a Maasai weapon.

By the time we were done shopping, half of the day had gone by and we were drained from negotiating prices.  To relax and reward ourselves for our efforts, we decided to stop for a late lunch at about 2:00 PM.  We turned out having tapas, cheese and bread, fried fish, and non-alcoholic champagne.

As luck would have it, during our walk, we managed to bump into Babaya again.  He told us that he took my advice and bought his wife flowers.  He said that she was very happy and they made love all night.

Next on the agenda was our plan to visit the cultural museum of Zanzibar.  Of note, we learned about the significance of henna panting on hands and that divorce in Muslim marriages can only be initiated by the husband, unless the man is impotent (in which case, the wife can initiate the divorce).  In addition, we learned that if a husband dies, the widow cannot be left alone with a non-relative male for four months.  Also, we learned that a baby’s head is shaved at seven days old.  I was not sure when any of these lessons would become useful, but they were interesting nonetheless.

As we were finishing our visit of the museum, I started to feel sick and decided I should go back to the hotel.  Instead of hanging around at the hotel while I was in bed, Rory decided to go out on his own to see the Sultan’s museum.  As soon as he had left, I fell asleep.

After resting in bed for a while, I got up in the late afternoon to go swimming with Rory.  As I undressed at the beach, I felt like all of the eyes were on me and quickly hurried into the water.  Once there, I was greeted by excited children who wanted to swim with me.  Not feeling well, I tried to politely decline and swam away to have some space.  When I finally was alone, I decided to lay and float in the water.  However, the personal space didn’t last for long; while floating, a fisherman in a Tom and Jerry boat came up beside me.  He asked me my name and where I was from.  I responded and learned that his name is Ali.

In a short while, I decided to get out of the water and made sure to dress quickly.  I told Rory about how I felt like everyone was looking at me.  He flattered me and said that it was because I looked like one of the Bond girls when I came out of the water.

Next, I decided to go for a walk by myself to pick up seashells.  People would continually greet me as if I was a celebrity.  At one point, a teenage boy began walking with me.  Like others, he asked where I was from, but also asked which team I support.  Knowing he was referring to soccer, I told him that we aren’t the biggest of soccer fans and that we prefer hockey in Canada.  I don’t think he understood me.  He asked which words I knew in Swahili and I said some of the few I could remember.  Shortly thereafter, we went our separate ways.

After I got back, Rory and I went to eat at a Belgian restaurant.  Rory had a gigantic crab and I had soup, corn and coriander, and escargot.  Once we were done eating, we walked back to the hotel.  I was exhausted and went right to bed.  I was sure that I would sleep until it was time to take the ferry back to Dar es Salaam in the morning.

Day Six: December 30, 2011

This morning, we got up at 6:00 AM to catch the ferry at 7:00 AM.  I guess our timing was good as there weren’t many taxis out and we weren’t hassled too often on our way to the ferry.  After arriving, we filled out the necessary forms and got our passports stamped before boarding.  This time, we immediately went to the top level, but I still felt a little seasick.  Shortly after sitting down, Rory fell asleep while I tried to read.

Whenever the water got choppy during our trip, I had to stop reading to avoid being sick.  One time, when I had my head up, I saw a boat filled to capacity in the middle of the ocean.  It looked very unsafe and even locals were shaking their heads.

As we arrived and began docking, we hurried to get to our luggage.  This time, it was stored in a sort of cage that was on wheels.  Before pushing it down a ramp, they told people to get out of the way.  It could have easily hurt someone, let alone fall into the ocean.

We were told previously that Shamila’s friend would be picking us up and, once we got outside, we couldn’t see him.  After waiting for a bit, Rory decided that he would look around to see if he was waiting for us anywhere.  Meanwhile, a tourist policeman stayed with me to protect me and our luggage.  I told him about our trip to Tanga to see the orphans and he was impressed.  He told me that he agreed about the importance of education.

Having not found the friend, Rory decided that we should try to go to Shamila’s apartment.  After unsuccessful attempts to find it, we gave up and decided to go to Shamila’s mom’s house to contact Shamila.

When we arrived, we were greeted by her younger sister.  She called Shamila and their nephew came with a paid hand to carry our luggage to Shamila’s apartment.

After finally arriving at Shamila’s house, I gave Zainab a doll that I had bought for her in Zanzibar.  Next, we showered and prepared for our trip to Tanga before being brought back to Shamila’s mom’s house.  While waiting to leave, we went shopping for underwear and t-shirts and had chips and rice in a courtyard inside the market.  Also, Shamila’s mom gave us fresh mangos from her farm after we had gotten back.

Next, Shamila’s brother-in-law, Favil, came to get us.  Favil had kindly taken the day off of work and would be our chauffeur for the trip.  His mother used to run the orphanage.  I trust him and feel confident around him as he is a young, big, and imposing figure.  He is a good driver and I don’t think that many would mess with him.

As soon as I sat in the car for our six hour trip, life became different.  In Africa, women will stay in the car as the men take care of everything.  For example, we had to stop at a garage to change a tire on the rental car before leaving and Shamila and I stayed in the car as the work was done.  Later, Rory told me that some of the tire screws didn’t have the right thread and we had driven the whole way to Tanga with the wrong ones.  Sounded dangerous to me!

Shamila tells me about how the Quran says you should breastfeed for the first two years of a baby’s life.  At the moment, she is trying to wean Zainab off of it.  She speaks of them suffering through it together; Shamila is sore and Zainab doesn’t understand why she has to stop.  She says that she might put a bandage on her breast to communicate that she is hurting and has to stop breastfeeding.  Shamila also expresses a desire to give money to women who foster children.  I told her about our dream to return and buy a hotel in Tanzania.

Once the tire was fixed and we filled up our gas, we were on our way to the orphanage.  En route, we had to go through a detour because of construction.  As a result, we found ourselves at a gate manned by a security guard who required money in order for us to pass.  Thereafter, we stopped at a grocery store to get water and juice.  Favil knew some people there.

I could tell that Shamila’s family was well-networked.  Shamila is very lucky to live in Tanzania as she has a lot of people who can help her with anything she needs.  Her culture has an excellent sense of family support.

The whole drive to Tanga, I want to pinch myself.  There aren’t many people from Duberger, where I was raised, that have gone or will go to Africa.  I am happy as can be as every day here is full of firsts.

Favil wanted to stop at a town along the way, but since Zainab was sleeping, we decided not to.  As we drove past, I thought that the town looked a lot like Stone Town.  Looking out the window was as if I was watching a movie, seeing mud houses, buzzing villages, and all kinds of businesses along the road.

Eventually, we took a break at a rest stop to eat.  I had eggs and frites (Chips Mayai) and Rory had barbequed meat.  I learned that Shamila couldn’t sit at the same table as Rory as he was drinking alcohol; doing so was against their customs.  I also learned that I have not yet mastered the skill of squatting and aiming properly in public washrooms.

While we were at the rest stop, at one point, a local girl had picked up Zainab and was walking towards the highway.  Shamila yelled something to her in Swahili and she came back.  The girl smiled and said that she only had wanted to bring her to the side of the road.  The whole situation made no sense and I would have been furious had it happened to my child.

After receiving the bill, which came to us in a cup, we paid and got back in the car.  Before having the chance to leave, the server came and stopped our car.  Apparently, Favil had shortchanged him.

Further on, we were stopped by the police and had our car checked.  We were told that we had to carry a fire extinguisher for safety as there were not any fire stations along the way.  They said that not carrying one is an infraction that you could be fined for.  Thankfully, however, they let us go and we continued on our way.

At this point, Shamila and Favil began talking to one another in the car.  Since they were speaking in Swahili, I could only catch the odd word that they would say in English.  From them, I learned that “safari” means “to travel from one place to another.”  Now, it made sense why the police who had stopped us wished us a “good safari.”

After we had arrived, I discovered that everyone in Tanga knew Favil.  There, we would be staying at his parents’ house, both of whom had passed away.  After meeting his three small children and discovering that they also didn’t have any running water, I went straight to bed.

At the house, people were up all night.  I could hear the gate opening and closing all the time and a dog barked very often.  There was no netting on the beds and it made me worried about being bitten and getting malaria.

Day Seven: December 31, 2011

Today is the day we go to the orphanage.  I woke up more excited than a five-year-old on Christmas morning!!!!

While I thought that we were leaving at noon, we didn’t get moving until around 1:30 PM.  The saying “pole, pole,” which I recently had learned meant “slowly, slowly,” seems to be the best way to describe it.  Here in Tanzania, people live without a sense of urgency.  Coming from Canada and given how important today was to me, it was especially frustrating.

To add to my frustration, on our way to the orphanage, we were stopped by the police.  The police officer said that we would have to pay a fine because we didn’t have the original copy of the insurance for the rental car.  But, knowing from past experiences, it was clear that what the officer was really looking for was a bribe.  While Favil argued with the officer, I worried that this was going to stop us from seeing the orphans.  Thankfully, though, she eventually let us go.

Upon arrival, we began our visit with a tour of the orphanage.  Within their building, we saw that the girls slept in separate rooms from the boys and the older orphans had their own room.  Rory and I thought it was neat that the boys’ bed covers were of the Chelsea Football Club and that the orphanage owned ducks and chickens.  However, to our dismay, we saw that their mattresses were in rough shape and had noticed earlier that their swings needed fixing.  We decided that we could afford to give them enough money to buy 9 mattresses before we left and later, after we got back to Canada, we would send them enough to buy the remaining 11.

At one point, after having seen me blow my nose, one of the boys asked me what I was suffering from.  I said that it was just a runny nose.  After Shamila showed me a picture of an orphan who died of malaria, it made me sad to think of sickness in their lives.

For lunch with the orphans, we ordered Biryani (an Indian dish) from a caterer.  After everyone was served, they all ate together on a mat on the floor using their hands.  Once everyone had finished their meal, they were all very helpful, washing their own dishes and sweeping the mat where they had sat.  Finally, after everything was tidied up, we distributed the school supplies to the orphans.

While they were eating, I asked Mama, the woman who runs the orphanage, if the children ever get to go to the beach. She said “yes” and we agreed to take them there after their meal.

You should have heard the screams of joy when we announced that we were going to the beach.  They all ran into their rooms to change.  The younger children came out with water wings and toys for the beach and the older girls wore their best clothes and high heels.  We ordered a bus to take us there and Rory helped all of the princesses in heels get in and out.  Everyone was crammed in, with many kids sitting on each other’s laps.  In fact, Rory turned out sitting on my lap.  The transportation wasn’t safe, but tons of fun for the kids.

On our way, we stopped the bus to buy everyone water and a Coke.  The girls wanted to touch my hair to see how it feels and Shamila said it was like the hair on their dolls.  Most of them only know Swahili, so we had to have things translated or used gestures to try to communicate.  I was able to ask them if they could sing something, and the chant that came out of them was loud and enthusiastic.  I am sure they could be heard from more than a kilometer away.  Witnessing such joy is hard to describe.

Once we arrived, we all changed and went into the sea.  The orphans didn’t know how to swim, so we played tag in the water.  I had the little ones climb onto my knees and hopped with them in the water like a kangaroo.  Many of them waited in line for a turn.  The children called me “Madam.”

I also helped anyone who wanted to learn how to float on their back.  From ages 9 to 17, they would line up for that too.  Even Mama had fun in the water and the two of us pushed one of the girls that was learning to float back and forth.

Part way through our fun, Rory and I realized that we forgot to bring the soccer balls with us to the beach.  We made a mental note not to forget next time.

We stayed at the beach for four hours and were all a bit sad to leave.  I had left my dress close by on the beach so I could cover myself up quickly when I came out of the water, but the children wanted to be helpful and had put it in the changing room instead.  It was the same sort of story with the bag I had brought; I never knew where it was, but they would always find it and bring it to me when I needed it.

All of the children sang on the way back from the beach.  At one point, we dropped off the boys at the mosque so they could go for prayer.  We told them we were going to see them again.  Shamila said that they must do well in school in order to repay us and that education was very important.  On that note, I should say that we were able to pay for schooling for 19 of the 20 orphans and only had $500 left to gather to cover the remaining costs.

When it was time to leave the orphanage, Rory said, “It was a privilege and a pleasure to have met all of you.  I want a show of hands: Who had fun today?"  Everyone put up their hands--even Mama!  Rory told them next time we will not forget to bring the soccer balls with us to the beach.  Then, we hugged all of the children that waited in the courtyard to say goodbye.  What a perfect day!

After having spent the day with the orphans, I wanted to spend the night resting and soaking it all in.  However, we were invited to a New Year’s party at a local resort and changed to go out.

Once we got to the resort, it took us a long time to get to our seats due to how it was organized.  There, everyone was well-dressed and it looked like the place to be on New Year’s.  In the end, we were assigned seats with a couple who acted like they owned the table and didn’t want us to be seated there.  Actually, in the end, we never got to sit at the same table as the people we had come with.  Regardless, the food and the music were decent and it didn’t stop Rory and I from having fun and dancing silly.  Apparently, we were interesting enough for people to take pictures and videos of us.

Day Eight: January 1, 2012

In the morning, we gathered money for 9 of the mattresses, passed it on so someone could buy them, and drove to Dar es Salaam.  On our way, we saw an accident with a smashed upside-down jeep and, later on, a car down a huge ditch.  Shamila said that they were likely caused by drunk driving on New Year’s Eve.

We arrived in Dar es Salaam faster than expected and Rory and I went for a walk.  We went through the dark streets looking for an ATM that would work with a Visa card.  It took us about five of them before we had found one.

After that, we went to a local bar for a beer.  One man joined us at the table and we bought him a drink.  He had a cheap papaya gin in a pouch.

Next, we went to look for a restaurant but couldn’t find one.  In the end, we turned out eating at a hotel restaurant and the food was horrible.  The steak was tough and they had watered down the ketchup.  There, I was told that I looked pretty and had a lot of eyes on me.  On our way back to the hotel that night, we certainly didn’t see any other white people walking around in the dark.

Day Nine: January 2, 2012

After having previously learned about henna painting, early in the day, I decided to have some done on my hands.  I thought it looked really pretty.  After that was done, I brought some clothes back to give to Shamila’s maid.  With a big smile on her face, she tried them on and showed us how they fit.  Finally, before taking a taxi to the airport, we went to a pub.  I ordered a Coke and a fly went into it.  Now I understand why Babaya would always put a tissue in his bottle.

Before the flight, we went to a lounge in the airport.  It was quite civilized and we ate some samosas.  We talked about our wonderful experience and decided that we would take the orphans to see a professional soccer game the next time we see them.

Final Thoughts

Some events are so uncanny.  They force us to question whether life is random or something magical is at play.  Other marvels are quieter but still have the power to transform our lives.  These surprises suggest the universe is speaking to us.

I feel that some crazy coincidence occurred to me when I met Rory in 2003 and when I met Shamila in 2009.  Never in my wildest dreams did I—a girl from Duberger who lived in subsidized housing with a father who worked construction half of the year and a mother who worked in a department store—ever dream of going to Africa to make a difference for 20 orphans.

Next year, we will go at the beginning of January so we don't miss out on Christmas with Tammy.  Also, as mentioned, we want to take the orphans to a professional soccer game.  I’m hoping we can get sponsors for the jerseys and tickets.  It would be even better if a famous player could greet them or if they could walk on the pitch with the players at the start of the match.  Regardless of what happens, all we know is we will do our absolute best to provide them with memories that will last a lifetime.

- Johanne Levesque

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