So, back in March Sean and I were paid to go to Africa.
Yes, it was as unexpected as it sounds.
Arusha, Tanzania to be exact. At the foot of Mount Meru, within spitting distance of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti.
The purpose of our trip was a school expedition. As the community and service coordinator for our school it is my responsibility to organize service projects for our students. Normally these projects occur around Phnom Penh, but things started to change once our school was purchased by a British organization that owns around forty different schools worldwide. They have a property in Tanzania where students from this group of forty schools can go for a week to participate in adventure and service-learning activities.
So who better to chaperone the trip than the service coordinator and her husband?
We flew into the town of Arusha, only an hour from the Kenyan border. The air was fresh and dry once we got off the plane; at an elevation of 4,500 feet it was drastically different than the tropical rice paddies of Phnom Penh! The first thing I noticed in Arusha were the mountains.
Mount Meru absolutely dominated the skyline. It was impossible to lose sight of it. I talked to a few of the guides and they said that Mount Meru is actually more desirable of a climb than Kilimanjaro. For one, it’s cheaper. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro you need at least $1,000 and at least 6 days. For Mount Meru it’s only around $350 and 3 or 4 days. Secondly, Mount Meru is less crowded and you don’t need a guided tour. Lastly, you get to gaze at Mount Kilimanjaro the entire way up your hike to Mount Meru as they’re only 70 kilometers apart. Looks like I have another thing to add to my bucket list!
While driving around Arusha I found that Cambodia isn’t the only country to disregard traffic lanes. I absolutely loved the passenger vans in Tanzania; they were emblazoned with fantastic glittering adhesive images and words. The sides were painted multiple colors in giant patterns and blocks. Some even had accent lights and high school mascot-like material covering the dashboard and inside walls.
Another view of Mount Meru. As we were on a school trip our itinerary was completely scripted. This was nice in some regards because I could just relax and let someone else lead the show for once! Further, Sean and I only brought four students—who were complete angels—and it felt just as much a vacation as a chaperone responsibility.
One of the days we visited Ng’iresi village which operates cultural tourism programs. Students got to learn about the lives of the Maasai tribe people. Traditionally semi-nomadic, the Maasai have settled down in villages due to changes in land rights. You can tell this is a Maasai home because there are two round huts; one for each wife. A polygynous society, men in Maasai tribes are allowed to have more than one wife. However, a bit of research taught me that some tribes are also polyandrous, which means that a woman can have more than one husband at the same time.
Have you ever been at your local coffee shop and seen Tanzanian peaberry brewing? Tanzania is famous for its coffee, and rightfully so. It’s delicious. These are raw beans straight from the plant.
One thing that blew our students’ minds was the local school in the village. Coming from the elite private schools they’re used to in Cambodia, seeing three students crammed to a single desk was quite the opposite. However, our Cambodian students did notice a similarity between the government schools in Cambodia and the government schools in Tanzania. It was a great opportunity for them to unpack their privilege—even though they see poverty in Cambodia, it became more overt to them once they saw it from the perspective of another culture they weren’t accustomed to.
Thus concludes our first few days in Tanzania! Next up, we will build a goat shed, eat amazing beans and rice, and eventually make our way to Tarangire National Park… home of the elephants. Stay tuned!