Africa!

More precisely, Tanzania.  18 months have passed and I have asked myself so many questions about Tanzania, about Africa.  Yes, Africa is indeed a very large continent with 54 countries, but it often gets lumped as an homogenous “place”.  For many, Africa conjures up images of savagery, hunger, poverty and it is true that this goes on in some countries but beneath this surface is also a continent rich in old cultures and traditions and strong religious beliefs.  I too speak of Africa as if it can all be spoken of as a whole.  Well, during my time here I have been wondering about this place – Tanzania, and why it is the way it is.  Why is it so poor and seems to be “stuck” in terms of development?  Is there a simple answer: colonialism, oppression, corruptions, people’s attitude?

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Africa was carved up by Europeans drawing lines on maps of places they often knew nothing about.  By doing this they carved up kingdoms and societies which had hundreds of different societies, laws and languages.  It is hard for us to imagine a place with such diversity and a common concept of what we take for granted in Europe: the idea of a united nation.  The media naturally likes to feed on news of war and hunger but not all African are starving or fighting.  Millions have never even known hunger or war and lead relatively “normal” lives.  Africa has many realities and I can see this here in Tanzania.  Some live in mud huts and lead nomadic lives with very little whilst others live in expensive houses or flats, have nice cars, the latest mobile phones and run successful businesses.  I have met both, the so called poor in the villages who appear to be stuck in a cycle of poverty and survival.  They work for food and have simple shelters, they struggle to send their kids to school and can not afford to go to the doctor.  They can not imagine a different life.  The wealthy Tanzanians I have met are ambitions, driven and have succeeded despite all obstacles.  In a way it reminds me of people in the UK who are stuck in similar cycles. It seems that personal determination and ambition are what it is needed to achieve rather than charity and handouts.  It is a place of extremes and we are not used to seeing such disparity in the West.

Our reaction has been to feel sorry for people in Africa, to see them as victims who need help and money.  If we give money it will all be put to rights.  I have often questioned the efficacy of aid work in general and being here has made me even more skeptical that it is not always the way forward.  Only Africans can develop Africa, they understand it and work with it.  I feel that I truly can not grasp its complexities, the way people think, the way things work.  I can try and try but ultimately the gap is just too big.  It seems to me that the aid industry has an interest in maintaining the image of Africans as hopeless victims of wars and famines as it brings in donations but by continually portraying such an image they have helped to create an image of a hopeless Africa.

It is well known that pictures of starving children and disasters will bring  in donations. One such example which really makes me rather angry is the way orphanages are used in Tanzania; there are hundreds of orphanages asking for volunteers and donations.  Most people do not question the origins or the purpose of these institutions.  They see cute little children who are dressed in rags and hungry and give money.  A quick internet search on orphanages in Africa will bring up hundreds of pages all asking for donations, talking of abandoned children, orphanaged children, children without a toothbrush or a pen!  These websites often show pictures of young, white volunteers holding cute, little black children.  They come for a few weeks to play and hugs the children and then leave the children to wait for a fresh batch of “huggers” to take their place.  Nobody seems to question what this does to the children, what emotional impact it has on them.  I have asked people in orphanages and volunteers about this but they simply shrug.  The volunteers want their African experience and the orphanages want the money.  It’s disturbing, it’s child exploitation out in the open!

This is by no means an African issue, it is happening all over Asia and Latin America too.  UNICEF has written at length on this issue and why orphanages are not good for children.  This is a good explanation on why!  http://globalsl.org/why-unicef-and-save-the-children-are-against-you-caring-for-orphans/  Please spread awareness of the harm many of these orphanages are doing, let’s not encourage young people to continue to feed the problem but let the local people find a solution that does not involve yet more handouts and charity.

It turns out that the majority of these children have families but they are placed in orphanages for all sorts of reasons, sometimes they are even trafficked!  I have visited many orphanages since I have been in Tanzania and on each visit, I have left feeling horrified for what those children are going through.  Poor conditions, lack of facilities, no stimulation, no attention, lack of cleanliness, children being left in their own urine, babies on their backs on the floor all day, etc, etc.  All such places are being run on donations and with the help of foreign volunteers and nobody questions where the money is going or if the children are being well looked after.  This is only one example of aid coming in to the wrong hands and how by perpetuating the images of hungry children who need hugs is leading to an increase in orphanages in Africa.  I am by no means against aid in general but I do believe that we do not always truly understand the implications that aid can have on people and it is not always positive.

So now I am ranting as this is an issue that plays in my mind.  They are big questions and this is a blog so I am guessing you want to read about lighter stuff, fun stuff, everyday stuff.  Christmas arrived as it does each year and as usual we wanted it to be somehow special and memorable.  Where to go, what to do…  Bagamoyo was chosen as a good place to spend the festivities.  It is on the coast, it is old, it is hot and the hotel had a pool!

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Bagamoyo consists of various narrow, unpaved streets around a port.  The town was an important settlement in East Africa and linked Lake Tanganyika with the sea.  Slaves, ivory, salt and coper were unloaded before being shipped to Zanzibar and elsewhere, and many European explorers, including Richard Burton, Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone, began and ended their trips here.  It is an interesting place with a chilled atmosphere and a beach which is packed with fishing boats and locals passing the time.  I quite liked it even though it felt as if we were in a set of Mad Max.  The town is pretty run down and at times it feels like the place is simply squatted.  Somehow it was pleasant to wander around and to look at the ruins of the old buildings.  We explored the area and found some lovely cove beaches good for swimming.  On Boxing Day the beach was packed with locals enjoying a stroll and a drink.  Oddly though, at around 6pm, the police appeared from one end of the beach and marched everyone off the beach!  No idea why but they never came back.  This is indeed a strange country.

A quick note on the photos, if you click on them you can get a slide show!

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From Bagamoyo we travelled on to Morogoro in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.  It is also known informally as “Mji kasoro bahari”, which translates as “city short of an ocean/port”.  Nothing remarkable about Morogoro apart from a lovely view of the Uluguru mountains.  We stayed at the New Acropol Hotel which was a rather eccentric place!  It is a very old building now rather crumbly but full of character.  The interior is stuffed with all sorts of items.  I really am not sure what to make of it but I liked it a lot!  It was different and the Canadian woman running it was also eccentric and very funny.

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From Morogoro we drove to Iringa.  It was the most beautiful drive on a tarmac road winding through the mountains with fabulous views of the river Ruaha.  We passed many, many stalls selling pineapples, all arranged in different ways, I thought they were beautiful with the various tones of the fruit and the lush green backgrounds.   They taste delicious too, incredibly sweet and juicy!

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We also had to drive through Mikumi National Park which I find totally bizarre.  As you enter the road through the park you are warned about the incredibly high fines should you run over and kill an animal.  However, most drivers including large buses and trucks pay no notice and drive through like lunatics.  Who on earth thought that having a road cross through a major wildlife park is a good idea?!  There is litter by the road, animals come and scavenge.  We saw baboons licking crisp packets and playing with plastic rubbish. Animals are drawn to the road as people throw their rubbish out of the windows and stand by waiting for more. Then there is the pollution and the fact that the animals are coming into contact with humans and being made more vulnerable by doing so.  And now they want to build a major road through the Serengeti!  Please, please join (it’s free) and help them to stop this happening.  http://serengetiwatch.org/.  The Facebook page is also good.  The more pressure the world can put on these corrupt leaders the better chance we have of saving these beautiful places.

There is the proposal to build a new road across the northern Serengeti wildlife corridor, breaking the link between the wet-season grazing area of the Serengeti Plains to the dry-season feeding grounds in the Masaai Mara Nature Reserve in Kenya.  There is a plan to tarmac the road linking two west-country regional capitals through Katavi, Tanzania’s third largest and most remote national park.  There is talk of upgrading the coastal road through Sadaani National Park linking Dar es Salaam with the port of Tanga.  The impact is great.  Road construction causes physical disturbance, chemical pollution, noise and environmental degradation both during and after road-building.  Road-kill mortality rapidly escalates in the aftermath of highways and even unpaved logging roads attract poachers into formerly pristine areas, extending mortality far beyond the road itself.  Of course infrastructure development is key to development, poverty alleviation and empowerment of the rural poor who either depend upon or are driven to overexploit natural resources.  Again we need to spread awareness of these issues if we want to preserve natural habitats all around the world.

Road 2

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As we approached Iringa the scenery became more lush and the views were magnificent. I find that we see such incredible beauty but to capture it in photos seems to be impossible. It has made me want to do a course in landscape photography and buy one of those “penis extension” cameras (well, nearly…)!  Iringa itself turned out to be a pleasant town by Tanzanian standards.  Small, with a nice park in the center and a relatively quiet and not so chaotic market.  In terms of eating out, it was very limited and we decided to try out the best place in town as every other restaurant seemed to be closed.  This place was in a hotel and I felt I was stepping on to a David Lynch film set.  Dark, dingy, old and with a slight feeling of menace about it.  We were taken upstairs by an old guard who was sullen and quiet and down a corridor to a small room and there we were!  We did not see any other people about and we were alone in the restaurant.  It was quite a surreal experience and it is hard to put into words but the food was ok.  Top tip for food though – Hasty Tasty, excellent chapatti rolls and cheap.

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The best place in Iringa though, and now I am will turn this into an advertising  blog (briefly!) was Neema Crafts.  A not for profit center which includes a guesthouse, a cafe and a beautiful shop where the items made by disabled members are sold.  The guesthouse is really nice and so cheap.  Clean rooms, comfortable and friendly.  The cafe is beautiful, amazing food and good cakes.  They even had copies of the international Guardian and we completed all the crosswords!  I think we needed that, it has been a while.  They have a website and an online shop.  Read about them and support if you can, it is not often that I am inspired by charities here but this one really touched me.  They are making a change for people with disabilities in Tanzania and doing an amazing job! https://www.neemacrafts.com/

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Beautiful quilts!

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This is turning into some sort of social activism blog.  First Africa’s troubles, then conservation, climate change, disabilities….  Anyway, we also had some fun as we got to Ruaha National Park.  The biggest park in Tanzania, quite remote and the size of Denmark! Needless to say, we saw only a fraction of it but it was magnificent as nature often is in Tanzania.  We camped by the great Ruaha River and I must say that camping is for me the only way to stay in a park.  Forget the posh lodges and put your tent up.  It is dark at night and the sky is full of stars and constellations and you can see EVERYTHING up there.  You can see and hear animals walking around and waking up is just so special.  Highly recommend it.  So, Ruaha is famous for its large population of elephants, sadly it is also known for heavy poaching and as the rainy season approaches, more and more elephants will be killed as rangers can not patrol the more inaccessible areas of the park.

Check out these statistics: The Tanzanian government recently estimated that 65,721 elephants have died in the country in the last five years. This shows that the number of Tanzanian elephants has declined from an estimated 109,051 in 2009 to 43,330 in 2014. Of particular concern is the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, where only 8,272 elephants remained in 2014, compared to 34,664 in 2009, according to government figures.  Now, I do not mean to bore you but I think that it will be tragic if our next generation is no longer able to see an elephant or a rhino or a lion!  It is important to raise awareness about this corrupt trade that is destroying ecosystems at an alarming rate.  Here I go again…

So many elephants everywhere, it is hard to imagine what it was like before the population was decimated!  As we were putting the tent up, elephants were walking about, slowly…  They were just beautiful, silhouetted on the horizon.  The hippos were calling out in the river and birds were all around.  It takes time to put a tent up with so many distractions.

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At the campsite

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Happy campers
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Sunset or sunrise? Can’t remember…
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Not a bad spot

Next day was spent exploring the park.  We spent quite some time looking for the lions and leopards but did not find any.  They are good at hiding!  We did find other animals though and had a great day wandering about the park and absorbing the amazing scenery.

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He’s coming this way!! So close!
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The Great Ruaha River

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Jackals with baboon
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We kept the doors open whilst looking at the hippos in case lions came, hard to relax…

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Best to wait for them to cross, I think.
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I can see you…

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Really?!

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Love these!

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Nearly time to get back on the road, next stop Dodoma for New Year’s Eve.  It is the capital after all so there is bound to be something happening although various people have said that it is quiet and more like a village.  We accrued yet another fine for over speeding as it is called here and eventually got to Dodoma.  Not a lot going on so decided to stay in the best hotel in town as they had a buffet and a band.  It pissed with rain, the place was quiet but the food was good.  Memorable in some ways, least of all for the unusual mix of people in the hotel and the extra friendly kittens.

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The lively band… not!

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On the road, this bastard tried to mow us off the road but I got him on camera!
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Love the barber shops
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So many birds
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Butterflies on the road

As if this was not enough, our final stop was at Maramboi to see what all the fuss was about.  This is a lodge very close to Tarangire National Park and was said to be rather nice and affordable.  So for the first time ever, we treated ourselves to a lodge and it was amazing.  Not flash, just comfortable, great food, good pool, many animals walking about and great service.  Perfect, highly recommend it as only 4 hours from Moshi so great for a weekend.

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Warthogs, in case you are wondering…

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And finally I would like to name and shame the police (there were many of them!) who stopped and fined us for overtaking on a straight road with no markings on the way to Moshi.  Apparently they decided it was dangerous.  When we queried the fine, the big boss got very irate and threatening and told us we had to obey the laws of Tanzania.  So, whatever law it was that we broke, I would like to point out that this is corruption at its best!!  Bring on the money.

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The road of unlawful overtaking!

Until next time…

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