I first visited Africa as a bright eyed sixteen year old, looking for a challenge and a change of scenery. I knew before I left that I would be coming back.
It had originally been my intention to spend six months to a year there, taking a gap year in one of the Sub-Saharan countries. Life of course charges on with absolutely no consideration for plans and good intentions, and I found myself two months shy of starting a two year contract to train as a solicitor. The prospects of getting away upon completion of my training were minimal, and I decided that a month was better than no time at all. I frantically googled ‘projects abroad’, and of course, the Projects Abroad website was first on the list.
It was really easy, you picked the country you wanted to visit, picked the project you were interested in, and selected the dates you wanted to go. The fact that I had little more than a month to get my trip sorted was no bar. On the 25th August, I flew out.
I was placed with the Moshi family, and Mama and Baba Moshi God bless them welcomed me with open arms, despite me arriving a little after midnight. It is a shame, arriving in the middle of the night. Tanzania, unlike the UK, is not big on street lighting. To be honest it’s not big on streets. I will be fair though, it’s improving all the time, and in any event, the roads were part of the charm.
When I woke up on the Sunday morning, I met the family. I gave them presents and they loved me. I’m sure they would have loved me all the same, but the presents definitely helped. The family were wonderful, really supportive and encouraging and genuinely happy to have volunteers there. They are so proud of their country and the developments and progression and it was a pleasure to see.
It wasn’t as much of a culture shock as I had expected. The house was plumbed to have running water, although at the time it wasn’t working. We bathed in a bucket, and I won’t lie, it was a Turkish style toilet. I’m going to leave you to look that one up. But it was comfortable. It was genuinely nice to get home at the end of the day and spend some time with the family.
On my first day, I decided that my Lonely Planet guide and my sense of direction were all I needed to get me through my first trip to Arusha town. Luckily, Mama Moshi disagreed and came with me. She left me to go to the market, and my confidence was gone within five minutes. Although Arusha is a tourist destination, I really was the only Western person around, and it was a little disconcerting. Plus, although the Lonely Planet guide very helpfully labelled all the roads, Arusha hadn’t really got around to signposting all of them. I had just reconciled myself with the 45 minute hike back home when, by some minor miracle, I located Mama Moshi in Arusha local market.
It was incredible, it sold everything. Within five minutes I had been offered lion oil, a coconut shaving bench, textiles, dried fish and every vegetable you could possibly think of. Even the cucumber tastes better in Africa. I left the lion oil. Mama Moshi paid the seven pence bus fare back home and I sat quietly writing in my diary, wondering how on earth I would last the month.
The Law & Human Rights placement
The next day I was taken to my placement. The NGO was called Inherit Your Rights, an organisation which campaigns for equal property rights for widows. The purpose of the project had been to compile a script on inheritances rights in Tanzania, to record and circulate amongst other NGOs and Tanzanian radio stations. Whilst I was there we focussed predominately on the court procedure. It was incredible. It was essentially the same as any Western court system, with measures in place for local justice in rural areas. I was pleased to see a fair balance of male and female lawyers, particularly on the judging panels.
The constitution is in great shape, but the courts suffer from huge backlogs, a lack of resources and of course a lack of lawyers. Cases wait five or six years to get to the Court of Appeal, only to be thrown out because the application was entered a day outside of the time limit. I was also told by various people who work within the system that it does suffer from corruption in the lower levels.
There is still a lot of work to do on access to justice in Tanzania. The constitution stipulates the right to legal representation for everyone, but there just aren’t any lawyers. During my placement, I was able to meet with a wonderful pro-bono human rights lawyer who told me that there were only 400 lawyers in the whole of Tanzania. The population is just over four million. The work was both rewarding and incredibly frustrating.
I was able to meet some of the widows the organisation worked with. That was an eye opener. The initiatives being put in place to empower women in rural areas are awe inspiring. The way these women were able to enforce their rights whilst still retaining the charm and honour of their traditions was incredibly encouraging.
In all I would say that the project provided me with a much wider understanding of the challenges of running an NGO in a developing country, as well as some real perspective. Say what you like about the UK justice system, it doesn’t take five years to get an acknowledgement of your application for leave to appeal.
Rest and relaxation
I was of course able to take some time out to relax. Zanzibar is hot. Take sun tan lotion. The Serengeti is cold, take a jumper. And don’t decide to go for a stroll at five o’clock in the morning, ten minutes after a lion has walked through your campsite. True story. You will spend all your money in the Massai market. And you’ll do it on the first day. You’ll also probably buy material from a street vendor and have a dress or trousers made by a street tailor which you will never wear outside of Africa.
Projects Abroad arranged weekly socials with the other volunteers, which was a great opportunity to get some insight into other aspects of the country’s economics. It was also a great opportunity to gain some insight into the Arusha nightlife, which may I say is jumping. Look out for Via Via.
The overall experience
The girl I shared a room with said to me the first week I was there, that her favourite week had been the last week. By then, she said, you really feel at home. It’s true. At one point I was able to count to 1,000,000 in Swahili, as well as recite the days of the week. ‘Good night’ took me a while for some reason, but I nailed ‘good morning’.
The people were friendly, everywhere. Everyone was always happy to see you, and shake your hand. Although Arusha itself is built up, the surrounding area and villages are stunning, with Mount Meru right on your doorstep and slightly further afield, Mount Kilimanjaro in your view line.
It really is a taste of Africa, with taxi drivers flying around on ‘piki-pikis’ (motorbikes), and men pulling huge carts at 90 miles an hour down the road, hurtling towards a main roundabout. Young children herd goats along the road, men discuss affairs of state on the side of the road whilst women peruse the miles of roadside vendors for shoes, t-shirts, peanuts and roasted corn.
One truly memorable experience for me was going to Baby Carolyn’s baptism. In Tanzania, it is a weekly occurrence that a call is put out to all those who want to baptise their babies. All the babies are brought up, with the parents and the god parents accompanying them. Whilst they are baptised, the choir and the congregation sing. Church in Tanzania is really something, if you get the opportunity to go, do.
I came away feeling fulfilled. I’m still in touch with my family, and promised to send them shortbread for Christmas. There’s no getting away from it, it gets under your skin. The place, the people, the atmosphere is all something I’ll never forget. I’d recommend it to anyone.