Shikamoo!

(…literally ‘I hold your feet’… a respectful Swahili greeting often heard from Tanzanian children!)

(Most of these pictures were taken in Tanzania through windows from inside moving vehicles…)

I am writing to you today from Mbeya in southern Tanzania (not to be confused with Mbale in eastern Uganda!) where I am catching up on some rest for a little while. Having been on the road this past week covering many miles by bus, I’ve decided to spend a couple days in this bustling city just north of the Malawian border that lies between the Mbeya and Poroto Mountain ranges. Travel through Tanzania has been fast, sometimes furious! and always interesting, but first…

I found Rwanda to be one very beautiful, peaceful and remarkably clean country and I am so happy to have made the journey to visit there! Seemingly a side bar yet so obviously important, plastic garbage bags are not allowed in Rwanda (entering the country my backpack was searched and the plastic bag I had a pair of shoes in was taken) and the benefits show everywhere! I found the consistent cleanliness both noteworthy and refreshing after sighting and stepping over much garbage, most of it plastic of some sort, in many urban and trading centers in Uganda.

After opting for ground travel to Malawi I left Kigali heading east toward the Tanzanian border on a typically crammed public taxi. We traveled through picturesque land with low gentle hills, many with crops of sorghum and maize growing in a beautiful pinkish brown soil, past fenced compounds with flowers around mud and stick or brick homes, most covered with a thin facing of concrete, seeing delightful pride of ownership and colorful creativity! Cosmos, daisies, dahlias, hollyhocks, a neon orange calendula-like flower all bloomed brightly and small, round, close to the ground shrubs of different colors were planted in designs that created messages and symbols including hearts and stars along the road side… just before the border, and a lovely summing up/send off from this small, courageous country striving to move forward as one, was the most inspiring of all the messages I saw… with shrubs and white rocks it simply, beautifully said ‘Thank You God’.

About 4 hours from Kigali we reached the Rwandan side of the border where, as he imprinted my passport with an exit stamp, the immigration officer asked with gentle intent if I would share with him how I liked the country. I told him I think Rwanda is very beautiful and I found the people friendly and welcoming. He said the government has been working very hard educating the people and promoting unity and I said, well, ultimately along with the huge healing in progress there does seem to be a collective desire and intention for peace first and foremost and I am grateful for the examples of acceptance and strength Rwanda has given to me. Perhaps these are among the great teachings Rwanda offers us all, I added. He smiled warmly, thanked me very much for coming and wished me safe journey.

To cross the border one walks across a bridge over Rusumo River/Falls and up a hill to enter Tanzania. The welcome was very happy and pretty layed back at this small border crossing, it was fun and easy to communicate once again, I was back in a land of English and Swahili and noticeable immediately, ug, garbage!

I took off the next day (only a few hours after the scheduled departure!) in a matatu
(mini bus type taxi) toward Kahama, about 4 hours to the east. From there, early the next morning I boarded a bus called ‘Super Zoo’ which in hindsight should have been my first clue that with every step up into the ‘mad max’ type bus, I was leaving rational driving further and further behind, entering an absolute maelstrom I can only call a travel experience! Details and yes, bruises aside, I did find it kind of fun and comforting to pretend I was in a camel race (read B-U-M-P-Y) across the desert (read D-U-S-T-Y) with a marching band cheering me on (read P-O-U-N-D-I-N-G repetitive bass drum sound coming from the rear of the bus as it reverberated over the foot deep washboard) for many, many miles! 🙂 After a serious challenge to all known land speed records by our ‘road warrior’ driver I celebrated our safe arrival in Dodoma, the capitol city and virtual center of Tanzania about 1 hour ahead of the 10 hour scheduled ETA. Amen!

With bravery I feel a bit proud of, I immediately bought a ticket on the next early morning bus departing for Mbeya, found a quiet place to rest for the night and after lathering my lower back with ‘Tiger Balm’ promptly fell deeply asleep! Up for the second morning in a row in time to witness millions of twinkling stars above and hear prayers echoing throughout the town from the local Mosque, things looked and felt pretty great as I boarded the ‘Sumry High Class’ bus that was warming up and all ready to go in the bus park. And it WAS a delightful ride! We had a great driver, the company supplied everyone with a couple candies, a soda, muffin, bottle of water and plenty of pit stops (one time the driver’s assistant said to us all ‘let’s stop here and dig some local herbs..!’) throughout the 12 hour journey through beautiful and ever changing scenery. Alongside endless happy face sunflowers, sorghum and maize grow, some so tall they bury the little mud and brick flat topped homes amongst them. Cotton, tomatoes, rice, cabbage, beans, onions, many varieties of potatoes, even wheat…virtually everything, including all types of tropical fruit and ‘sisol’sp?(jute) seems to be grown here!

I was treated to the first real ‘wild’ looking Africa I have seen so far, through uniformed forests of horizontal fanning trees and game reserves in the Mikumi National Park set between the Uluguru Mountains to the north and the Lumango Mountains to the southeast. I saw large numbers of long lanky giraffes and a family of elephants free ranging…very exciting! In the wide open grass lands I really enjoyed these great
(presently leaf-less) very old looking trees that reminded me of the ones in ‘Lord Of The Rings’ having large wide trunks that support their many arms and fingers stretching this way and that… it was so easy to imagine them all walking about when no one was looking…(a couple looked like they were frozen in dance and another few in an embrace). One of the towns we passed through is Iringa where in the 1950’s a ‘stone age’ site was unearthed containing tools estimated to be from between 60, to 100,000 years ago!

Tanzania (formerly called Tanganyika until the 60’s) is very large certainly when compared with Rwanda and Uganda, and quite a beautifully diverse country. In my travel book it is called the birthplace of ‘humankind’, oh, and Freddy Mercury too! It’s been a quick journey for sure, and thankfully safe, and as I prepare to enter Malawi tomorrow, (just over 100k from Mbeya) I leave this country hoping to return one day, where in the north it’ll be so fun to go on safari in the Serengeti as well as visit Ngorongoro in the Crater Highlands along with Mount Kilimanjaro and in the east, the Indian Ocean Coast and the ‘spice islands’ of the Zanzibar Archipelago!!!
For now though, much gratitude and… onward to meet some of the children of Malawi!

Loving you,
Cath xoxo

About Catherine Koch

Founder and President of Love Is The Answer, a Canadian registered charity serving orphaned children in Africa.
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