Tanzania: Visiting the villages

At 10:00 a.m., Rhiannon (the general manager of Give a Heart to Africa) and two volunteers, John and Sarah, pulled up to the bed and breakfast where Lauren and I have been living for the past week. We piled into the car and headed into town. Today, we were going into Bonite village to visit Mary -- a 26-year-old student studying at the GHTA business school for disadvantaged women in Moshi. As a part of their graduation requirements, one "home visit" is required in which the students host the teachers and cook them a meal.

To get to Bonite, we parked the car in central Moshi and walked into the central market to find our translator, Tousi, and scout out a dala dala -- one of the main modes of transportation in Tanzania. Riding in one of these 14-seater vans is not for the faint of heart. They're very old, hot, and rickety, and usually packed to the brim with people...many of whom are carrying big bags of goods to and from the market, and sometimes even chicken and goats. Each dala dala is colourfully painted and has random, usually religious, names and sayings plastered all over the siding and windows.

It took about 30-minutes to get to Mary's village by dala dala. We watched as the road went from paved and pot-holed in the town, to dusty red dirt. The scenery also transformed as we drifted further away from the populated marketplace. The land became arid and the only structures were bus stops made of reclaimed timber and tin, mud huts, and small brick homes--often uninhabited without roofs, windows, or doors.

Finally, Tousi gave us a hand signal over the creaking and rattling of the dala dala to indicate our stop was approaching. We tumbled out onto the start of a dirt road that stretched on for miles and we started walking. We walked for about 15 minutes before arriving at Mary's home.

Mary is one of five siblings living in a village a few hours away from Moshi. She moved with her mother and oldest brother to attend GHTA. Mary now lived in a one-bedroom house with her mother and 4-year-old daughter, Glori, next door to her brother and his wife. Outside chicken and roosters roamed around. She welcomed us with a beaming smile and hugs, setting out a plastic table and chairs for each of us in the shaded courtyard.

We sipped on strong coffee and chatted for a few minutes. Not before long, Glori popped around the corner in her school uniform. The bright, curious, and bold little girl was excited to see the gaggle of visitors...all equally thrilled to see her. She doesn't speak english, so she greeted us with hugs and a few babbles that her mother translated.

Mary then popped into the house and re-emerged with a stack of plates and a big silver hotpot. Inside was makande--a traditional stew made of beans, chickpeas, and cornmeal. She ladled mounds of the meal onto each of our plates, encouraging us to eat lots.

When we finished our meal, which took a while because there was so much food, Mary explained the businesses she was developing through GHTA. The first is a cosmetics company that she and a few friends are currently fundraising for, and the second is a nutritional hot soya beverage. She explains that she buys the soy beans at the central market in Moshi, dries them for a day in her yard, then takes them to be friend and ground into a find dust. Rhiannon quizzed her about the labels, cost and profits, seasonal sale trends, and packaging costs. Mary answered each question, carefully explaining each detail with Tousi helping her to translate the words she didn't know.

When the business talk wrapped up, John rummaged in his bag and presented...bubbles! We spent the next hour playing with Glori, blowing bubbles as she chased them around the courtyard and laughed.

Next, we packed up and all walked over to Tousi's house--only a 10-minute journey from Mary's. She had also planned a meal for us. Apparently, serving guests with food is a point of pride for Tanzanians...and Tousi loved to do it.

She introduced us to her youngest son Akram, her grandaughter Ayesha, and her husband. Her home was slightly larger, gated, and had a vegetable garden. She also had a car. Luxuries from working hard to establish a profitable career as a translator and teacher.

Akram was a bit shy at first, crying when he saw his home full of strange white people. He warmed quickly when John broke out another bottle of bubbles.

Once we finished our meal--fruit, samosas, pilau, and steamed cabbage--it was time to brave the walk back towards the dala dala stop. All of us were plump with food and a bit drained from the heat. But we made it.

When we got back to Moshi, we wandered through the central market, stopping to look at all the different grains, fruits, and knick knacks for sale. Everything you could want...you would find in here.

Overall, it was an incredible day. It was amazing to talk to Mary about her business ideas and listen to her plans. What was more special was visiting her in her village...seeing the day-to-day life. She lived with so little, so removed from the main town, yet seemed completely nonchalant about all the work she was putting into building a life for her and her family. For us westerners, we live constantly surrounded by wealth and opportunity. We often forget how little the rest of the world has to live off of and build from. Talking to Mary about the work it took to make, package, and sell her soya drink for the small but sustainable profit really put things into perspective.

We left that day feeling a humble about the life we are blessed with in Canada and impressed with the tenacity and dedication of the women living in Tanzania. We could all learn a few lessons from their unflinching perseverance and strong work ethic despite what little opportunity their country provides. We also left with a true appreciation for the hard work that Rhiannon and the volunteers at GHTA put into their students--they truly love each and every one of the women that come through their doors and commit themselves to empowering them to build their way into a better life.

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