Arrival in Tanzania

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Starting some footsteps into Africa

Submitted: June 27, 2016

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Submitted: June 27, 2016



The Agency had selected me for the lofty position of Environmental Co-ordinator, to work for Big E's NGO he and his team called Hifadhi (literally: preserve, conserve). My wife Mags, had the equally lofty title of Unassigned Spouse!

The Agency arranged our travel plans, gave us a sound briefing, paid for all our inoculations, and were to pay us a modest living allowance during the period of my two year assignment. Our time in Tanzania actually blew out to seven years, but all that was unknown to us at the time.

Our unaccompanied luggage allowance was just 25kg, which compared to a Lutheran Pastor we met there, who took a shipping container full of stuff he probably never used! Another couple even took their grand piano with them! For us the 25kg allowance was perfectly sufficient because it is possible to purchase most things in Arusha, and doing so helps the local economy, as well as going towards dispelling the ‘wealthy colonialist’ image.

Tanzania is a long way from little old New Zealand and we took the roundabout route because back then the only international carrier flying into the poorly maintained Kilimanjaro airport was KLM, flying out of Amsterdam. The actual total flying time was around thirty six hours, which is a long time to be sitting on your bum!

Departing Auckland was less than auspicious because our connecting flight from Christchurch had been delayed, and the airport computer system said we were booked on the return flight to Christchurch! The airport staff were in a dither and had to refer to the computer manual to correct the mistake, so we had a guided run through the airport to the waiting aircraft!

We were not much impressed with LA Airport, or the service there, but it just was a stopover of four hours and something to forget – or not, there were two people I’m not likely to forget!

We did enjoy our couple of nights in Amsterdam. Our budget accommodation had been double booked so we were bundled off to another hotel within their franchise, which was over-the-top accommodation and altogether too posh for us! The hoot was that we were not allowed to breakfast with the posh! Anyway who wants to wear a tie to breakfast!

The eight hour flight down to Kilimanjaro was awesome for me because I could plainly see the Mediterranean and a little later the vastness of the Sahara. I once had the ambition to revegetate the Sahara but somehow leftie logic prevailed and I did not pursue the matter!

On the flight tracking monitor, we could see that we had begun to circle around Arusha and I noticed the engine pitch was fluctuating between power and throttling off. I was a little puzzled but did not want to say anything because Mags is not too keen on flying at the best of times! Soon there was an announcement.

"There is a power cut at Kilimanjaro Airport and there are no landing lights, we are circling, waiting for them to start the generators."

Beads of sweat appeared on Mags’ upper lip.

"It's ok," a hostess assured someone, "we have enough fuel to reach Johannesburg!"Once we had touched down and were taxiing to the terminal, I could see that many of the runway lights were not glowing at all, it looked like half the bulbs had blown and not been replaced!

During subsequent events we came to know that the airport was in a sorry state, and in need of an upgrade but these days an appropriate standard is maintained and many airlines land there.

As I stepped onto the tarmac, the warm tropical air was my first tangible hint that we had arrived!The generators did not feed electricity into the terminal building and the only light inside was those old fashioned kerosene storm lanterns. I was reminded of government building of the fifties by the drab polished plywood linings of the immigration area. But the lack of adequate made it a doddle to pass through immigration and customs. Our briefing had warned us about these guys, so we were perhaps overly cautious and apprehensive of them.

From Amsterdam we had travelled with our Agency’s field reps, who became good friends and we were met by other Agency people already located in the Arusha environs. We squeezed into two vehicles and drove through the dark along roads that later I was to know very well. I peered through the window trying to see something of the life outside, spotting from time to time little shops with either candles or storm lanterns making pinholes of light in the dark. The power cut did not affect them, they were not connected.

The road was dusty and in the headlights I could see banana 'trees' grey with a thick layer the stuff. It wafted through the vehicle with ease. The road was in the process of being remade and village people built speed bumps during the night to slow the traffic down. The dust invaded their homes, coating food and clothing; it was just awful for people living there and a dangerous health risk!

I had used my old trick to be last into the vehicle, which gave me a window seat but still, in the dark I could not really see where we were going but I felt the change of direction when turned up the Ilboru road.

Soon we reached our field reps’ house where we had a meal by the light of the Tilly lamp. Conversation did not flow because the combination of food, beer and exhaustion lulled us to sleep, despite the adrenalin coursing through our veins.

Our stay at Mo and Jo's house was prolonged because Big E did not fulfil his responsibilities to have our accommodation ready for us. Nor my assignment for that matter, but more of that another time! The lack of action gave us the time to settle in a little and to become familiar with our new surroundings. Mama Alfred was the first African village person I met; she was Mo and Jo’s housegirl. I sort of associated Housegirl as a colonialist term, just a step up from slavery, but in this case I had the kacky-end of the stick! Mama Alfred did some house cleaning and made tea or coffee or prepared a meal, but it was her only chance for employment and to provide extra things for her family. Mo and Jo didn’t need a housegirl and usually she went home early because there was nothing else for her to do. Nevertheless, I was not wrong, there is plenty of evidence that housegirls are treated badly!

During the down time I accompanied Mo to negotiate with customs over the importation of our unaccompanied luggage. This experience reinforced in me the need for patience and diplomacy if I was to make my assignment work successfully. We also meet and had a few lessons from our Swahili teacher, Mr Kimaro. We had a miserly allowance of forty hours tuition.

Big E had a good, if misguided, reputation with the Agency stemming from something I won't go into here, but Mo and Jo had found that he was slow at keeping his promises, and was economical with the truth. They obviously did not completely trust him.

For my assignment he had been funded to the tune of $US25 000 and had been sold an ex Agency Suzuki at a very cheap purchase price, which was supposed to be used to support me in my work. Hifadhi had also been given a second-hand computer by the Agency, again to support my assignment but I never ever used it. Big E had used some of the funding to build an office, which the High Commissioner had officially opened, he was also in the process of building a small flat which was supposed to become our accommodation. The flat was within his own house complex.

Each time we went there to check, no progress had been made, but I did notice his attention was more focused on building something else down the Sanawari road. It turned out to be a Bar-cum-restaurant and guess how he was funding it?

Mo and Jo had other visitors at their house, and because I wanted to get on with my assignment, I offered to help to finish off the flat, but no, Big E told us that at a family meeting, they had decided to move out of their house and into the unfinished flat! We were to move into their house! I objected because our role was certainly not to tip people out of their home, but he assured me that it was all his wife, Mama Baraka’s idea! Remember what I said about economical with the truth? He told us that we could do some painting to freshen the house and that his sons, Baraka and Heri would help. The next weekend saw us carrying out the painting work and we moved in on the following Monday.

First though, to ‘officially’ welcome us, we were to have a meal with the family on the Sunday afternoon! Mama Baraka welcomed us as tradition demands, but her body language told a very different story!  Big E kept coming and going and would not settle down, so his welcome was less than warm as well!

A table was set outside under a big Norfolk Island Pine, but I eyed this big fat dog turd right beside the table so I warned Mags not to step on it! I took the opportunity when Big E next passed by to indicate that the turd was not a welcome condiment! He got the message and had Heri remove it with something resembling a shovel.

Mama Baraka had prepared a pork chop for each of us with vegetables and rice, but we ate alone! I asked her to join us but she simply indicated that she was coming, but she never did! Big E finally arrived with a bottle of wine and he sat with us until it was empty. There was not much conversation and I made the excuse that we needed to go back to our painting, which brought the meal to an overly hasty conclusion.

The air seemed thick, and Big E's attempt to be open and friendly did not really come off. It was plain Mama Baraka was not too happy.

And that was our introduction to life in Africa!


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