entrance to Arusha on my way from work, taken from a dalla dalla

My friend Dominic has a really simple, yet rather ingenious way of setting the tone and atmosphere of his emails. Right at the top of his text he names a song, and shares its link for me to listen to as I read the email.  It’s normally a song that has recently inspired him. So I’ve decided to adopt this “gift” and do the same in my posts for Go Girl. Music not only sets a tone to one’s writing, it speaks powerfully about a culture and its people. So here is my first song- it may finish before you do so feel free to repeat it or play another song that may inspire you! “Oh Africa!” by Akon and Keri Hilson.

As I boarded my Amsterdam-Kilimanjaro-bound flight from Boston’s Logan airport all I could hear in my head was this song. Although it may not be a typical tribal, African tune that you’d think of when you think of  Africa, it’s representative of the modern African culture and my own enthusiasm of returning to Tanzania. The upbeat drums, celebratory cheering and even the lyrics remind me of the happiness I feel while in Africa. The lyrics also give a sense of hope for an Africa that I believe and see arising. The song makes me picture the gleaming smiles of the children I’ve taught in the Maasai tribes, the beautiful landscapes, wildlife and surrounding villages I’ve been lucky enough to live in and the general vibes and atmosphere of the African people in these towns.

26 hours later I was living the memories that had arisen from the song once again. How was it possible that less than two days ago I had been sitting in my final exams in a square, enclosed classroom in downtown Boston…and now I’m walking on the cobble, dirt roads, flaying my arms around to get the local “bus” to stop and pick me up? It still seemed surreal for me but now I can’t even think of my life as a student back in Boston: I’m so present and a part of life here in Arusha.

The morning walks to the main road from my host family are an amazing start to my days here. I really encourage you, when traveling, to walk as much as possible (only in the safe areas, and safe times of course!). Walking allows you to engage all your senses: you can smell the earth, the environment, even the pollution. You can see the landscapes, people, colors and fabrics. You can feel the sun, rain, wind, storms, dust and your clothes sticking to you from the humidity. You can touch the animals, the stones, the metals, the shapes of the currency you’re not yet used to. You can, if you dare, taste the foods and drinks prepared on the side of the road. The more I’ve traveled the more I’ve realized the importance of walking: even when I’m with my parents we do our best to walk as much as possible- it’s a cultural experience itself! Walking in the mornings not only wakes me up but I feel ever more a part of the Tanzanian daily life. From my host family’s house to downtown Arusha it takes about 30 minutes to walk at an African pace…this means that you’re walking as if you have a huge bucket of water on your head (trying not to spill) but have somewhere important to be in less than five minutes.

Even with dust in my eyes, I make my way to the bus stop in the centre of town. With approximately 10-12  people beckoning “mzungu” (Swahili word for “white person”) at me, I climb into the minivan-sized local bus, called a dalla-dalla, towards my destination. Much like walking, the public transport here in Tanzania is quite the experience… I don’t actually think there are limitations to how many passengers fit in a dalla-dalla: literally people just pile ontop of you, stand up, lay down, sit on you and even in some cases pass you their child for you to hold them. There is a common joke here: “How many people fit in a dalla dalla?… one more!” It’s true. Hakuna matata (“no worries” in Swahili), so long as we arrive in one piece at the destination. In much the same way, there aren’t really fixed prices or bus fares. From Arusha town, where all dalla-dalla adventures begin, to the end station each individually decorated dalla-dalla has a fixed price, but anywhere in between its up to the bus-boy, otherwise known as “konda”! As a result, as mzungus, it’s easier to get ripped off. Locals know the rough price of their destination so you should definitely look around to see what they are paying. To be on the safe side, you can always visit the tourism office and ask them what they think you should pay to each place. This is just a note of caution: I have yet to be overcharged or ripped off! But that’s because my program, Projects Abroad, made sure I knew the right fare to my work every morning. Also I think my basic tSwahili, and Portuguese/Latin temperament doesn’t stand to be cheated or robbed, so I make a point of getting my correct change…even if it means I hold up the dalla for a few moments once I’ve gotten off!