Greetings from Africa (Tanzania)
I was greeted with the usual incredible enthusiasm at the Kilimanjaro International Airport by project manager Mathew Sulle and my tour operator friend Claud Goi. The two 10-hour flights seem to be getting a little easier with every visit, so during the 1 hour drive to the lodge, I was able to have some lively discussions about our plans and goals for the upcoming weeks; discussions with the Karatu District officials to plan future projects, final inspections of the school construction, and a recap of Claud’s itinerary hosting our Canadian group arriving in 2 weeks for the school opening celebrations and a safari experience.
After one night’s stay at the Outpost Lodge, Mathew and I headed to Karatu, my temporary home for the next two weeks. This was a new experience for me to be living in the district of the schools, to be enmeshed in their community and a part of the daily routine. I stayed at the Msimbazi Inn in the heart of town, a delightful B&B with tiny, but clean rooms and hot showers.
At the meeting at the District Chairman’s office we discussed priorities of building at the three village sites; Gongali, Kilimamoja and Ayalabe. I met the District Planning Officer, The District Education Officer a Planning Engineer and of course Lazaro Titus, the District Chairman. The next project for Gongali is the final three classroom building; at Kilimamoja, a Kitchen/Dining Hall. The Ayalabe Village building program has changed. PSFA has just built the first two classrooms, but I was advised that the District now has the ability to cover the costs of the remaining classrooms, and in fact, construction has already started on them. Great! We are invited now to consider construction of the Teacher Residences as future projects.
|New Classrooms 1 and 2|
I couldn’t wait to visit the Ayalabe site to inspect the two-classroom building that is nearing completion. It’s always such an eagerly anticipated event to see the first building rise up from what was previously an empty field. This site’s transformation to a level site was even better than expected. Builder Fabian’s increased experience is making for better quality construction with every new project. The tangerine red building looks great. The only remaining work is some paint touch-ups, installation of doors and concrete entrance steps and ramps. I was surprised to see the progress of the District Chairman’s projects; construction of two two-classroom buildings was well underway with the concrete floor slabs almost complete.
|Jackson Kim Classroom|
Builder Fabian (l) and Mathew
|Tara Heuvelman classroom|
I spent some time with Fabian describing the design of the steps and ramps to our building. The steep slopes won’t be to Canadian handicap standards but should work fine. This work was not anticipated in his price, so I agreed to reimburse him for it.
The plaques for the two classrooms commemorating the donor, Vancouverite Chongin Im, are installed but they looked oddly askew.
“Fabian, do you have a level to check these plaques?” I asked. He assured me they were meticulously leveled and his level confirmed it.
|Concrete floor slab work|
|the school building nearing completion|
“It’s got to be your level then”, I said, since everyone agreed there was a definite slope. I tested the level on a door jamb and the floor and sure enough his old beat-up level was way out.
|women mixing the concrete|
“Uh-oh” he said, “I will throw away and buy new one. Should we correct?”
“Why don’t we leave it” as I and the group chuckled, “It shows local character.”
|The Msimbazi Inn where I stayed for 10 days|
The Msimbazi B&B is managed and run by Raphael, a big, extremely likeable and friendly guy who hugs everyone at every opportunity. He does everything; the administration, shopping, cooking, laundry, and maintenance. I enjoy his specialty every morning; coffee, spanish omelette and peanut butter and jam on toast, followed by slices of watermelon and oranges. I accompanied him to the local market for my needed fruit, juice and water supplies.
The layout of the 40,000 plus town of Karatu is simple; colourful business shops strung out for a kilometer or two along either side of the paved main highway that leads to the safari regions of Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. All other streets that extend several blocks from the main road are clay dirt roads that billow with red dust at every passing vehicle.
|Karatu Town's main street - the only one paved |
- the safari traffic route
|A typical shop in Karatu|
There are such a variety of shops on these internal roads; used clothing, hair salons, dark bars, confectionery, B&B’s, mini-markets, and many one room places selling everything from beer to toilet paper to phone cards. With so much repetition of the same kind of shop, they unfortunately can only eke out an existence. Each morning, shopkeepers diligently wipe away settled dust from exterior racks of goods. And shops with typically tinny music from inexpensive sound systems compete with each other for the attention of passing customers. They are friendly to us “mzungu”s. “Jambo, habari za leo, asubuhi mjema.”
|The market in Karatu|
I ride my bike every morning for exercise. Oh, the story of my bike….! Ha!. Bear with me for this interesting story. I decided to bring a couple of bikes by plane for use by myself when here and for Mathew’s family and relatives when I’m not. Well it turned out to be an unforgettable challenge as oversized baggage. They are normally checked all the way through to one’s destination as long as all connecting airlines are in partnership, but this was the only time that my itinerary included a stopover in Nairobi where I changed to non-partner Kenya Airways for the last leg to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania.
I had 1½ hours to get off the plane, retrieve my baggage, recheck it and go through security to board. I figured no problem. Except did you know that there was a big fire in the Nairobi Airport that virtually closed down all its built facilities and are now replaced with tents? After the plane landed, we were bussed to the tented Kenya Airways departure lounge about a half-kilometer away. How do get my baggage from there? A (very relaxed) agent managed to find a young fellow, Gabriel, to accompany me back to the landing area where offloaded baggage was stored, but we had to wait for an available minibus. When we finally got one, 3/4 hour had passed – leaving only 3/4 hour till departure. To make things even more stressful, when we got to the baggage tent, I had to pass through a security checkpoint at its doorway. The (very officious) officer needed to hold onto my passport while inside. Reluctantly handing it over, I went in with my young friend and managed to spot my bicycle box and suitcase being loaded onto a cart and about to be taken away to another “unclaimed baggage” storage room.
We quickly loaded them onto a cart and headed back to the checkpoint to retrieve my passport, but the officer was not at his desk. He was some distance away, chatting with a fellow officer. I ran over, he fished it out of his pocket?? (hmmm!) and gave it back. I looked at my watch; 15 minutes till departure and the minibus didn’t wait for us. “We have to run for it”, I shouted, as we bee-lined across the large expanse of tarmac between the two tents, dodging speeding buses and power carts, and stopping a few times to reload the clumsy bike box when it fell off the cart. 8 minutes to departure. Back at the lounge, a female official was calling my name. “Get these bikes on the plane now,” I shouted to Gabriel, as the lady whisked me through security and escorted me onto the waiting plane.
I made it, but the bikes didn’t.
At Kilimanjaro International, I filled out the usual forms and was told to report back in the morning, and when I did, I was thankful to pay the 30,000-shilling bribe to get it through customs.
The moral of the story: it wasn’t worth the $100 saving in airfares for that stop at Nairobi, when I could have flown straight through from Amsterdam with the bikes below me in the belly of the plane the whole way. The good news: I wasn’t charged the $200 for oversized baggage when I checked it at Victoria. (When I mentioned my charity to the agent, she waived the fees).
In a few days, Maureen and our Canadian contingent will be arriving to be part of the school opening celebrations. I’m so looking forward to their reaction to the experience.
End of Update