Tanzania: Adventures of a Volunteer in Bomang’ombe
By Nellie Huang
It was pitch black, but with the full moon shining on us, I could suddenly see a pair of shimmering white eyes staring at me just a few centimeters away. Almost jumping, I stepped back in the darkness.
They whispered softly in Swahili, and started asking Naomi some questions, among which I could only catch a few words ‘mzungu’ (foreigners) and ‘nani?’ (who?).
The villagers had come out after hearing the big commotion, and they were curious about us. I smiled widely. The girls started touching my straight hair (I learned to enjoy that), examining me in amazement.
It was our third month in Tanzania. I ventured for the first time into Africa with my lifetime partner Alberto, teaching and rebuilding a school in the village of Bomang’ombe.
Near Mount Kilimanjaro, the village was just a few kilometers away from the only road between the two cities of Arusha and Moshi.
Dangerous Encounter in Machame
We were now stranded along the main road in Machame, just 50km from where we lived. Our truck was literally stuck in the mud, thanks to the torrential rain. Just minutes ago, our lives were in serious danger.
Our new friend Osle, one of the village committee members, wanted to show us his hometown. In his words, “You have to see Machame. I want to thank you for teaching our children and I want to show you my home. It’s beautiful, you won’t regret it.” He was right. We would never forget this day.
It had been raining all day. With Naomi and her husband Deo, we rode on Osle’s truck towards the legendary waterfalls of Machame. As we sped past a vast rice field, the rain stopped and I looked back, to see a rainbow gloriously appearing amidst the clearing clouds.
Journeying into the Lives of Tanzanians
An amazing journey, I thought to myself. This journey into the heart of the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania was intensely overwhelming.
We had entered into the simple lives of the villagers in Bomang’ombe, and the hearts of children hopeful about their bright future. Within the few months of teaching in Bomani Primary School, I bonded closely with Naomi, a fellow teacher and a real friend whom I could confide in and be myself.
Her husband Deo showed us many sides of Tanzania, even a thing or two about drinking beer in Tanzania (he sure could drink!). We shared travel tales with them, while they told us about their childhood and families.
Since they rarely left the village, it was their first time to Machame. As the clouds cleared and the sun came shining through, we reached the foot of the waterfalls.
The rapidly flowing freshwater gushed past the rocky riverbed. We could imagine how stunning the falls must look as it cascades down the vertical cliff.
We heard a roaring thunder as we clambered clumsily up the muddy slopes back onto the truck. Four of us, crazily happy and adventurous, were riding on the back of the truck, swaying right and left as Osle maneuvered the truck up along the meandering slope.
Vibrant Local Markets
Entering the Machame village center, I stared in awe at the colorful and chaotic market where fresh gorgeous fruits and raw bloody meat were on sale.
The locals would throng through the crowd, picking out the freshest and cheapest of the lot.
Even the Maasai, with their bright red traditional tribal shuka and colorful beaded accessories, were scouring through the pick of the day.
From what I read, I had imagined the most reputed tribal warriors of East Africa appearing only in the grasslands of Ngorongoro, not here in the local market. Still, it was a sight not to be missed.
These markets were one of the most exciting features of our life in Tanzania. Their food, people and way of life were reflected here, so vibrant, culturally rich and full of life.
Every trip to the market was a magical feast to my eyes and soul. I took everything in, absorbing the wonderful vibes and traditional lifestyle of the villagers.
Hitchhiking – a Way of Life
Not long after, Osle’s truck came to a halt. Two locals were standing by the side of the road and smiling as us. Conversations in Swahili were exchanged, and in no time, the two men were climbing up onto the truck and joining the ride. We said hi to our new travel mates. Life was as simple as this in Tanzania.
We had found ourselves easing into the Tanzanian way of life with no qualms. After all, they were the most laid back people we had met. (Alberto is Spanish, even he thought life in Tanzania was slower and more laid back.)
Later on, while travelling through Zanzibar, we would pick up hitchhikers too, with no questions asked. We learned to live in a carefree and trusting manner, like them.
Praying at the Machame Waterfalls
Driving past waving children and lush banana trees, we were now along a narrow mud path in the heart of Machame, where villagers were slowly making their way home after a long day of work in the fields.
Dropping our hitch-hikers along the way, Osle finally announced that we were here – the best spot for a clear view of the waterfalls.
Slightly relieved, I gladly jumped off the truck, as the sun looked like it was about to set. No lamps in the village or along the street (anywhere for that matter) meant that we might have to navigate the road in sheer darkness.
A little anxious, we followed Osle into the forest, carefully watching our way through the tall bushes and shrubs.
It was not long before a group of teenagers started following us (this happened frequently in Africa), forming an entourage.
Conditions worsened as it started raining again. Drizzles were blurring our vision, and dark clouds formed.
By the time we got to Osle’s much-talked-about spot for a view of the Machame waterfalls, we were covered in knee-high mud and soaked in rainwater.
As we stood at that exact spot, clutching our hands together, we prayed with Osle for his deceased grandparents, and the health of his family.
Later on, I wished I had also prayed for our safety.
Adapting to the Local Working Habits
We were headed home, but in the darkness and heavy rain, we seemed to be trapped in the boundless rainforest surrounding us.
Deo started shouting from the back, pointing in the direction behind us. I was beginning to suspect we were in deep trouble. The worst had happened – we were lost.
With Deo shouting and Naomi frantically screaming, Osle was trying hard to steer the car in the right direction as the rain and soggy mud were making it more and more difficult. He was beginning to swerve unsteadily side to side.
Amidst the commotion, it felt like déjà vu. Within the first week of rebuilding the school, some sort of dispute seemed to be circling amongst the school teachers and the school chairperson.
Naomi explained to me that they knew the chairperson was corrupted, and were worried he would pocket our fund for his own use. We did not understand a word of Swahili, and so were never involved. But I was shocked to see them shouting aggressively in their discussions, and emotions seemed to be run high. The chairperson was never to be seen.
Rescued by the Villagers
By now, we were hurled against the banana trees by the roadside, and the truck was getting out of control. Osle was stepping on the accelerator to gain speed, preventing the truck from sinking further into the mud.
As we neared a small village, the truck swerved crazily along the muddy path, violently from left to right, and then back left. Without warning, the truck spun 100 degrees before stopping perpendicularly to the road. We missed the tree in front of us by a bare five centimeters.
I was holding my breath all the while, and when the truck stopped, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Quickly, I jumped out of the truck, landing on thick mud.
Villagers came crowding around us, and some of the stronger ones started pushing the truck along with Osle and Deo. Its tires were completely immersed in the potholes, and it would take the help of many men to heave it out.
Alberto joined in the pushing, as almost 10 men came to join forces and help us out. Even in the darkness, I felt the ingenuity and community spirit of these villagers. They would go all out to help, no matter who we were, regardless of race, age and gender.
When the truck was lifted out of the mud, we thanked the entire village for their warm aid, and said goodbye to a whole crowd of smiley and friendly people.
It was quite an adventure, but as long as we were in Africa, I knew we were safe, and never left behind.
This was the real side of Africa – beautiful and selfless people.
How to get there:
The nearest airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport; Bomang’ombe is just 15 minutes away by taxi.
How to volunteer:
Contact Buffalotrails to arrange for a placement. The volunteer is only required to pay directly to the host, living expenses of 250 euros/month.
Accomodation in Machame:
Protea Hotel Aishi Machame – a high-end hotel with an unobstructed view of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Nellie Huang is a worshipper of the sun, wild adventures, and new discoveries. Having taught in Spain and Tanzania, she is travelling to South America next, continuing to explore her thirst for the unknown. She is a freelance travel writer who has written for Bootsnall and Matador. You can learn more about her on her travel blog, WildJunket.
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