John and Babs in Tanzania

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24/2/07

It’s such a long time since Christmas, but writing this page brought back a lot of happy memories for us. We started it in early January, but, with a very busy start to the School year and the usual frustratingly intermittent communication problems, we have only just been able to publish it.

 

We hope that you all had a very Happy Christmas & New Year, and we would like to thank everyone who contacted us very much for their good wishes and web site comments; you don’t know how welcome they are. It was really lovely to hear from so many of you, and we’re sorry we can’t always reply to you.

 

To continue the saga: We left Hekima on Saturday 16th December for a 2 week break, complete with rucksacks! We managed to hitch a lift into Bukoba in the back of a truck, only to find, when we scrambled in, the floor was covered in thick mud. Balancing rucksacks on our knees (so they didn’t get muddy!), we sat on the side of the truck and held on for grim death with the other spare hand. Very soon we realised that our lives were much more important than clean rucksacks, so they went on the floor, allowing us to hold tightly with 2 hands; the other 8 occupants of the truck found this highly amusing. Eventually, as people got out, we were the only passengers and, having watched the locals, we realised it was far easier & safer to stand for the remainder of the journey! At this stage we were enjoying our journey, and caused great amusement as locals came out to the side of the road to wave to us; we felt like royalty! Amazing! We were absolutely filthy and windswept by the time we reached Bukoba, but enjoyed the experience. Another volunteer who lived near the airport had offered us a bed for the night, which was very kind, and we had a lovely evening with Mollel and his family.

 

We met up with 6 other volunteers on Sunday morning to start our journey to Dar es Salaam for the VSO Conference. The plane from Bukoba to Mwanza takes 45 minutes and crosses Lake Victoria: a thrilling sight, especially since it does not fly very high, as it is only an 18 seater, and the views are spectacular. At this stage we should add that, as well as 18 passengers plus luggage, 13 barrels of fish were also loaded! We then changed at Mwanza and reached Dar early in the afternoon; the 8-seater taxi from the airport ran out of petrol after 1 kilometre, and the driver, complete with plastic bottle, had to catch a daladala to the nearest petrol station. When we finally arrived at the Safari Inn, we were able to meet up with other volunteers whose placements are scattered across Tanzania, and we spent the rest of Sunday catching up on news; we hadn’t realised just how good it would be to meet up with everyone again.

 

VSO Christmas Conference
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The Group

Paradise Resort, Bagamoyo
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Our Room

Bagamoyo
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Paradise Resort

 

 

 

On Monday morning, 52 of us were bused to Paradise Resort in Bagamoyo, about a 2 hour journey from Dar es Salaam. WOW – we thought we had died and gone to heaven! It was wonderful – the beach, a pool, hot shower, comfy bed, easy chairs, incredible food and, of course, red wine!

 

 

 

 

The Conference itself was packed with interesting activities and presentations, and included some ideas that will be useful for our work in Tanzania. However, the conference days were long and we had little time to enjoy all the home comforts, but we did try and it was great while it lasted!

Relaxing at Bagamoyo
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Christina, Will & Babs

Boogying at Bagamoyo
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The End of a Long Day

Bagamoyo Beach
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Babs & Liz watching African Drums

Bagamoyo Beach
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African Drums

Zanzibar
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A Dhow

We returned to Dar es Salaam on Wednesday afternoon and spent Thursday trying to tie up several of the loose ends we had been unable to arrange in Bukoba. We had things to sort out at the VSO Office, finally managed to book our flights to Australia for Eve & Mark’s wedding in April (we were beginning to get a bit worried), bought a CD writer which we had overlooked and now need to send copies of the many photos back home, did a very little bit of Christmas shopping for each other, attempted (unsuccessfully as it turns out) to improve our mobile phone reception problems and, finally, booked our ferry tickets to Zanzibar where we were going to spend Christmas with some other VSOs. We said our goodbyes to the rest of the volunteers, and left for Zanzibar on the Friday morning (on a 200-seater fast ferry, not a dhow!).

Uroa, Zanzibar
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Jambo Inn

 

 

 

Another volunteer, Kellie, had booked ‘bandas’ (thatched huts) on the beach for 5 of us, so that we could spend Christmas together: Will, from Lancashire via Edinburgh, Kellie, a Canadian, Sheena, from USA via Canada, and us two. There are 9 bandas in all, together with a Restaurant/Bar, at the Jambo Inn just outside Uroa on the East coast of Zanzibar.

Jambo Inn
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Our Banda

Jambo Inn
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Looking into our Banda

Uroa, Zanzibar
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Jambo Inn - the Restaurant/Bar

Uroa Beach
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View from Jambo Inn

The banda consisted of 2 single beds, mozi nets and an electric light; sparse, but the beach, the surroundings and the views of the Indian Ocean were out of this world.

Jambo Inn
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Tom & Kassoff, 2 of the Owners

Jambo Inn is owned by 4 local lads who looked after us and did all the cooking; they couldn’t have been kinder. The whole 6 days for 2 of us cost 230 000/= (Tanzanian shillings) for everything, apart from the red wine box which we had taken. That amount is a small fortune for locals but a mere 45 each; it was truly wonderful.

On our arrival, we met a Canadian couple, Keith and Steph, who were also with VSO but in Zambia, so now we were 7!

Christmas at Uroa
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Sheena & Kellie

Christmas at Uroa
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Will

Christmas at Uroa
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Steph & Keith

Uroa Beach
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John & the Indian Ocean

Uroa Beach
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Babs & the Indian Ocean

We had heard that Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, and that the availability of alcohol may be limited. We were pleased we had taken the wine box, but there was a plentiful supply of beer. We travelled back to Stonetown, the island’s capital, for the day on Christmas Eve. Although there was a holiday atmosphere, and the huge street market was buzzing, it was not particularly Christmassy. We invested in a new mobile phone in our continuing attempt to improve our communication problems; it’s a state-of-the-art Motorola which will do lots of fancy things but, as it turns out, has only slightly improved our contact with the outside world from our home at Hekima. We also found an internet cafe and finished the previous page of this website, and had an impromptu tour of the historic parts of the town.

Stonetown
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Grand Buildings . . .

Stonetown
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. . . and Narrow Alleys

Christmas
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The Beach

On Christmas morning it was hot and sunny when we had our usual early morning swim; we had breakfast and then everyone seemed to spend the rest of the morning trying to phone friends and relations. Helen & Mike were on holiday in Bulgaria, where they had recently bought an apartment, right on the ski slopes!

(Its available to let, if anyone is interested; please visit: 

 http://bulgariaski.tripod.com/index.html.)

Eve & Mark, of course, are in Australia. We had very little success – just a lot of “Hello, hello ..... can you hear me?” Eventually we gave up and spoke a few days later, which was frustrating but unavoidable in the circumstances.

 

Christmas Day
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(Part of) the Gang Enjoying Lunch

 

 

 

 

Another volunteer, Christina, arrived later, followed by yet another volunteer, Kendra, with her daughter, Barley, who completed the group; we were now 10. We had asked for lunch about 3pm, but in true Tanzanian fashion (no rush) it arrived about 4.30pm. It was worth the wait: an incredible hot buffet of lobster, crab, calamari, king fish, rice, chips and salad, followed by fresh fruit, and Christmas cake courtesy of Kendra’s Mum. The table was decorated, the centrepiece being a fibroptic Christmas tree, sent by Babs’ sister Sas, and we listened to Christmas music on John’s MP3 player plus speakers amidst the laughter and chatter. It will be remembered by all for a long time. We ate and drank into the evening, with swims and sunbathing in between, and a bonfire on the beach to round it off; its a hard life being a volunteer at times!

 

We had a wonderful time together in Uroa, at the Jambo Inn; we sunbathed, swam, read, ate, drank, talked and walked. The pictures below give some idea of what it was like.

Uroa Beach
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The Sea was warm enough for Babs!

Uroa, Zanzibar
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Jambo Inn on the Beach

Uroa Beach
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Babs at the Seaweed Farm

Uroa, Zanzibar
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The Beach

We were sad to leave on the Thursday; as usual, it was hot and sunny. We left about 3pm, with our (cleaned) rucksacks, and walked up to the road to catch the daladala for the hour’s journey to Stonetown. We had been invited to stay with Daphne and Alice, 2 more VSO volunteers, overnight, before flying back to Bukoba. After 2 more daladalas, we arrived, at about the same time as Alice, who had been visiting her family in Uganda for Christmas. We had a very civilised meal at a sports bar in Stonetown, and John even managed to watch some southern hemisphere rugby on the large screen television.

The flight from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam on Friday morning was fine, although it was slightly delayed, and our luggage was checked through to Bukoba. We checked in at Dar, and waited – and waited. The 2.30pm flight from Dar to Mwanza was rescheduled to 3.05pm, and even at 3.00pm Precision Air were confident that we would be able to get our connection in Mwanza; at 3.20pm they announced that there was, after all, a problem: the aeroplane was still in Mwanza! So the flight was cancelled and therefore we missed the connection to Bukoba. We were on the 5.05pm flight, and the airline had to put about 20 of us up in a hotel in Mwanza, but it was after 8pm when we arrived. It was very nice (hot shower, comfy bed, good food, and red wine!), but, by that time, we just wanted to get home. We were collected at 7am the next morning and taken back to the airport, where we waited – and waited. We were grounded by bad weather! Little information was forthcoming, but breakfast was provided at 11.40am and boarding cards issued at 11.50am. Then the weather changed again, and, at 12.30pm, they started unloading the aeroplane, in the rain, only to load it all back on again at 12.40pm! Suddenly, at 12.50pm, the flight was announced and we boarded; we left at 1pm, 5 hours late! Eventually, we landed in Bukoba, did some shopping and treated ourselves to a taxi back to Hekima at about 5.30pm. Everyone here was so pleased to see us again, and we were so pleased to be back in our own home.

 

Christmas continued for a few more days as we opened more cards and parcels that had been posted. It was a quiet New Year’s Eve as we saw in 2007 – just the two of us, & a bottle of red wine! New Year’s Day lunch was a delicious menu of tomato salad, corned beef hash with carrots, creme caramel and fresh pineapple, mango and passion fruit, followed by (real) After 8 mints and crackers. Over the next few days, we welcomed back staff and sisters who had been away for the holiday, and exchanged Christmas and New Year greetings and reminiscences. Then it was Twelfth Night, and time to take down our cards and the few Christmas decorations. Also on that Saturday, at 9am, was the start of school year Staff Meeting. In fact, Christmas continued well into January as we opened more parcels from home, including cards sent on from Darlington by Helen & Mike and a Christmas letter which took over a month to arrive.

 

We will tell you all about our experiences of the beginning of the school year at Hekima in the next instalment, as soon as we have the time to compose it – and a reliable enough internet connection to upload it!

More to come from John and Babs in Tanzania soon.