Sunday, 23 September 2012

Camp Tanzania: In the shadow of Kilimanjaro

 After the sheer bliss of Tanga it was exciting to get back to the highlands and to spend our remaining days in Tanzania based in Moshi, a bustling town at the foot of Kilimanjaro.  The mountain looms over everything, and when the clouds reveal it, you have to crane your neck to look up at the snowy summit, it is so astonishingly high. I'd not expected to find the peak quite so entrancing, associating it with a kind of  challenge based tourism ("doing Kili") that as a climber it is easy to dismiss as being too commercial and accessible (noting that this is an aspect of a tourism industry that I am myself part of!).  However, stood in the shadow of the mountain, watching the rosy tint of the sun's rays setting on her snows, I longed to be up there, in the heavens, high above the dusty, noisy town.  Kili looked so tranquil and beguiling.

Meanwhile, our final project was working in a school in the town, building and renovating desks and benches. Carpentry is not my strong point, and it was hard using cheap tools bought locally to work the dense tropical hardwoods that are the most readily available timber here.  We did a fair job however, and in a couple of days built a stack of benches and some wonderful heavy tables in warm pink wood that would look at home in an antique filled farm kitchen.

Rosie and Robbo, teachers from my school team, hard at work building a table for the school. 

This is the kitchen for the school.  Meals are prepared here not only for the several hundred children at this school, but also two other nearby schools, on a wood burning range visible through the door. 

The school playground. 

It was an interesting way to finish what had been a fantastic experience.  Even though the wildlife, the mountains and the project work had been what I had expected when I agreed to take part in this expedition, Tanzania herself completely surprised me.  I had not expected to encounter so much poverty, and so little infrastructure. It is a peaceful country, with no sense of the violent problems of her neighbours. Everyone we met was kind, generous and welcoming. The only friction we encountered, was in the town of Moshi, where hawkers aggressively ply their trade, harassing unwary tourists.  Here we had some awkward moments, were wary of our valuables, and did not feel welcome in the town as we shopped for souvenirs.  This left me wondering whether it is in areas where there is a great disparity between rich and poor, and in places where tourist dollars are flashed around, but without any visible investment in the community, that conflict and crime are able to flourish.  My hope for Tanzania's future is that the many climbers and trekkers who visit the country, also put something back in to supporting the communities they are staying amongst, choose their trekking companies responsibly, and also travel away from the tourist areas to experience a bit more of wonderful Tanzania.

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