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Trip Report Gruezi and daughter's amazing trip to Tanzania

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My 15-year-old daughter and I just returned from 3 weeks on a volunteer/cultural visit to Tanzania. We went through the organization Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) and stayed in a home base just outside of Moshi. We had an amazing experience. I worked at a regional hospital there and my daughter taught at a pre-school at the local prison (for staff and inmates children).

It feels quite a challenge to describe everything about our experience in a Fodor's trip report, but I will summarize a few things by saying:

1. We loved the Tanzanians who were so friendly and welcoming to us. What a contrast to the reserved Swiss here in Switzerland where we live! We feel like we have more friends in Tanzania than anyplace else right now. Just thinking about all our new friends brings a smile to my face.

2. The children are so beautiful and friendly and my daughter soon earned the nickname Angelina Jolie in our group as she was pretty intent on bringing a bunch of her new little friends home with her. Children there are not taught to fear strangers and at any time will come up and hold your hand and walk with you in whatever direction you are going. The older children are so pleased to try out their English with you and very quickly are calling you friend and telling you they love you (love and like being basically the same word in Swahili).

3. The scenery is so different and we shall never forget the red clay, the banana trees, the mountains (although we saw very little of the cloud-covered Kilimanjaro) and the incredible sunsets.

4. We did one-day safaris to Ngorongoro Crater and to Tarangire and saw some more incredible scenery and tons of wildlife. Our guide was wonderful and we'd highly recommend him if anyone is interested. He drove very carefully which is important as the highway there is treacherous with many unsafe drivers and fatal accidents. We enjoyed the safaris, but not near as much as the drives through all the villages where we observed first-hand village and rural life.

5. Health care is really a whole different world. As a nurse, I learned so much and felt really rather inept to help. Resources are very limited. I was so impressed by the health care workers who do so much with so very little in terms of diagnostics, supplies and equipment. Maternal and infant health and HIV are huge issues. I had learned a lot about both in school and at my current job with a pharmaceutical that provides vaccines to developing countries, but I really witnessed the reality first hand at the hospital in a way no paper, book or photo could adequately describe. Some of what I saw was pretty shocking and the images will stay with me for a long time.

6. Education is also very different. Students have small paper booklets for their work (kind of like the "blue books" we used in college for exams) which they must erase and re-use for lack of supplies. Corporal punishment is accepted and very common. Many children eat only the porridge served at lunchtime at school and are often hungry. The children wear uniforms to school and in the mornings it is wonderful to see them in their various school colors heading off to class and excitedly waving to us Wazungu (white people) in our van. Those in our group who taught at schools were greeted each morning by hordes of smiling excited children and lots of hugs.

7. The Maasai still live in huts made from sticks, sealed with cattle dung, and thatched roofs and have multiple wives. There is a strong division of labor - men with the livestock - women gathering water, cooking, building their huts. I saw young Maasai girls my daughters age and younger in the labor and delivery wards having babies. Tanzanian men who are Christian may not have multiple wives, but keeping other women is common as are having children with various women - sometimes supporting them, sometimes not. The life of a Tanzanian woman is typically a very hard one with few achieving more than primary education.

8. We had a brief lesson in carrying bananas on our heads and we were shocked how heavy a huge bunch of bananas are - made us appreciate even more the huge buckets of water, bags of maize, and in one case an entire bed we saw people carry on their heads!

I'm still processing everything we saw, experienced, and loved about Tanzania. I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone might have about visiting this country, our volunteering, the organization we were there with, etc. Just let me know what you want to hear about.


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