Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Map from Wikipedia
Our tour included several days in Tanzania, the country directly south of Kenya that was once two British colonies: the mainland state of Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar. Tanganyika received its independence from Britain in 1961 and Zanzibar gained independence in 1963, and in 1964 the two countries merged their names and their land to form a single nation (although Zanzibar remains semi-autonomous). Like Kenya, Tanzania is still part of the British Commonwealth.

Bob and I have had serious discussions over the pronunciation of the name of this country. While there we heard both "tahn ZAHN yuh" and the more familiar "tahn zuh NEE yuh"  or "tan zuh NEE yuh."  We asked our various guides how to pronounce the word and even got different pronunciations from them. I guess it's a "to-mah-to / to-may-to" kind of a name.

Honestly, I knew nothing about Tanzania before this trip, but I've learned a lot in the last few months.

For example, Zanzibar, famous for its production of cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and nutmeg, was once known as the Spice Islands. The population is almost 100% Muslim. The mainland of Tanzania, however, is predominantly Christian, but with a significant Muslim minority. Our guide told us that intermarriage is common and acceptable. Tanzania has 120 different ethnic groups and over 100 different languages, making it the most linguistically diverse country in Africa. Most Tanzanians speak both their tribal language and Swahili, and the educated sector also speaks English. Tri-lingual? That puts most Americans to shame. Unfortunately, almost half of the children don't attend school.

Sizewise, Tanzania (population 49 million) is a little bit larger than twice the size of California (population 38 million), or 1.36 times the size of Texas (population 26 million). Unlike California and Texas, Tanzania is ethnically homogenous, with 99% of the population being of native African descent.

I found a very sobering website that compares living in the United States with living in Tanzania. If you lived in Tanzania instead of the U.S., you would:
• be 10.3 times more likely to have HIV/AIDS
• have 11.1% more likelihood of dying in infancy
• have 2.4 times more babies
• die 25.75 years sooner
• use 99.39% less electricity
• make 96.98% less money
• spend 98.93% less money on health care
• experience 23.11% less of a class divide

In most of the categories, statistics are similar in Kenya. Our drive to Tanzania from Kenya gave us the best view of that poverty that we had on this trip.

The early morning skies were an incandescent blue as we crossed the Maasai Mara Reserve:
For the paltry sum of $500, we could have
taken a "balloon safari." Maybe next time.

It was about 70 miles from the Serena Mara Lodge to Isebania, the city where we planned to cross the border, a drive that would take just over an hour in the United States but that took nearly three hours on dirt roads:
As always, there were many interesting people and things to see along the way:
Enthusiastic school girls wearing uniforms (and almost all having shaved heads) always waved and smiled at us:
The boys were also friendly as they made their way to a small concrete building that must be their school:
Different schools have different colored uniforms:
It is common to see even the children of the Maasai tribe carrying sticks.
While the children loved having their pictures taken, we learned that some people don't like having cameras constantly pointed in their direction, such as these women doing their laundry. I can't say that I blame them.
The homes we passed as we neared the border were permanent rectangular adobe homes instead of the temporary round, mud and manure manyatta houses the Maasai usually build:
We also noticed what looked like controlled burn areas. According to one website, grassland is regularly burned in the Mara and Serengeti regions in order to prevent trees from growing in grazing areas preserved for zebras, wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, and the like:

After three bumpy hours on rutted, uneven roads that passed through a very poor area of Kenya, we finally made it to the border:

A tattered Tanzanian flag fluttered bravely in the breeze next to two empty flag poles meant for  the flags of . . . ? Kenya? The East African Community?

There is nothing like three hours on dirt roads to stimulate the bladder, but there is also nothing like African toilets to make me think twice about holding it. Unfortunately, we had hours to go before we would get to our next luxury lodge, so I think most of us courageously faced the inevitable (and paid a few coins for the honor).

I love the vivid, contrasting colors and bold patterns African women wear:

I plugged the mirror image words upendow tunda la roho on the bottom of her skirt into an online translation site and got "upendow fruit of the spirit." I wonder what "upendow" means?
Another beautiful dress:

My pictures really don't do it justice, but the tiny border crossing was a mass of loud, pressing humanity. Crazy, crowded, and chaotic, it was probably the wildest border experience we have had anywhere in the world and not a border we would want to cross unaccompanied.

There were trucks and handcarts and walking vendors everywhere. One group of women pressed up against our vehicle trying to sell us various trinkets and were not deterred when we shook our heads no. Once we got out of the vehicles, we quickly moved to a small area behind a line painted on the sidewalk that vendors were not allowed to cross. We huddled together behind the line, and the women continued to call out to us aggressively from their side of the line.

At the border we had to say good-bye to Steven, our intrepid and reliable Kenyan driver:

Safari drivers from Kenya used to accompany their customers across the border and continue the driving in Tanzania, but a few years ago that practice was stopped. Now Kenyan drivers drop off their charges, who are picked up by Tanzanian drivers, who then return the passengers to their original drivers when they cross back into Kenya (usually at a different border crossing) several days later.
Our luggage was unloaded into the street into one mass pile,
then reloaded into a new vehicle. It's amazing that
it all made it to our next stop, at least as far as I know!
While our drivers waited, we stood in line to fill out paperwork to exit Kenya, then had our photos and fingerprints taken. After that we got in another line to fill out paperwork to enter Tanzania, and again had our photos and fingerprints taken. It felt very unfriendly, and there was no way any of us were going to pull out our cameras to document the experience.

I didn't get the feeling that Kenya and Tanzania really like each other all that much. The process is so stressful that many tour companies elect to fly their customers to Tanzania from Kenya and deal with an easier immigration process in the airport.

It was a relief to finally climb into our new vehicle with our new driver and get on our way.

Maybe our border experience pre-disposed us to think of Tanzania negatively, but the poverty and general atmosphere seemed worse than it had in Kenya:

Men and women in police or military garb were marching alongside the road:
A very young fisherman assesses the river's potential:
The roads were definitely more challenging:
We just aren't used to cattle jams where I come from:
I think I can safely judge this cow as being "grass fed." It definitely has not been fed a bunch of hormones to fatten it up:
Such a large herd actually represents quite a bit of wealth for the lucky villager who owns it. The view through my window:
I wonder what these women are thinking as they stare back at us, a car of rich, lazy people with fancy cameras:
We were supposed to stop after a few hours at a city park to meet up with the other vehicles in our group for a box lunch picnic, but we drove . . .
. . . and drove . . . 
. . . and drove.  In fact, our driver was going at what felt like a breakneck speed, especially considering the condition of the road. The brakes were grinding and squealing, and I think the only thing that saved us was that the terrain was completely flat. On top of everything else, the driver had his two-way radio turned all the way up, the radio he should have used to check out the itinerary with other drivers, but all he was getting was static. LOUD static. Did I mention that he spoke just like he drove--very fast--and that he was mostly unintelligible? Oh how we missed Steven, our Kenyan driver!
After several hours of this, it dawned on me that we were completely at the mercy of our deranged driver. We hadn't seen any other vehicles in our tour group for hours. In fact, we had seen very few vehicles of any type. We had no real idea where we were--other than that we were somewhere in northern Tanzania--and we had no way to contact anyone about our predicament. I had recorded the names I saw on road signs: Sirari, Tarime, Nyamwaga, Bwiregi, Mugumu, Negoti, Ikoma, Rebanda, Banagi--a string of place names that had no meaning to us. We were tired and hungry and on edge, and for all we knew we were being kidnapped and would be held for ransom.

But the United States government doesn't pay ransom demands.

Yeah, I know. I have an overactive imagination. My husband can vouch for that. To be truthful, I didn't really think we were being kidnapped, but I did run that scenario through my mind.

It was a relief to finally arrive SOMEWHERE and stop. That somewhere was the Ikoma Entrance Gate of the Serengeti National Park, and we jubilantly disembarked, anxious to escape the bottom-bruising jolts of bad shocks and to stretch our cramped legs. Besides, it was 3:00 in the afternoon, and we hadn't eaten since our early morning breakfast at the Mara Serena Lodge. We were famished.

Unfortunately, one thing the lodges don't do well is boxed lunches. Also, there was no shade where we could sit, and the flies were out. Definitely not our best day.

We did have plenty of time to look around while we waited for the other vehicles carrying the rest of our group (all of which had stopped in a lovely, shady park hours before to eat lunch together). One thing I noticed was the excessive posting of rules. There were rules suspended between fake elephant tusks (see above) and identical rules posted next to an assortment of skeletal remains (see below):
I really like #3: "Refuse and expose corruptive practices advances and or gestures." Nice.

The laughing Cape buffalo skulls on top of this version of the rules were just a little disturbing:
Eventually the other members of our group arrived. We drove together to our next haven, the Serengeti Serena Lodge, and when all was said and done, we had to remember that we were in THE SERENGETI, perhaps the most famous and widely known animal reserve in Africa. 

How could we stay mad?

While Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard isn't about the border between Kenya and Tanzania, it tells of the very long journeys through Tanzania made by multiple groups of British and American explorers as they tried to find the source of the mighty Nile River. The earliest expeditions, made in 1854 and 1856 by Brits Richard Burton and John Speke, ended in the discovery of Lake Tanganyika on the far western border of Tanzania. Speke took additional journeys in 1858 and 1860-1862 and discovered Lake Victoria on the Kenya/Tanzania border with the Nile flowing out of it. However, there was still some controversy over whether or not this was the true source of the Nile. The very famous British explorer Dr. David Livingstone believed the source was still further so, and so he led a later expedition in 1866 to 1869 that wandered south through present-day Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and the Congo before reaching Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Because he was gone so long and there had been little to no communication with him and many rumors of his death, both Britain and the United States became obsessed with determining if Dr. Livingstone still lived. Financed by New York newspaper man James Gordon Bennett, Henry Morton Stanley led a search that traveled straight west across present-day Tanzania toward Ujiji in an attempt to find the elusive explorer. The fascinating lives of both Stanley and Livingstone are presented in depth, including how they came to be in Africa and the expeditions themselves.  The book reads like an Indiana Jones movie, full of adventure, dangerous wild beasts, oppressive terrain, cannibalistic natives, and greedy Arab slave traders who will stop at nothing to protect their commerce,

All the way through this book, I kept wondering why anyone would voluntarily take on the extreme, life-threatening hardships these men assumed. Our little jaunts in air-conditioned buses were definitely put into perspective.


  1. I must say, reading your description of your long bus ride, I know I would have been thinking about kidnapping, too. Lots of heart-breaking poverty, interesting people, beautiful scenery. I would have loved my school aged girls to have shaved heads--think how that would speed up morning schedules!

  2. At least once on this drive I literally had my entire rear-end disengage from the seat on a bump with a resultant spine jarring gravitational return. This gave the term "driving like a bat out of hell" new meaning. Perception smashing poverty.

  3. Not a good day I would say, in complete agreement with you. Did you ever get any reason why your driver didn't stop and have lunch with the others? (I can only imagine that your tour company was NOT happy with him.). I would have thought kidnapping, too, so you are not the only one with an active imagination. The poverty that can be seen in these countries gives new meaning to "the poor you will always have with you."