Throughout the summer and autumn months of 2014, Andrea and I diligently collected children’s clothing and over fifty pairs of children’s shoes from more generous young supporters, who so selflessly departed with some of their treasured and loved items. Everything was packed up and ready to go over to Tanzania for the 2014 distributions.
I set off to hot and humid Tanzania one cold dark morning in mid November from Manchester- surprisingly not raining! The journey was smooth and I arrived 14 hours later still in the dark. I settled in to my hotel accommodation tried to brush up my Kiswahili and then dozed off into the early hours.
The next couple of days I spent with a good old friend, Chris, in Dar es Salaam, acclimatising to the sweltering heat whilst buying one hundred (5 year guaranteed pre-treated) mosquito bed nets and arranging their safe transport to Ifakara. Chris is a tour guide by trade and also makes the most amazing and intricate handmade Tanzanian jewellery.
The best place to buy mosquito bed nets in bulk in Dar es Salaam or anything else, for that matter, is the famous market of Kariakoo. This amazing market sells everything from fruits and vegetables to pots & saucepans and mattresses. Clothing and shoes to live chickens! This is truly a place of wonder, though most of the day it is very busy. I would definitely take care not to flash my Rolex-if I had one!
We found a small shop unit that specialised in beds, bedding, mattress and nets. We negotiated a price for 100 large nets that would cover a double bed. I figured this would protect a mum and two youngsters or three children per bed. Then we had to count the nets. One by one we counted the nets. At ninety two nets they ran out! So negotiations had to be repeated as the shop owner only had extra large nets or small nets that you needed to buy a round metal hoop to attach to it. We agreed that she would sell me the last eight nets at $1 extra each- not bad as they could protect an extra adult person if you had a king size bed! Next we had to get the sacks to pack the nets in and rope to tie them up securely. This is where Chris took over and with a couple of other market traders they packed and tied up the nets- ready to be stored until the journey to the Southern Highlands.
Chris and the nets set off for Ifakara two days later at the crack of dawn by bus from Mbungo bus station. If you want to do long distance travel by bus, then this is where you will go to catch it. The environment resembles Kariakoo, in that it is busy, with many folk hustling and bustling to get to where they want to go. Sellers were selling bread, nuts, fruit, drinks and hard boiled eggs. Like any small town resident or visitor, you can’t resist buying a loaf or two of Dar es Salaam bakery bread to take back home. I knew Chris would be no different.
I travelled with the rest of the cargo by train. I arrived at the train station at 9am as instructed on the ticket. The train departed at 10am- Pretty good going for the TAnzania ZAmbia RAilway train company. The train journey is quite spectacular. You get to see changes in the landscape as the train passes from the big city housing to the local houses and villages that eventually become sparse until the only time houses appear are around the station stops en route. The journey also takes you through the Selous game reserve- a great place for animal spotting on the move. I just love this journey… when it runs on time with no break downs. The catering on the train is very good, they bring food to your carriage if you are in first or second class accommodation. The carriages also have beds for those passengers going further than Ifakara or those that want to doze in the day. Not me…I love buying fresh fruit through the windows from the local people when the train stops at the stations on the way. Theft through windows is not unheard of so I always make sure nothing of value is left on the tables near the windows when the train stops at the train stations. A friend of mine got a bag of rubbish stolen, once!
The TAZARA runs from Dar es Salaam all the way to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia- a 2 to 3 day trip twice a week south and once a week north. Have I done this? Oh yes, both myself and Andrea did the south bound journey, with a couple of other friends, Jane and Dave back in 2004- Though, that is another eventful story- Involving bandits, a crazy American lady who insisted ‘we all should be ready to die on the journey’ and a bug infested guest house…
Anyway, I met Chris with the nets that afternoon at the train station in Dusty yet ever so missed lovely Ifakara- my second home. As we lugged the cases I had travelled with on the train over to the station entrance, and started to load the tricycle taxi that already contained the cargo of nets, I could help smile when I saw the all too familiar bag that hung from Chris’s rucksack. I knew he had bought a loaf of Dar es Salaam bread for his mother and sister!
The next 6 days were jam packed….A must visit to St Francis Hospital and the laboratory in particular was very rewarding. Catching up with caring matron and all my ex work colleagues and friends I had not seen in a couple of years, was great!
I paid a visit to the neonatal unit where 28 new mothers sat nursing the next generation of Ifakara. Matron and I gave each mother a bed net and a set of hand knitted hats, booties & gloves from our dear friend Yvonne way back in Manchester.
My dear friend Miss Lukresia came into town to help us out and Sebalds crew at the Valenova Foundation assisted in distributing mosquito bed nets and children’s donated clothes to the poorest families of Lipangala. We met some very humbled people and some great kids!
The Lihami women’s group approached me with a letter introducing their members and stating their achievements and desires for the future of their community. I see exciting times ahead and a possible strong collaboration with these lovely ladies.
After this was all done and dusted, Miss Lukresia and I took well earned rest with a bottle of soda and the nation’s famous chipsi mayai…chips omelette! My favourite!
Once my hello and goodbyes were all said and the sun was setting on the weekend, it was time to leave little old Ifakara.
The bus journey was long….I forgot that it takes longer than a full working day to get back to Dar es Salaam, but the last hour was spent stuck in traffic just outside that “Haven of peace”!
Once safe and sound in my accommodation, I was able to reflect upon the last ten days and remember and give thanks to those both at home in the UK and those in country in Tanzania who helped make this trip possible.
From Mr Sakana who arranged my accommodation in Ifakara health Institute guest house, to Joyce at TTCIH who allowed me to rest in the cool air conditioned reception hall to use the internet to upload pictures and progress reports to Face Book. And not forgetting Francis who made sure I got on the correct train as there is a city commuter train that now runs from the main station (!) and Chris, who made sure I didn’t get run down on the wild wild roads of Dar es Salaam.
Our goal for next time is to buy 200 mosquito bed nets and provide uniforms for 50 children starting primary school. Bring on the next trip…
Are you interested in joining us on our next 18- 21 days voluntary mission to Ifakara, Tanzania? If so, read more about the itinerary you can expect.