28 October 2009

kilimanjaro, moshi and arusha

Our first view of the famous Mount Kilimanjaro, affectionately referred to as the "roof of Africa," caused both my partner and me to gasp. Driving up from Dar, we had seen the flat land become increasingly hilly, and the moment before we spied Kili, we had been looking at what we thought were fairly large brown and green mountains on either side of the road.

We passed through forests, as well, where we saw this (blurry) baboon, staring us down:

We had gotten used to the landscape and were feeling sleepy from the long (twelve-hour) ride when we heard someone say "Kilimanjaro," instantly snapping us back to life. Aside from being Africa's tallest mountain, Kili is also one of the only snow-covered mountains on the equator.

When we looked out the window and saw the mountain in the distance, it was a blue-purple color, its snow-covered peak clear in the blue sky, and it towered above the brown and green mountains, making them look more like anthills in comparison. It really was majestic. And we were lucky to see the peak, as people can stay in the area for a month and only see clouds at Kili's summit.

For the privilege of climbing Kili, you will need a minimum of US$800 (per person) and a week to climb up and down the mountain-- and plenty of waterproof, warm weather clothing. And good boots. We don't have any gear or warm clothes (and didn't feel like spending that much money or time) this trip, so we aren't trekking up up Kili this time. Maybe on our next visit.

Instead, we spent our money eating our way through Moshi and Arusha, the two larger towns in the area, and got to visit some more health care facilities in some of the nearby towns and villages. It has been nice traveling with a non-touristic goal and meeting some pretty extraordinary doctors and nurses in the process.

My partner and I are working on a chapter for a global health textbook, and I discovered in our research that the average Tanzanian makes 70,000 Tanzanian shillings per month-- about US$47. And you read that correctly-- that's $47 per month.

I was shocked-- and it really put things in perspective. I thought our hotel room (with a bathroom but no toilet seat) was cheap at about $19 a night. But instead of European and American backpackers, it's filled with Kenyan and Tanzanian businesspeople. I realize now that we'd use up a typical month's salary in less than three nights here.

As with many things Tanzanian, old and new collide. Here is a view from our hotel room:

And this is fairly representative of the area. There are shiny new buildings covered in reflective glass being erected next to wobbly shacks and tiny storefronts.

We've become breakfast buddies with a Kenyan man here for an HR training who is from the same region of the country as President Obama. He said that everyone from their area has a last name that starts with O. I thought that was pretty cool.

He asked us if the U.S. was really the land of opportunity, and my partner and I looked at each other, unsure of how to answer such a big question. As we hemmed and hawed, he said that it seemed like, in America, everyone feels like they can do anything. And I agreed-- there is an attitude of possibility, and we are so lucky to be part of that culture.

He explained that in Kenya, if you're not from the right tribe, it doesn't matter how smart you are or how skilled you are-- you will not even be considered for a position. In Tanzania, where there are over 120 different tribes, harmony and hakuna matata really are a way of life. And it's all thanks to Nyerere. Pretty amazing.

And speaking of our breakfast buddy, another great thing about almost all accommodation in Tanzania: breakfast is included, and you usually get some fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, banana and watermelon, so far), bread with butter and jelly, and (delicious) Tanzanian milk tea. If you're lucky, you may also get an egg or two, and if you're really lucky, you may get crepes. Yum.

So, we're leaving Arusha now and going to visit some of the national parks. Up next: our wildlife report.