Spending the day getting acquainted with Mwanza was a great decision. Only Day 2 and we have learned much more Swahili, some slang, and now understand a bit more about the geography of Mwanza. This area is filled with large, enveloping rocks and hills, with houses built into the rock, scaling up the mountains.
Our day began with the morning azan prayer at 5am, when all of us were awoken and watched the sunrise. We made scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast as a team, and called my uncle’s friend, Nafisa, for a quick driving tour. She took us from our apartment towards the town, and then all the way into the hills to view the city and Lake Victoria from Capri Point, and then to the Malaika hotel to look at the beach. We spent the drive in awe of the adamant financial disparity between the town, which has mainly small buildings and is bustling with people and small businesses, and in the hills, which is quiet, serene, and littered with mansions. It is clear that the houses in the hills are for “the rich”, as Nafisa said, which is comprised of mainly mzungus (foreigners) or very well-off Tanzanians. We even saw the President’s house and the house of the owner of Malaika Hotel, both of which were massive and spanned more area than some entire streets in town.
As we were driving towards Malaika Beach, a gigantic crane-looking bird sat along the side of the road. We asked Nafisa what the bird was, and immediately following her response of “I don’t know”, the bird flew straight into our car windshield and we ended up hitting it! Everyone was yelling and ducking, but both the bird and the car escaped uninjured! It was a funny experience for our first real day in Mwanza.
After we returned to our apartment, Maimuna and a Mikono Yetu Intern named Steph, who is completing her PhD and is from Canada, greeted us! It was great to finally meet Maimuna, and she seems as inspiring and knowledgeable as we knew she would be. Maimuna had to leave to visit the Research Institute, so Steph took us on a walking tour of the area. We found out that our apartment is in a location only 10 minutes walking to town centre, and we visited the U-Turn Grocery Store, which is known as the “American” store. We also visited a small café that Steph referred to as “Amy’s”. This café was nothing more than a couple of plastic chairs at a few tables, but was quaint. Steph translated for us, and we ended up getting ugali (a traditional paste made of flour and water), spinach curry, and fish! The fish came in its entirely, and we had to pick the meat away from the bones and head. It was initially overwhelming as it’s not something normally seen in Canada, but the fish was incredible!
Following lunch, Steph invited us to join her and some other expatriates at Tilapia hotel for drinks and to watch the sunset. We began the long walking journey towards Tilapia, through which many Tanzanians jeered at us, called us mzungu, stared, or just simply said Mambo or Poa to greet us. People did not mean any harm when they called out to us, which is something I have both learned from these past few days and from my past experiences with Tanzania and its culture.
At Tilapia, Steph introduced us to Helen, who works at a charity community center, and Brenda, a teacher at the Mwanza International School. I had an incredible time enjoying our drinks and chatting in English with people from around the world. These girls were so carefree with their time and their future, and I was inspired to see the difference in how these girls treated their futures compared to what is normally taught in Canada.
I’ve always known that I wanted to help people and travel simultaneously, but I’ve only recently understood my passion for Global Health. I never believed that I would be able to be successful while also being financially stable if I were to travel and work worldwide helping people. However, Helen told us that she quit her job today, and remained so calm at the instability of her future. She told us she would go back to the UK for a few months, work a temporary job to make some money, and return and start her own charity. Brenda mentioned she would go home soon too, but before that, spend an indefinite amount of time travelling in Turkey. Steph finishes her internship tomorrow, and because she doesn’t need to return to Canada until September, plans to travel around Europe an Africa house-sitting (for free!) until she has to return home. Listening to both their future goals and past stories, I understood that these girls had no clear path, and instead lived a life in the moment, travelling and experiencing different cultures and ways of living.
These whimsical plans had me awestruck, as I’d never considered living life on the go, without a long-term place to call home. In Canada, it is taught that you attend school, go to university, and acquire a job that in many cases, confines you to a desk, or a city at least. It is also taught to have a plan for future, and stick to it with minimal changes. I was inspired by both the altruistic nature of these expats, but also their ability to remain calm and confident despite a clear future ahead. It makes me wonder if I have the possibility to do the same in the future, to prioritize travelling and addressing global health disparities in the same way that these new friends do. My future seems more exciting now that I am aware of some of the career opportunities available for likeminded individuals who want to travel and see the world.
Despite it only being Day 2, I have gained a profound love for Mwanza, a better understanding of basic Swahili, and a deep excitement for the coming days!