9. Impressions of Tanzania – there is always a different way of doing things

If you have been following my blog so far you will know the preparation for my trip to Mount Kilimanjaro started over a year ago. In January 2014 I announced to a surprised and probably somewhat sceptical group of managers on a training course that I would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2015. At that stage I had no idea if this would come true or not, but by making the public commitment I greatly increased the chance of it happening.

And in late January, true to my word, I set off for a trip of a lifetime with my friend Jonathan. In addition to Kilimanjaro we had also arranged to spend a few days in Tanzania prior to the climb. This was to see the wonderful wildlife and to sample some of the culture of the country. As well as plenty of clothes, plenty of gluten-free food (thanks, Eva), plenty of protein shake (thanks, Alison), I also took with me the good wishes and encouragement of many.

I am pleased to report that at approx. 7.30am on Friday 6th February 2015 Jonathan and I both reached the Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. At 5,895m this is the highest point on the Africa continent and is sometimes described as the Roof of Africa. It was the hardest challenge of my life, and I think I have learned a few lessons on the trip. I hope to share these with you over the next few weeks by keeping you interested, amused and engaged by my tale. I am sure that you will stop reading if I don’t!

So, my first impressions of Tanzania. Wow! What a culture shock. I have travelled a little in Europe and in North America, but nothing prepared me for the way of life in Tanzania. Tanzania is a poor country. Its latest GDP per head was $630, placing it within the bottom 25 countries in the world. More than half of its population are employed in agricultural production – many of them in subsistence farming. Life expectancy – 61 (which is a sobering thought for a fifty-something year old). However, by other measures, it is country of riches. It has had a stable government since independence in the 1960s and a multi-party democracy since 1995. Its wildlife is second to none and it has been acclaimed as one of the happiest countries in the world.

There is so much I could write but I will pull out just a few points:

  • Lots of people in the town and villages, with hundreds – perhaps thousands – of small shops and businesses lining the main roads. People are not working in large building (factories, offices etc.). Instead they are working in very small-scale operations.
  • Various modes of transport, from cycles and motorbikes (LOTS of motorbikes) – all of which seemed to be carrying impossibly large loads – to small motorised taxis, to small vans masquerading as buses and even a few buses! Transport to suit your earnings – and plenty of people walking too!
  • Few multi-story buildings, even in the towns. In fact we passed many half-built buildings. At first I thought these were ruins – buildings on their way out. It turns out to be the opposite – they were work-in-progress. When people get a little wealth they often invest in (literally) bricks and mortar, to replace their wooden or sheet-metal houses. They start to build a house, and this often takes years to complete. No big house-building companies here or pretty show-homes on new estates. Here you build your own, as and when you can afford to do so.
  • Predominance of mobile phones. Practically every other shop, out of the many, many we passed on our travels, were advertising for Vodaphone, Airtel or other mobile services. We asked why so many, and the answer is that phones are generally cheap models, run on a pay-as-you-go basis. And people often can only afford to put the equivalent of a dollar or 50 cents credit on the phone at any one time. The numerous stores thus service the huge market of regular users with low transaction values.

Above all, my impression was one of bustle, vibrancy, even a little chaos. But it works! The Tanzanians are participating in the modern world in a very different way to you and me. But it is a way that works for them.

And this is my lesson – Lesson No.9 – There is always a different way of doing things. Be flexible and adjust to the circumstances in which you find yourself. If you can’t change the world, change yourself. Do what it takes. That’s what the Tanzanians do.

Next week I will tell you about a very special place, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater. It has wildlife in abundance, but in a very unusual setting. And it made me think about the ‘setting’ in which we all live.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s