Venturing into the world of Tanzania.

I recently sat down with Bryn Williams who participated on a 3 month project in the rural village of Kalalo, Tanzania. He did this with Raleigh International, in partnership with ICS (International Citizen Service). After completing a degree in Disaster Management at Coventry University, he wanted to witness and participate first hand in sustainable development works in developing countries. Here is what his adventure entailed…

What were the living conditions like?

They were very different to the UK, much more basic. Most buildings were mud brick, with different buildings for the separate rooms (eg. the kitchen would typically be a separate building to keep the smoke away from bedrooms). Toilets were either long-drops or occasionally ceramic squat basins and located further away from houses for hygiene reasons. The houses were always so clean, spotless inside and regularly swept outside.

What were the first differences you noticed when arriving there.

The toilets were definitely a bit of a shock at first but you got used to that fairly quickly. I would say the variety food (or lack of variety) was the most contrasting thing to life in the UK. In rural Tanzania you eat to sustain, so therefore there is little difference in what you eat from day to day. Typically it would be largely ugali (maize flour and boiling water mixed into a dough-like substance, no taste) cooking bananas or rice with boiled beans. Meat and fish were rare but accessible, and fruit was in readily available but the vast majority were sold to towns and cities.

Another difference that took a while to adjust to was the remoteness of the village. A 10 minute drive down a bumpy dirt/stone road meant cars were seldom, maybe you’d 1 or 2 a week. The village was kept alive by ‘piki-pikis’ (motorbikes) which were much more mobile and reliable. Other than that walking was the only way of getting around, and between villages it would take hours. This meant trade and communication between villages were not as efficient as they could be.

What did your work entail whilst you were out there?

We had one main project and a few secondary projects to keep us more than busy. The main project was to teach entrepreneurship and business skills to the youth (18-35 years old). The target we shared with the Ministry of Youth was to get 30 people signed up to the lessons, with 20 finishing the 8 week course. The planning and carrying out the lessons would take around half of our ‘working day’ (9am-4pm) so there was quite a bit of time to carry out secondary projects. These were decided in village after a needs assessment – called a baseline survey – was undertaken. Our team’s projects were first aid, nutrition and litter – mainly the environmental and social impacts litter can have on a community. Towards the end of our time there we also taught English to the people who had completed the course.

What did the nutrition classes entail as there is a limited choice of food?

There was everything in the village to have a balanced diet, however the importance of vitamins, minerals and fat were not widely known. Through the use of pie charts we were able to communicate easily with people to show how much of each food group should be consumed per meal/per day. I would say this was one of our most effective projects as we saw a dramatic increase in the amount of fruit that was eaten within some households, albeit only those we had close connections with.

Did you communicate with the village through translators?

There were probably around 4/5 people from the village who had good levels of English, the rest spoke only Swahili & their local language Nyakyusa. Our team had our 7 Tanzanian volunteers who could all speak decent levels of English – some better than me! – so we did have to rely on them to mediate between languages. They were always happy to and I have so much respect for the other volunteers because it’s unbelievably tiring and it’s not their main role but seemed to take up a lot of time. Fortunately after getting to know the villagers who spoke English we could rely on them a little more to do some of the translation.

Did you learn much Swahili yourself?

I was really eager to learn as much as possible, it made day to day activities so much easier. It also let us speak to the other villagers more and broke down barriers..humanising us. But Swahili is really hard! So I got to basic conversations: greetings, animals, times, places..Knowing prices really helped bring the prices down for goods at the market. Showing people you were trying to engage in their language was a sign of respect.

Watching the Lion King was the perfect training! All of the names mean something in Swahili – Simba is Lion, Rafiki is friend etc.. we managed to watch it once out there. I didn’t know it yet but that was an absolute dream for me.

Did you have any difficulty adjusting to the Tanzanian culture and lifestyle?

Embracing and living within the culture, for me personally, was not too difficult. Keeping the right mindset when you are in another country or style of life is very important. The most difficult aspect was the communication. Only 6 UK volunteers in the village, with 10-12 other people who can speak English for 3 months.

You develop a bit of cabin fever towards the end. Staying extroverted through the day, day in day out, was difficult but keeping positive was made so much easier by the scenery. Postcard views everywhere you looked and no phone to keep you head down! Not being able to speak to people from home easily made me miss them less to be honest, sorry mum! You could buy local sim cards and put data on them to use Facebook or Whatsapp but only a couple of people did this. Facebook is free to doesn’t use up your data.. which must be some kind of trial they’re doing over there, maybe to get everyone hooked before they start charging!

Do the majority of people have smartphones?

Not the villagers, only a couple of the Tanzanian volunteers who came from the city had smartphones. Most people have phones that do the basics well but not much more. The internet coverage wasn’t very good in the villages so there were only a select number of places around the village you’d get signal.

Do they have internet cafes?

Only in the major cities, so the only time I went to one was when I went to Mbeya, the 5th largest city.

What did you miss the most about England?

A few things, mainly the sport. My weekends at home always involved watching sport. Rugby, football, tennis, I’d watch tiddlywinks if it was on! Not being able to watch it, and having no one to converse with about it was quite hard. Although we did find a house once that had satellite tv and managed to catch the second half of Leicester vs Middlesbrough with 20 other people crammed into this guy’s living room.

The other part would definitely be the variety of food. There was no ‘what shall I have for dinner tonight’ because you knew it was a choice of 3..ugali, bananas or rice. Rice every time for me.

Would you consider living out there?

No living, no. I would more than happily go back out for an extended stay but couldn’t call it my home. I’d probably stay for a year or so then move on to somewhere else, it’s too remote for me.

How long did it take you to get used to staying there? In terms of health care, the food and the change of physical and mental state.

I don’t think I ever got used to the food, although I was a lot more comfortable with it than some others. Some of the people’s bodies rejected carbs so that made it a bit more interesting. For me it was just the lack of choice.

I didn’t have many dealings with the healthcare until the last couple of weeks when a hurt a muscle in my back and it seized up. But the healthcare that Raleigh provide was unparalleled. There was a medic on call 24/7 over the phone, the team leaders had first aid training and there were procedures in place to evacuate people who fell too ill to continue.

Was that just for the Raleigh team or the villagers as well?

No it was just for us. It was really hard seeing people get sick and not be able to help them but that’s not why we were there and we were not qualified doctors. So it’s completely understandable that we can’t, but it does pluck at your moral heartstrings.

That sounds really hard. What was your best experience about going?

I would say, and it’s a massive cliché, but seeing the impact we were making on some people’s lives. The first time I realised this was about 8 weeks in -+when our entrepreneurs were pitching for a low interest loan. Seeing how many people were successful in getting the loans was remarkable. Also we got really good feedback from the pitching panel that all 30 people were showing real promise. As a result, 16 people got loans to help set up new businesses, which is a huge success.

What was the main thing you took from your trip?

How development is constantly changing. Hearing stories from previous Raleigh alumni, team leaders and then seeing some of those methods be less successful and have to change our strategy. Just because something works once doesn’t mean it will work everywhere in the world. You have to be adaptable and responsive to what is around you.

If I was to go and do this myself what would be your advice?

It would definitely be to keep an open mind. There will be many times..each day..where you will be outside your comfort zone. Times when you’re even out of your challenge zone. But you just have to try everything and be free. For example..Tanzanian’s love dancing. Always dancing. I can’t dance, never have and probably never will. But release your inhibitions and just enjoy yourself. The only person you’re affecting is yourself if you close up.

Was it easy to access water whilst you were there?

The water in our village was quite clean as we were the first village from the start of the valley. However we still had to treat it with chlorine tabs or boil it to ensure its safety. Most houses had 1 tap where water would be pulled from springs, it was available on average about a third of the day, 5/6 days a week. So you had to make the most of it and fill buckets when it was available.

Pepsi, 7up and Miranda drinks were accessible everywhere. They were quite cheap..around 30p for a bottle. One of the things I was so impressed with was they way these companies have listened and reacted to the ways communities work to get there products to as many people around the world as possible. Governments and aid agencies could learn a lot from these companies!

Is it easy to recycle?

In a way, no. But that’s because they don’t have a waste culture like the UK. Things get thrown away when all possible uses for it have been exhausted. So there is little to actually recycle. The glass bottles that fizzy drinks come in get collected and shipped back to the factory and reused.

Rubbish would be collected into piles and burnt. This sounds really bad but there was not a huge amount of it and there was no waste management systems in place so the options were limited.

Did that not make the village quite dusty and polluted?

Unless it was in rainy season the village was fairly dusty anyway, just from the location. As for pollution there was very little. Yes there was a terrible smell of burning plastic if you stood next to the fire, but in comparison to somewhere like Watford..well there is no comparison. No cars, only a few motorbikes and low levels of electricity, no gas ovens etc means the air quality was incredible. Unless it was dry season, then it was just quite dusty.

It’s crazy to think that we have 3/4 taps all around our houses but this village has maybe 2 between 3 houses. Why do you think people don’t have toilets and sinks like the UK?

Different priorities in life.Because there is not too much disposable income, luxuries like what toilet seat you want to have isn’t something you think about. Size wise Tanzania is about 5 times bigger than the UK but has half the population so everyone is so much more spread out. Therefore getting electricity and water to people is so much harder and less efficient. 

In the bigger cities was there a middle class or was it just the 1% and the rest?

People in the cities were definitely typically richer than those in the more rural area, but having not spent too much time in the cities I can only go on what I saw from the bus, instead of having spoken to people.