By Aurore Laborie
The bright sun greeted us as soon as we stepped off the plane, a blessing compared to Reims weather. We’d landed at the Kilimanjaro Airport, close to Arusha, one of the biggest cities in the country. It was small and resembled Clermont Ferrand – Auvergne airport, the one I used to arrive at when I came home from the United States. Oddly, I felt a sense of déjà-vue. As explained in my previous article, I went to Tanzania with the goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest summit on the African continent. I had never been to Africa before and was very excited to discover a new continent.
Tanzania was born out of the fusion of the Tanganyika territory with the archipelago of Zanzibar in 1964. It has large Christian and Muslim populations. On the streets, one can observe a veiled woman talking to another woman with a prominent cross around her neck. The country also has many tribes, the most well-known being the Masai tribe. However, they are quite discrete and are rarely seen in cities like Arusha or Moshi, which are the only cities I visited.
It is a country that works well on its own with tourism. Most tourists visit the country in order to go on a safari in one of its many parks. Others are hikers wishing to climb the summit of Africa. I didn’t get to see much of the country, since it is almost twice the size of California, besides the six days I spent on the mountain and the one in a safari around Arusha. I may not have spent that much time in local Tanzania but what I can say however is that Tanzanian women are beautiful. They wear bright colored dresses, and always look so fresh, as if they were going to a party of some sort. Even little girls play in the dirt filled streets with the most beautiful dresses. By contrast, most boys wear trousers, and normal clothing. As we observed them the kids would wave at us as we passed them in safari trucks. I remember one time, our truck stopped because some of our bags were falling from the roof, and this woman came out of her house and told us we were welcomed in. Her smile was genuine.
The few parts I saw of the country were very flat, just a bit hilly, and very green. Tanzania has a rainy season during the summer and a small rainy season in December so the land is very fertile and good for agriculture. Then you have the Kilimanjaro, a former volcano that rises out of nowhere in the middle of these flat lands. It is this contrast that makes the mountain so impressive when looked at through the lens of a camera.
Since Tanzania was a former British mandate, cars have the steering wheel on the left side just like in Great Britain. Consequently, Tanzania was also my first time driving on the wrong side of the road. Our lodge’s access road was on one side of a highway, and we were on the other side. An opening led to the other side, and we drove on the road with cars driving towards us. It lasted about 5 minutes. I think I closed my eyes the whole time. The main roads are in perfect shape, in better shape than American roads I’d even say, however, side roads are muddy and filled with potholes. Driving in Tanzania is a fascinating experience. You pass wedding processions on the side of the road or children herding mules and cows. A few times, I saw small shops selling bed frames and furniture piled outside in the middle of the street. Buildings are mostly small houses made up of building blocks, and sometimes you’ll see some with a first and second floor. Cities bustle with traffic and ambulant merchants. You can hear music, sometimes a voice yelling through a microphone in Swahili, and people chatting on the side of the road while waiting for their motorcycle taxis.
My most vivid memory of this beautiful country was the safari we did as soon as we stepped off the plane. We had the typical land rover trucks and the roof opened so we could stand up with our heads sticking outside. The scenery was stunning. We crossed jungles that were home to Tanzanian blue monkeys; great planes with antelopes, warthogs, zebras and giraffes; and lakes with flamingos. Slowly, with the truck raising dust around us, we passed the animals from afar. It was a peaceful ride. The gentle rocking of the truck, the chirping of the birds and the long plane trip gradually lulled me to sleep.My sister would wake me everytime they caught a glimpse of an animal. It was a lucky thing that I fell asleep around the end of the trip.
My first glimpse at Tanzania is full of vibrant colors, trees, a mountain, animals and smiles. It is a welcoming country as seen in its ‘Kilimanjaro song’: “Wageni, mwakaribishwa“ (Foreigners, you’re welcome). I hope to come back soon to visit more, to hear “Jambo!” (hello) as soon as I step off the plane, and to be able to answer “Jambo bwana, habari gani?” (hello Sir how are you?), because, yes, I took some Swahili lessons from my Kilimanjaro guides and in turn taught them that Mont Blanc is not the only mountain France has, and that the Plomb du Cantal (in Auvergne) happens to resemble their beloved Kilimanjaro since it is also an ancient volcano. In this, they will remember this tiny French girl who kept telling them this famous Auvergne proverb: La France c’est l’Auvergne avec de la terre autour!