Sleeping in Arusha, and more specifically in Njiro, where Leonard and Pendo live, is an adventure of unknown sounds for those who have not spent the night here on a regular basis. OK, perhaps the dogs barking through the night may be something heard worldwide, but here, everyone has a dog, or even more likely, dogs, whose job it is to remain out of sight during the day and to roam the walled property (everyone here must have walls around their home for security and gates to enter) during the night looking for intruders. Of course, that is not a common occurrence at all, but the dogs don’t know. Several times a night, we are serenaded by a cacophony of barking dogs as they practice for that rare time that some may try to enter, and though it may never occur during their lifetime, they are ready and waiting. Pet dogs that are part of the family do not exist here and, for the most part, they are not friendly. The other sounds through the night are less familiar to probably 95% of those back home and, I suspect, all of the readers of this blog.
If you’ve grown up with that illusion that roosters somehow only crow when the sun is coming up, you’re sadly mistaken, at least for the population that lives here in East Africa. They crow all morning long, usually several hours prior to the sunrise, and although not at all unpleasant to the ear, they are not something that we’re used to hearing during our deepest of sleep such that they often manage to break up your dreams at the most inopportune times. And then there is the call to prayer that, depending on your proximity to the mosque or one of the loudspeakers, will also be loud enough to awaken you from your slumber at least once during the morning. Today, I believe that occurred at approximately 4:38 am, or thereabouts. Despite these oft somewhat annoying interruptions to your rest, though, it is usually, at least for me, not difficult to fall back asleep give the otherwise pitch black and restful nature of this place. When the sun goes down, everything is the blackest of black and, other than the moon, there are few lights to be seen. Far different than home in Philadelphia, where the PECO building (our electric company) is partially visible through my windows with its bring moving messages all night long.
As the four residents were arriving around 7:40 am, we’d have to leave Arusha to pick them up rather early. Of course, having some tea before we left was crucial and thankfully, there was a batch made up in the house quite early and ready for us to drink prior to our departure. The drive to the airport is mostly a pleasant one, at least on the bypass around Arusha, for once on the main highway across Northern Tanzania, which is a mere one lane in each direction, it can be a slow trip with the numerous trucks who slow to a snail’s pace on those numerous uphill sections of these roads that have no passing lanes. Added to that the 80 kph speed limit slowing to 50 kph (32 mph!) through the numerous towns, makes for drive that can be frustrating for those in a hurry, which is never a good thing here and a recipe for a lesson in futility. If one plotted out the frequency of which I received citations from the traffic police here, it has dropped precipitously since the time I finally came to terms with this fact. Having written about these experiences in the past, I won’t belabor it any further to say that I have now become Zen with the schedule here and it has done wonders. The sooner once accepts “Africa time” the happier one will be.
Having left later than I had planned, we still reached the airport with plenty of time to spare as the group had to go through the entire process that we had the day before – COVID test, immigration, luggage and customs – which, for a large jet and tiny airport, is often not something that is a model of efficiency. With that being said, though, I will have to give much credit to the authorities here as they do move a great number of people through a rather complicated process in less time than one would imagine. Our four residents finally emerged from the exit, a place where I’ve waited on so many occasions over the years, with the expected awe and excitement for having arrived after such long flights to this unknown continent. That is, at least for three of the four, as Peter had been her before in 2018 as a medical student with me and was now returning as a resident. None of the other three had ever been to Africa before and, despite their jet lag after over 24 hours of having left the US, were excitedly taking it all in. The majority of the passengers arriving here are meeting up with their tour companies, ready to head out on safari or to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro over the next weeks. I remember so well the same event for me back in 2009, having arrived for our safari with my two grown children, not realizing that it would change my life forever and send me down a path that would lead to my returning now a total of 24 additional times and considering it my other home.
A visit to Pendo’s, even one that is merely to regroup and pack the vehicle, can never be truly short as they will always involve a meal. Visiting a home in Tanzania and not being served food is something that is unheard of and it can be no more evident as our visits in Arusha with the Temba family. Prior to the pandemic, the flight schedule was such that we would arrive late in the afternoon with not enough time to travel to FAME as it is extremely dangerous to drive at night here due to accidents and animals on the road. Pendo would put our entire group up in their home for the night, serve us a fantastic home-cooked dinner that night, and see us off the following morning. The flight schedules have changed now and we arrive early in the morning with plenty of time to make it to FAME, but a stop at their home is still required both to get organized and to allow them to meet everyone. The three of us who arrived yesterday did stay with them last night and had a wonderful dinner, but she would make sure that everyone was well fed this morning and would have the opportunity to experience the true hospitality that is so essential to their culture here in East Africa.
Our breakfast was comprised of eggs, sausage, incredibly delicious fried potatoes and onions, pancakes, toast, fresh papaya and watermelon, spiced tea and fresh mango/watermelon juice. To say it was one of the most incredible breakfast spreads I have seen would be an understatement. After the long flights and the inflight meals, which by the way are very good on Qatar Airways, we were all so incredibly pleased to sit down to such a wonderful meal and it was a fitting beginning to everyone’s visit here in Tanzania.
After breakfast, though, it was time to hit the road and the rest of our luggage was shoe-horned into Turtle with just enough space for the seven of us. There was one little cubby remaining in the back corner of the vehicle and Peter volunteered for the job having been here before and seen the sights of the drive to FAME. The drive takes us through some incredibly picturesque countryside as we travel out of Arusha and into the regions of Tanzania that are dominated by the Maasai with their bomas (homes) and their herds of livestock easily visible across the landscape. The Maasai lead a pastoral existence that centers around their animals – cattle, sheep and goats – that are grazed throughout the land, often traveling miles in search of grasses on which to feed. Watering holes can be seen throughout at this time of year while in the dry months it can be a long walk to find them.
We travel west for some distance until we reach the Great Rift Valley, a geologic formation that cuts diagonally from north to south across East Africa with its many lakes and volcanic activity that is the essence of this region and comes to define it. It is also the cradle of mankind as I have spoken of on many occasions and will probably mention again in the coming blogs. We depart from Makuyuni and in a short time descend down to Lake Manyara, famous as the location of Hemmingway’s The Green Hills of Africa, written in the 1930’s about a rhino hunt with his wife. Sadly, there are no longer rhinos in this region, having been overhunted and now gone for probably 40 years. They still exist in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, but are no longer seen outside these parks. We then travel from the bottom of the valley, up and up until we reach the escarpment and then travel higher to the Ngorongoro Highlands alongside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where the crater exists (more about that later).
We arrive to FAME, so familiar to me and my home, and it is incredible to be back here. It will be new for four of my fellow visitors and the second trip for two of them, Peter and Whitley. Meredith, Savannah, Natalie and Alex, though, have never been here before and about to have the experience of a lifetime. One that is so full in ways far beyond the medicine that we’ll practice and teach. For it is the Tanzania people who make this place so special in ways that are beyond words. There is such a beauty and warmth in everyone here that glows in ways so rarely seen. That is why I am here and why I continue to come back again and again, though at times I wonder where my true home lies, here or America. That is a question that remains unanswered and a problem that I am grateful to have.