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The Road to Fame

Leaving KIA lodge behind, it turned out to be the perfect weather for my first drive into Tanzania. Under a clouded sky, with the sun occasionally coming through, we first hit the road to Arusha, an urban hub with a lot of chaotic traffic and even more air pollution. I had stocked up bottles of water and something to eat at Amsterdam Airport, so I didn’t feel the need to jump out the car at the local market and stash up on survival rations. Perhaps I should have, because later I realised that I wasn’t used to having my own driver and had forgotten to bring him a bite. I had been so eager to continue the trip and finally see something of the countryside, I hadn’t thought about it.

On leaving Arusha, sirenes told us to make way for something that turned out to be a military convoy: a series of open trucks with soldiers jumping up and down, waving their rifles like war had just broken out. Charles, my driver, was quick in explaining me not to worry, because this regularly happens since there is a prison closeby. I’m not sure if there was an outbreak or a riot in the prison, but I suddenly felt better about the Tanzanian habit of always locking your car on the inside while on the road (something I wasn’t really comfortable with at first). It wouldn’t be the last time that I caught myself being a bit carefree and naive in my way of living, having grown up in a society were many structures are somehow still based on trust and a certain security and safety.

I knew Tanzania from pictures and documentaries, and from the satellite images I use in my volunteer work in humanitarian mapping. Now however, I was going to get the real feel of it, and I couldn’t wait. During the four-hour drive to Karatu, I felt like a sponge, trying to absorb every detail of what I saw and heard. A fascinating and colorful variety of people, vehicles, economic activities, cattle (alive and dead) and natural sceneries passed before my eyes, as if I had become part of a spectacular road movie. Somehow, the long drive was like a smooth landing on a long runway ending at home.

We made a short stop at Mto wa Mbu village (which literally means ‘Mosquito River village’). It is located in the center of all the big national parks in the north of Tanzania, which makes it an ideal base for tourists. Originally, the area was inhabited by the Maasai, but the current inhabitants of Mto wa Mbu belong to no less than 120 tribes. The area is known for growing more than thirty species of bananas so we got a bundle of those.

I also learned that before making another stop, I would be wise to consider closing my windows first… In no time, I found a couple of beautiful hands inside the car offering me all sorts of interesting necklaces at even more “interesting” prices. The vendors proved smart, by the way, because they could immediately tell that I came from Holland. Oh, and as a bonus, closing your windows helps to keep the baboons at bay: those animals really are nosy parkers and bold as brass. Before embarking on the final stage of our drive, Charles pulled over at a viewpoint that offered a great view of Lake Manyara National Park, which is known to be the stopping place of many migrating birds and the home of, among other species, a large population of flamingos.

It was about lunch time when we finally arrived in Karatu. Once, it was an insignificant village, but due to tourism, it has developed into a small town. Being located close to the Ngorongoro crater makes it an ideal safari town. Having left the paved main road behind, a long, dusty and bumpy sand road led us to our destination: FAME Medical Hospital, located in a stunning natural scenery.

Arriving at the volunteer house, I found out it was everything but what I expected. In preparatory documents, I had been warned about primitive conditions deprived of all luxury Western people are used to. However, what I found was a lovely beautifully located accommodation that surely meets the standards of any comfortable lodge. Okay, I basically had to take cold showers all the time due to my bad timing of showering, but you won’t hear me complaining about that, as I was happy to have a private bathroom at all. I was more than ready and very excited to explore the hospital site. More on that later, so stay tuned!

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