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Tanzania: a Face Wash for Your Senses

I remember hearing a conversation between two American ladies in KIA lodge. One of them was calling home to report that she had lost a suitcase during their flight. While recalling the important items (that, lucky enough, had not been packed in that suitcase), she mentioned having lost her “face wash”. I really had to restrain myself from laughing out loud. Why the heck, I thought, would you care about your face wash in a country where many live on (or over) the poverty line?

I would remember these girls later on during my stay, when walking on dusty roadsides, sitting on the backs of motorbikes or simply making a short walk through town. In the dry season, it really can be dusty in Tanzania, and then there’s the black soot ejected by the many old vehicles. Every night, I had to tackle the dirt on my face with cotton and, yes, face wash, leaving the white cotton brown and black. Cleaning the inside of my nose also became daily routine, and I decided to simply stop thinking about what might be piling up in my lungs. It wasn’t exactly a surprise to learn that pneumonia is among the top reasons for hospital admissions in Tanzania.

One Sunday morning, I went for a walk around the FAME territory. Distracted by goats near the roadside, the beautiful flora and fauna, coffee plantations, insects in my hair, women working in the field, kids walking on the road… I had somehow left the road and got sort of lost. I started crossing the agricultural land, trying to excuse myself in my best Swahili to those working there for trespassing on their territory. I found myself climbing slopes with the sun burning in my neck, trying to make my way through bushes, getting stuck in a flock of cattle and talking hands and feet with locals in an effort to find my way back to FAME.

Contrary to what you might be thinking right now, I was enjoying the adventure. The scenery was beautiful and the puzzled looks in the eyes of the people I met made me smile. “What is this crazy white lady doing here?”, those eyes seemed to say. Well, that was exactly the question I was asking myself.

When I eventually got back, I could do with a lunch. With the other volunteers, volunteer coordinator Alex, dr. Frank and mama Susan, we headed for Gibbs Farm, which is at the slope opposite to FAME.

Gibbs Farm is known among expats for its 15-dollar-unlimited-buffet-lunch on Sundays. The contrast between my morning wanderings and Gibbs Farm could not have been any bigger; from the mud houses to this luxury. I felt (and still feel) uneasy about the big differences in Tanzania between rich and poor, between those who have, and those who don’t. As a white person, you automatically belong to those who have. Even if you are living on a minimal income back home, you are still seen as rich here.

From our table we could see FAME in the distance. The daily worries about patients and the stress felt far away. Artists were working on paintings and kids were playing around. When I went for another plate of food, dr. Frank started wondering about my appetite. Little did he know that it came from my morning adventures.

In Tanzania, I generally tried to avoid the typical expat places, as I greatly prefer to mingle with local people in local places. I must admit however, that Gibbs Farm stole my heart. If not for the food and the great design of the restroom, then for the gorgeous view and the stunning setting, far away from the dust and noise of town, amid singing birds, beautiful flowers, and with absolutely amazing herb and vegetable gardens (with which I really fell in love).

Gibbs Farm promotes itself on its website as a sanctuary for the senses, and it is. But the whole of Tanzania is something else; it is a vibrant cocktail of beauty and rawness, of serenity and noise, of enormous wealth and deep poverty, that can shake you to the core and uncovers what really matters. Tanzania is a face-wash for your senses.

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