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Daily Life in Karatu

As a medical volunteer, I worked six days a week in the hospital. Part of our spare time was giving a final touch to the home-made presentations we were supposed to give to the local medical crew, which proved to be a nice mutual learning opportunity.

This means that apart from a four day safari, my life was basically happening in and around Karatu. One of the most regular trips I made was to the bank. It took me two weeks to find an ATM in which my cards actually worked, and in the meantime I got to know all possible errors: from machines being out of order, through machines rejecting my cards all the way up to machines swallowing my cards. There’s never a dull moment in Tanzania ;-).

​​Every wednesday evening, there was a meeting of expats at Happy Days. I remember radiologist Alex showing us all sorts of spectacular MRI images on his phone one evening, giving us a crash course in radiology while we were enjoying the local Kilimanjaro and Safari beers.

Personally, I preferred to and actually did spend most of my time after shifts with the locals at more local places. I liked the regular walk from the hospital site to downtown Karatu in the afternoon sun, enjoying nice fresh juices at lodges, having a coffee at road side coffee places or chewing on a corncob. After some time, the local kids apparently had gotten so used to me passing by that they even stopped shouting mzungu (‘white person’).

In town, you regularly come across other volunteers from the region, and you easily connect with them since you’re both wondering what this other white person is doing here.

On a sunday, one of the nurses I loved to work with invited me to the local catholic church and took me for breakfast and a great lunch at her place, which was a wonderful experience altogether. Other nights, I was invited to other places by other members of the medical staff. Time after time I was welcomed with that great hospitality that is such a wonderful asset of Tanzanian culture.

Some nights we would simply be too tired to leave the hospital site at all, and would enjoy some good veranda-meetings, full of bounding and storytelling. On one of those nights we were all set to witness a special sky phenomenon: a lunar eclipse and a blue moon at the same time. Unfortunately, some clouds decided otherwise and messed up our lunar party.

A final outing I would like to add, took me to the African Gallery, which is probably the biggest art gallery in all of Tanzania. Most safari and tourist trips will make a stop here and offer their guests an opportunity to collect souvenirs. The collection is huge, with art from several African countries, and prices were equally impressive (although I must say that they are generous to FAME volunteers in offering a reduction). The advantage of the gallery is that prices are fixed: what you see is what you pay, so that you don’t need to enter into an endless game of bargaining.

Although I was impressed by the business concept and admire the successful formula, I decided not to buy anything. I like to buy closer to the source and support smaller business, and besides, I couldn’t even take along extra luggage. Moreover, I decided that above all, I simply didn’t need any extra souvenirs; my best souvenirs from Tanzania are my good memories, and those had already been carved into my heart forever.

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