Representin’

You are reading the blog of the semi-official Kagera Volunteer Representative. For a while now I have been keeping my nose to the ground when it comes to opportunities for more involvement in the VSO Tanzania Country Office. When our previous Regional Rep finished his placement, I took the chance to make some inquiries. Turns out nobody else was interested, and we have not had any Regional activities since I’ve been here – but I hear stories of Zanzibar volunteers having social/networking meetings poolside, and Dodoma vols had a great weekend in Kibaya checking out the projects there, along with the Maasai culture. I want to make those things happen in Kagera! I want to meet the Karagwe vols; an elusive bunch so far.

It’s not that I’m bored with my placement, or not busy enough. Quite the opposite, in fact, it’s at the point where my timetable starts to fill up that I feel motivated to seek out new projects. There are cool things happening at the VSO office and I want in on them. If I’m going to volunteer for two years, I better come out with something on my CV, and it’s not going to land on my lap. Especially not if my networking is limited to Kamachumu Division….

My inquiries, to the Country Office and some of my fellow Kagera vols, on Monday (Feb 6), were quickly followed up by a suggestion I fill in for Kagera Rep at the Rep meeting on Thursday (Feb 9). By Tuesday evening I had a ticket and Wednesday at 11am I left work and jetted off (in the daladala) to catch my flight. Off to Dar, land of plenty. Well, the Econolodge offers little sign of plenty – and this time I had the wonderful good fortune of being on the sweltering fifth floor (good marathon training aid?).

I got to meet the new intake of 19 volunteers from the Philippines, Kenya, Uganda, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, including two lovely ladies joining us in Kagera. The Rep meeting was great, casual and informative. I learned that I will be the sounding board for all the complaints coming from our 16 or so Kagera vols, some combination of suggestion box, talent scout, social coordinator and meet-and-greet committee. I think it falls under a few VSO dimensions: “Adaptability and Flexibility”, “Commitment to Helping Others”… Man oh man will I ever do well the next time I get interviewed for my soft skills.

Now, I had no intention of turning my Dar trip into a vacation. At best I thought I would be able to buy shaving cream and a decent pillow. But Liesbeth, Rep for Dodoma Region, has the pulse of Tanzania’s cultural scene under her thumb. She informed me that Sauti za Busara, a music festival on Zanzibar, was happening… that very weekend. And that I could probably stay with Winnie, a vol from Uganda.

Never being one to resist peer pressure, off I went to Zanzibar. Best choice ever. I spent $140 over the entire weekend (I’d say that’s pretty damn good for Stone Town, one of the hottest tourist spots in the country). The music was decent, with a few outstanding exceptions: Nneka and Tumi and the Volume were phenomenal. The Sunday evening I danced non-stop and it was the most satisfying thing ever.

Actually, let me take that back. The most satisfying thing ever was what I think of as A Different City (listen to Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica), the feeling of being invisible in a crowd of people. There were so many tourists around, an mshamba* girl from upcountry who could ask to be left alone in Kiswahili was the least of the locals’ concerns. I sat in peace, reading, people-watching, sipping espresso (!!!!), listening to the variety of languages being spoken around me. I watched a boat burning as the sun set over the harbour (until it mysteriously moved away – pretty sure there was a tugboat involved as the entire ass end of the thing was on fire). I watched the local boys do death-defying flips off the jetty. I strolled among the open-air kitchen vendors, with delicious-but-questionable-looking seafood laid out beautifully on their tables. I went for a run with my iPod on and vaguely smiled or waved at people instead of going through the entire greeting sequence. It was like being home except with taarab music and daladalas and way more sweating. Heavenly.

 

*Mshamba (mm-sham-bah): literally, a person who farms. Used as a derogatory term, roughly equivalent to our “ghetto”.

 

 

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