Finally, into Africa

Back in Auckland, it used to make my day when someone would shout "hey you're Kim Vinnell from Breakfast with Paul Henry!" Despite the fact I only spent six months on Breakfast, Paul Henry was long gone, and the shouter was usually a drunken old man on Queen Street, it was the sneakiest little ego boost.

In Africa, I stand out in the "only white girl in the village" kind of way. But it's not a novelty here. After a few days, I'm just another whitey trying to do something good in a foreign place.

Here's a bit more background...


Now, after months of planning, several weeks of broken sleep and many reassure-the-parents coversations... I'm in my new home country, Tanzania.

Twenty-six hours of flying down, and with one more hour to go, I sat in Nairobi airport seriously questioning my decision to leave New Zealand. The smell of my fellow (mostly unwashed) passengers reminded me of a few realities of living in Africa. Hot showers are a rarity, personal space is non-existent, and I'm far, far away from any of the luxuries you're used to.

I used the flight time to practise my Swahili, but was unsure when it was appropriate to try it out. I didn't want to look like an idiot, but I reeeaaally wanted to know whether the words I'd been learning on the page work in real life. 

"Habari za asubuhi?" I asked the flight attendant (my language book tells me that means "how are you this morning?"), but I was met with a blank stare. I pretended not to be embarrassed and quickly switched to English, which, thankfully, she spoke. I wish I had taken a second language at school - surely it would make this whole learning Swahili thing a lot easier.

Arriving, it's hot like I remember, and dusty. But Tanzania feels much safer than Kenya... and on the drive from the big city of Arusha to my new home, Babati, I only see a few guys with guns.

A two-hour drive later, we reach Babati village, my new hometown. Village really is the word for it: it spreads out from two tar-sealed roads that are a thoroughfare for those going to the political capital, Dodoma. It's exactly what you picture when you think of East Africa: mud huts, thatched roofs, red earth and mostly very poor people.

In case you're still struggling to picture it all.. here's me on one of the main streets (trying to take a photo quickly before people start asking me questions in Swahili that I don't understand).

But though this place couldn't be further (or more different) from home, I reckon the experiences are universal. Feeling out of place, being the new guy, making an idiot of yourself in front of a stranger (Nesi, the airline attendant, can vouch for my experience of that), or the feeling of pride when you overcome a challenge (my first challenge is to order a cold drink - cold drinks here are a weird white-person thing).

So dear readers, I'm going to do my best to paint a picture of life in Tanzania.. ask me your questions, give me your advice. But let's make this a two-way street - you are, after all, my connection to home!

I'm in Babati for a few days, then am off on a media trip with Oxfam to West Africa. Will post again soon (provided we can find reliable internet there!)

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