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Brenda’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 14 Jul 2012

Location: Kahama, Tanzania


Yesterday we spent the day winding things up in Rwanda, packing, gathering food for our journey and saying good bye to our friends. It’s always hard, for me, knowing I won’t see these guys for a year or more and for others knowing they will probably never meet again.

We needed to be up at 4:00 am to be at the main bus stop to board at 5. Our good friend Wellars did an amazing job loading our HUGE pile of suitcases and we all managed to squeeze into the van with them. When we got to the bus stop, there were the usual hassles. They wanted to change our tickets, (which would’ve meant one of the smaller vans) they argued about our luggage (which we had clearly discussed when we purchased out tickets,) and of course wanted money. It only took about a ½ hour of haggling and arguing and $26 US to sort out.

The ride to Kahama was my best one yet!! No flat tires, we had plenty of gas and we didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of change buses at the border. We arrived in record time to the Kahama bus station and were met by a big crowd of young men all trying to “help” by grabbing our bags. Everyone was trying to yell louder than the next guy and they tried to determine what we were doing. In the chaos of loading luggage and taking three cabs to the Pineridge, we realized that we were missing one of Denise’s bags. We jumped in a remaining cab and raced back to the station to find the bus had left. A guy from the Taqwa Bus Co. phoned to stop the bus and jumped in the cab with us. We raced through town and down the highway, and found the bus pulled over beside the road. Driving back with our suitcase, the driver told Denise that the fare would be high since he had to break the law to catch the bus. We were just grateful to have the suitcase!

After settling in to our rooms, we went up on the deck for a drink and something to eat. We were soon greeted by Dr. Subi, Dr. Andrew, Jackie (the Education Officer), Mr. Bonda and our friend Daudi. We placed an order for dinner but things quickly changed.
It turns out that Major Matala is retiring and his retirement ceremony was tonight! Dr Subi called Major Matala to tell him I was here and when he spoke to me, he said that he wanted us to come to his ceremony. We had 20 minutes to get ready. The power decided it had been on long enough and shut down leaving us in darkness as we scrambled for flashlights. Sheena, Erin and I raced for our rooms and attempted to get ready in the dark. We had barely unpacked, I had to have a shower, etc. but we managed to do what we needed to. Jackie remarked to Denise that this very important event was by invitation only and even she wasn’t going because she only had an invitation for one and didn’t want to go blog ends here and Sheena will continue with the rest of the night...

Sheena here!

Well, after getting dressed up (which for myself wasn’t very impressive at all) we hopped into the car with Dr. Andrew and went off to the Retirement Party. It was pretty impressive, I must say, with draped fabric and lights and fabric on the tables and chairs and flags on each table. It was in a school building (for rich kids I would think), which was very open to the outside, making us wish we had put on bug spray!

When we first arrived, we were handed skewers of grilled meat and “vegetables” and then went to sit down. If we didn’t feel conspicuous enough there, we seemed to be the only people holding skewers of meat and Dr. Andrew hadn’t even grabbed one for himself either. Anyone who knows me and my picky eating habits will probably be very surprised that I did eat some of the skewer meat, but not shocked at all that it took me an embarrassingly long time to chew it and that I made Erin eat the vegetables and the meat that I thought looked “weird”!

It is hard to describe all that went on at the ceremony. It was very long and involved a lot of dancing! We turned out to be a much bigger part of the ceremony that I anticipated (considering I didn’t think we would be any part of it!) and I felt even more underdressed when I saw that the other ladies were wearing super formal dresses. The ceremony started off with some speeches, one of which was interrupted when we got up to go to the bathroom and the MC stopped to point us in the right direction! Then there was some traditional drumming and dancing, which was hard to see because there were pillars in the way, but was very cool nonetheless. I am sure I won’t remember everything in the right order, but after some more speeches I think a lady got up and danced around with a bottle of champagne, which all of the head and side table people touched, and then shook it up and poured it into the head table’s glasses. Then we all had to get up with our drinks and dance around in a line and then go by the head table people and clink glasses. This was when I met Major Matala for the first time and we hugged and shook hands as I went by.
There was this one point that was very hilarious. They were introducing each important person there (there were a lot!) and after they introduced someone they would play this dramatic music (imagine like ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ music!) and then they would stand up and wave. At one point, I thought I head the MC say something that sounded like “wotoka Canada” and was very alarmed. I was right to be alarmed because then he said in English something about welcoming the guests from Canada and asked us to get up and wave so everyone could see us! So, we got to stand up to the dramatic music too!
At some point, there were singers performing and then men started going up and giving Major Matala money and dancing. Then the whole group of them stayed up there dancing. There were a couple women and then Brenda went up there to take pictures and ended up dancing with everyone too.
After more speeches, then it was time to give gifts. Groups would get up and dance up to Major Matala and his wife, sometimes passing their gifts back so everyone touched it before they gave it to him, sometimes carrying it as a group and then sometimes they would stay up there and dance some more or make a speech. It went on for a very, very long time. They got lots of wrapped boxes, but also sacks of grain/rice, fabric, and in one case a full-size fridge! Of course, we had to get up too with the people at our table and dance our way up.

At this point we had been there for about three hours, and we asked Dr. Andrew where we were in the ceremony, because we couldn’t read the time or the activities on the program, and we were only halfway through! Major Matala finished receiving his gifts and then it all started again with the gifts being given to his replacement now! We were starving and exhausted at this point, so we were very relieved when Dr. Andrew said we were leaving soon. Relieved until we found out we had to dance our way out, that is! So, once again we joined the doctors in a gift-giving line and danced our way up to the new District Coordinator and then we just continued dancing as we circled around the room and then went out the door. Quite a night for us ladies!

Now, the only other thing that needs to be mentioned about this night is the bathrooms. In stark contrast to the beautiful decorations indoors, the bathrooms were…primitive? There was a row of stalls with corrugated metal doors. Inside of the stalls were “squat-style” toilets and nothing else. In front of each stall was a 5 gallon bucket with two cups in them, which we saw one lady brought in the stall with her. We are not exactly clear on whether the cups of water are for washing or flushing or both. Also, there were a few large metal barrels full of more water in there. It was quite an experience, let me tell you. It was quite funny to see the ladies in their fancy shiny dresses go into those stalls!

So, our first day here is done and we have already met a lot of important people, been filmed for television, and eaten some authentic Tanzanian food! What a wonderful welcome to Tanzania!!