One thing I often think about is how I will answer the question, “How was Tanzania?” when I return home. It’s a question that I would struggle to answer in any coherent or concise way. How can you sum up living in a completely new place to someone? It seems such a simple question, bordering on the line of small talk. But a small talk response like, “it was great” would likely leave the other party dissatisfied. So how can I convey to others the experience I’ve had living here for the last few months? Luckily, I have this blog to try and make some attempt at this.

As best as I can describe it, the opportunity to live and work here has given me the chance to experience a different life. There are many similarities to life for me here and home. I get groceries. I take the bus to work. I go out for dinner with friends. I go hiking and birding. All of these are the same things I do at home, but now I do them in an environment that is new, exciting, and sometimes challenging. I am exposed to things I would have never been otherwise exposed to: new foods to discover, new birds to watch, and new experiences to, well, experience.

A Malachite sunbird at the peak of our hike in the western Usambara Mountains.

I am fortunate enough to live with a Tanzanian family that graciously took me and the other Canadian interns into their home.  This has really opened the door for me in a lot of ways. My hosts have helped me immensely adjusting to living in a new place by helping me to learn my way getting around by bus, learning Swahili, and how to barter – a skill I can’t wait to try and use back in Canada. Additionally, they have included me and the other interns in their family by inviting us to weddings, graduation ceremonies, and block parties. When in a new place, I cannot overstate what a help it is to feel so included.  This is something I hope you will take away from this post, and I know is something I will not forget when back home. As a foreigner in a new country, it’s easy to feel out of place, and any act of welcoming can really go a long way.

Pictured in the opening photo of this blog is myself and the other interns, dressed up to congratulate our host on receiving his PhD. It’s a tradition for the family of the graduate to wear these matching outfits.

As for getting out and experiencing new things, I have done some, but there are still so many things left to see and explore. I have so far explored Zanzibar and other islands near the coast where I relaxed on idyllic beaches and snorkeled with sea life in coral reefs.

A relaxing outlook over the Indian Ocean in Jambiani, Zanzibar.

I have also visited some areas north of Dar es Salaam, where I live. Bagamoyo, now a sleepy town, was once the capital of German East Africa, from where the Germans supposedly administered the entire country. Now the remains of 19th century German buildings stand overlooking the calm coastal town.

View from the top on the battlements of the German Boma;
German East Africa’s colonial headquarters.

Further north still, I managed to find the thing I missed most dearly from home: a cool breeze. Hiking in the Usambara Mountains I was delighted to find that, at night, temperatures reached as low as 15 degrees. And the views weren’t bad either.

A fellow intern drinking in the views on our descent from the Usambara Mountains.

That being said, the connections I have made here are the will stay with me the most, more than any one story of one of my weekend getaways. I’ve made friends with other students on campus from all over the world, met other rugby players to train with, and even met people working here in areas that are very interesting to me. The latter of which has already paid off immensely, as I will be starting a new position here in Tanzania with a Canadian NGO just a few short weeks after my current placement ends.

I’ve never considered myself to be a gifted story teller, and I somewhat dread the thought of trying to relay my experience here to family and friends. But now at least I have an easy response when people ask me, “How was Tanzania?” I can say:

“Great. I go back in two weeks.”

Jesse Shirton