To begin this post, I would like to point out to anyone who thinks that they have driven on a bumpy road before: you have NO idea what a bumpy road is until you drive around on a dirt road in Africa. I thought my neck was going to snap we were being jostled so much. On the subject of roads, today is my second day in Arusha, and Kristen and I travelled around on the daladala (the bus-style public transportation of Tanzania). Imagine the following: a large van with enough seats for 12 people, 21 people squished into that van, and a man leaning out the window shouting out the route to people waiting on the side of the road. That is what a daladala is, and quite frankly, it is a little terrifying. However, it is a truly authentic Tanzanian experience. The rules of the road in Tanzania are regarded less as rules and more as half-hearted suggestions that most people choose to ignore. Often 2 or 3 lanes are created where there should be only 1; and as a pedestrian, if you don’t have your wits about you, you can expect to be at the very least shouted and honked at, and at the most run down by the vehicles on the road. I learned quickly to move fast and to keep my eyes open.
On a brighter note, one of the destinations I was taken to by daladala was the SEW workshop. SEW (standing for Supporting & Empowering Women) is an organization designed to help support women with HIV/AIDS. In Tanzania, there is a serious stigma against people (especially women) with HIV/AIDS which makes it near impossible for them to get a job. SEW gives them jobs, and they make bags made of 100% recycled materials that are then sold and shipped all over East Africa. I am so happy to have had the pleasure of spending time in the company of 9 of the happiest, most resilient women I have ever met. They absolutely love their jobs, and spend their days in the workshop loudly chatting, laughing, and singing over the sounds of their sewing machines. They have all had a hard life, struggling against the disease that is slowly taking control of their bodies while trying to support their families. They are determined and strong and an incredible inspiration to anyone who has come across hard times in their lives. With SEW, they manage to earn an income to support themselves and their families. I purchased a bag within the first hour of entering the shop, and can think of no better way to spend my money.
I spent a wonderful morning in the workshop, sharing a simple mug of chai and some kitumbuo (fried rice dough) with the ladies who did not speak my language but were brimming with welcome and smiles. They had a hard time pronouncing my name and laughed as they could not get it quite correct. They finally settled on “Shannee,” but I didn’t mind. We took a break mid-morning to have a quick English lesson, because most of the women only speak Kiswahili. I was helping them to learn their numbers and how to say their age. The workshop was filled with pleasant laughter as one woman insisted she was 3500 years old (she was 35). It is truly an amazing notion that something as simple as a shoulder bag made from old rice sacks, burlap and coloured fabric can provide a livelihood and hope for women who have been kicked down by life. The faces of those 9 women will remain in my mind, and never again will I think that my problems are the end of the world.
I’m heading to Dar es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania) tomorrow, where I’ll meet with the Fiesta Magazine team and start my co-op work.
****If anyone is interested in purchasing a bag and supporting a wonderful cause, please let me know and I can bring them back with me to Canada in August.****