Joto

After 48 hours of traveling, we finally arrived in Mwanza! Our connection from Dar Es Salaam landed in a tiny, one-room airport (with no Wi-Fi – we checked). Maimuna, the director of MikonoYetu, met us outside the airport along with Jane, a taxi driver many past interns relied on. Our welcome was warm and they made us feel comfortable right away. We drove through Mwanza to our hotel, had a quick meal of chipsi kuku, and after a much-needed shower, I fell asleep instantly.

The next day, I woke up much earlier than anticipated and went to grab breakfast on my own as I didn’t want to wake up the other interns. I had a slightly difficult conversation with my waiter in Swahili where I tried to order bananas and ended up receiving a huge plate of fried plantains. As I was eating, my waiter – whose name I found out was Edward – sat down with me unexpectedly to ask about my trip and where I was from. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond at first, but I grasped that this was the first of many cultural differences I would encounter and tried my best to speak with him in a mixture of Swahili and English. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone during that meal, because not only did I learn much more Swahili, I made a friend – Edward and I always greet each other in passing now.

Later, two MikonoYetu staff members called Kato and Mlola took us around Mwanza on foot to exchange money and buy phone plans. The streets are lively, colourful and a little chaotic. Along with the storefronts, there are stalls selling fruits, vegetables, roasted peanuts and juice on the narrow sidewalk, and we were often walking inches from cars on the street. The people of Mwanza are very friendly and outgoing; many of them called out mambo or karibuni as we passed by. At first, like my conversation with Edward, I was unsure of myself, but I overcame that once Kato encouraged us to respond with poa or asante. I’m learning that Tanzania has a much more social culture than Canada, and while it can be a little intimidating to hold a conversation with a stranger, it’s much easier to connect with others. I will definitely keep some aspects of this mindset upon my return to Canada.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to MikonoYetu with Anisah and Kathy for our orientation. Tanzania has been so warm to us (in more ways than one!) and while I’m beginning to experience the first pangs of homesickness, I feel positive about how much I’ve already adjusted. Learning how we can give back to this amazing place in even a small way is sure to help further.

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Lake Victoria with Mwanza city centre across

Joto – warm

Chipsi kuku – chicken and chips

Mambo/Poa – informal greeting and response

Karibuni!

Welcome to my blog!

            Over the next three months, I’ll be staying with a few other Western students in Mwanza, a city of just over 800,000 people on the shores of Lake Victoria in northern Tanzania. While I’m there, I’ll be completing an internship with MikonoYetu, a women-led grassroots organization that seeks to financially empower women through probiotic yogurt micro-enterprises. My goal is to introduce fermented fruit juices to the program and establish a lasting partnership between MikonoYetu and local schools to provide nutritional interventions for students.

            I’ve tried my hardest to prepare for this trip by doing research on the culture in Tanzania and the history of MikonoYetu and Fiti probiotic yogurt, but as I sit in the airport writing this post, I have to admit there is a lot I don’t know. (For example, my Kiswahili feels woefully inadequate – I have some basic phrases, but plan to respond with asante whenever I’m confused.) I know the goals of my project, but I have few concrete plans about how to implement them. I think a lot of the information I’m missing can only be gained by being in the kitchens and understanding the culture firsthand, and I’m ready to set aside my expectations and do my best. The unknown is scary, but it’s where the most learning happens, and for that, I’m excited.

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Karibuni – welcome to all

Asante – thank you