East Africa: Our First Impressions | Ants in Pants

East Africa: Our First Impressions

Русская версия   It was in October 2014 when we found cheap tickets from Brussels to Zanzibar, couldn’t resist, and bought them.
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Since then every time we told about our coming trip to different people – our parents, friends, vaccinating nurse – many were shocked. Some tried to remind of Ebola (no matter that it is in the different part of Africa), pirates, terrorists, insanitariness, aggressiveness of the locals, and many other things to us. In addition, the feedback about Africa on the Internet and the information from the guide books like a Lonely Planet (although nothing can beat the snobbishness of Frommer) claimed: these countries are terrible, and even if you go, stay in the best hotels, rent a car, and avoid local food. We remember reading a forum, stating that in Zanzibar, public transport is dangerous, rented cars and bycicles break, and the taxi drivers cheat people. But how one should move around? – the question remained. Or, another historical post from the same forum said that a white person is an example for an African that is why a white should always behave in an exemplary way, paying as much as they ask and wearing only clean and ironed clothes. We could hardly imagine ourselves with an iron in Africa and certainly we were realizing that the prices for the white are very different and were going to resist this as much as possible. And of course most of the information on the Internet and guide books was about safaris, giving an impression that there is nothing else to do. This made us sad: the safari industry aimed at the very rich and did not correspond to our financial possibilities. Meanwhile, none of the resources could give some comprehensive information on what to do in Africa if not safari, especially for the whole month. Only some occasional data from the scratch was available; much more we got on the spot. On the way back on the plane we were watching the videos about Tanzania and Kenya destinations, and realized that this was not our Kenya and Tanzania. We neither saw the big five (the lion and other animals), nor climbed Kilimanjaro – fortunately or unfortunately; our Africa was completely different.
We covered five countries of East Africa – Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya – 5000 kilometers only by buses, rarely – by ferries.
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The transport of East Africa deserves a separate talk, for instance, that is how they enter the public buses (called dala-dala) in Dar Es Salaam to get the seats.
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In Tanzania they stand in the intercity buses for several hours between their suitcases or half-sitting on a neighbor’s neck.
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Still, it is not as scary as Lonely Planet presents it, it is rather an ethnographic experience. To say the truth, however, the transport is very slow, but this is also the part of the experience: slowness is the whole philosophy here. The first word we learned in Swahili was pole-pole – “slow-slow”, “no hurry”. Africans even call their buses like that since, indeed, nobody is in a hurry, and it was “patience, my friend” – which we often heard trying to pursue European tempo in anything.
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One more myth is the hostility of the Africans. The truth is that people are rarely as nice somewhere else as here. You may be cheated on two euros, they may point at you with their finger and yell mzungu (“white person”), especially in non-touristic places, or the children may ask “Give me your dollar”. But otherwise they are totally harmless (or let’s put it so: the percentage of bad people does not seem to be higher than in other places) and they try to help the way they may. Just look at those cute people!
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Even the policemen agreed to take a photo with Vitya to enrich his collection.
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Many people ask us about the weather in Africa. It was different in different regions, but overall hot, sometimes – rainy. The sweatshirts and plastic coats were the maximum that we needed. The Africans, however, had different opinion: December is actually winter time. Many were wearing hats, gloves, and winter coats.
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Actually people in Africa are its most interesting part. Only Tanzania has about 130 tribes with their own languages, traditions, and religions. The most famous is of course the tribe of Masai. If someone has not yet watched the movie “White Masai” – about a white woman who married a Masai we strongly recommend it. Masais themselves know the movie and claim that its plot is a true story (which is in fact true) which happened to their brother/neighbor/friend. By the way, the masculinity and stature of Masai’s figures are a bit exaggerated. Nastya is of course a giant, but the representatives of Masai are usually perceived as much more gigantic.
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The Pigmies, on the other hand, turned out to be not so tiny, although smaller that an average European. But their children seemed very small whether because of malnutrition, physiological peculiarities, or because we do not know quite well what size the children should be.
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And this is Barbaig nomadic tribe of cattle-herders, “only” 200000 people of Africa.
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These children are the representatives of Sukuma – the largest tribe of Tanzania – about 5 million people.
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One can travel in Africa for ages trying to learn about the lifestyle of these people, living next to each other, but so different, even within their own tribes.
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Certainly, African children is an important topic. We visited lots of orphanages and funds helping kids – especially girls – to get education. Still, we heard many stories from the locals who had grown up in the orphanages, stating that only some part of what is sent by Americans or Europeans actually gets to the kids: a lot stays in the pockets of the officials. When you get to know that there are people who are even ready to steal from children, you become desperate. In the same way it happens when you see these hungry Pigmy kids with huge bellies and realize that just a stone throw from them there is a national park, where white people spend thousands of dollars on safaris. Meanwhile there are so many animals in Africa just on your way, that you do not need to go to a national park and pay huge money.
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You can see animals everywhere 🙂
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It is also true about the nature – you do not have to pay much to see something special. For instance, we’ve never seen anything similar to the picturesque lake Balangida, which supplies several countries with its salt.
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Lake Victoria:
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Panishment Island in Uganda:
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Beaches of Zanzibar:
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And even though we did not explore the most popular destination – Kilimanjaro – the climb to which costs the same thousands of dollars, we were not sad about it. In its turn, Kilimanjaro showed itself to us when we were flying back home.
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In short, we strongly recommend to visit East Africa, whether you are poor or rich, brave or coward. It is not as scary and expensive as it might seem.

Reed more:
East African transport. Part I. Dala-dala and basi
East African transport. Part II. Tuki-tuki, boda-boda, piki-piki, traffic jams and more
Tanzanian Capital Dodoma and Tanzanian-Ukrainian Wedding