September 1, 1196 - Personal Web Site: Cheryl's Tanzanian Experience

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tanzania: Peace Corps Tanzania: The Peace Corps in Tanzania: September 1, 1196 - Personal Web Site: Cheryl's Tanzanian Experience

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 11:34 pm: Edit Post

Cheryl's Tanzanian Experience

Cheryl's Tanzanian Experience

Cheryl's Tanzanian Experience

Hi. My name is Cheryl Perkins and I am pleased that you have made a visit to my homepage.

I have used this site to recount the many experiences that I enjoyed and others which I struggled through, while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania.

My two years in Tanzania were a very exciting part of my life. I experienced a totally different culture from my own, saw an extraordinarily beautiful yet diverse country, confronted colossal challenges and overcame them, and learned a lot about myself in the process. Joining the Peace Corps was one of the best paths I have chosen in my jog through life.

I am now working as a Lab Technician while pursuing a Masters degree in Environmental Studies.

Check out my Guestbook for contacts and comments from people with similar interests.

* Tanzanian Lifestyle

* Traveling in Tanzania

* Personal Safety

* My Peace Corps Work

* Lost on Mt. Meru

* Climb to the Top of Africa

* Safari to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater

* Other Tanzanian Links

* Guestbook Archives

My Observations of the Tanzanian Lifestyle

A very big difference between our two cultures is the pace of everyday life. All things occur extremely slowly in Tanzania. It was a nice change from the hustle, bustle and stress of the states. But, being of an impatient character to begin with, I found the slow pace to be trying at times.

Greetings are an important part of each day in Tanzania. On my daily walk to school, I would have to greet about 50 people quite extensively if I did not want to be considered rude. This process, however, added another hour to the 2 mile walk, so I started riding my bike. I eventually became accustomed to the Tanzanian greeting ceremony, and when I had the time I rather enjoyed it.

A surprising observation I made was that men and women do not show any affection toward each other in public. You never see a couple holding hands. In fact, you don't really ever see males and females together. Maybe this is because most of the women are busy working at tasks such as hoeing the garden, fetching water, cooking, caring for the kids or washing clothes.

(18KB jpg)

The men, if they do not have a job, are probably out socializing. It is common to see people of the same sex holding hands. Do not assume that they are homosexual. Tanzania has a very different culture from our own and, believe it or not, homosexuality is against the law.

Tanzanian women tend to have babies at a very young age. As in our country, the lack of a good education and sufficient self-esteem contributes to the high pregnancy rate. Also, if female students become pregnant, they are automatically expelled from school. You see, students are not permitted to have sex. So, if a girl becomes pregnant... she has obviously disregarded school policies. Her partner in the violation is never found out.

The Tanzanian government as well as other organizations are working to improve the education of females and to boost their self-esteem. Kuleana, a group based in Mwanza, has developed a sexual Health curriculum for schools. Students are taught about preventing AIDS, STD's and pregnancies through abstinence or using a condom each and every time one has sex. I was trained by Kuleana to be a Sexual Health educator. After I gave a presentation as to why sexual Health education needs to be introduced in to the school curriculum, most of the teachers realized the importance of such a program and supported my teaching of the topic.

The following are observations from my parents while visiting me in Tanzania last year.

When planning our trip to Tanzania we fully realized that we were visiting a third world country and their lifestyle was going to be different from our own. So, when we deplaned in Dar es Salaam we were not shocked to see some terrible living conditions as we rode through Dar. Occasionally, we would see a home that we might consider middle class in the US. These homes all had substantial walls surrounding them with broken glass embedded along the top. In fact it seems that anyone in Tanzania having more than their neighbors had better keep their belonging well secured. This was not totally unexpected, but the degree was surprising.

Another surprising observation for us was how well the Tanzanians dress. They obviously put a high value in being neat and well clothed. It is not uncommon to see women in colorful kangas hoeing gardens or small girls playing in the dirt with nice dresses and yet their clothing appears to be neat and clean.

The thing that really seemed strange is how well the Tanzanians persevere with their currency system. When we visited their largest bill was a 1000 Shilling note, which equates to about two US dollars. As a result everyone carries around a great wad of bills and spends half their time counting money.

We found Tanzanians very warm and friendly and because we were Cheryl's parents we were treated like royalty. On one occasion, Cheryl had previously photographed a Tanzanian wedding, so the family invited us as honored guests to a huge feast of their best dishes. We were wined and dined for hours while trying not to drink too much Safari beer and at the same time attempting conversation in very limited English and even less Kiswahili.

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Traveling in Tanzania

Click for Enlargement

I found traveling in Tanzania is an adventure in itself. Depending on my destination, budget and time allotted, I would travel by dalasdala, bus, train, boat, plane or via hitch-hiking.

When traveling in Dar es Salaam or between a village and a town, my best bet was to hop on a dalasdala. A dalasdala is a small bus that runs a routine route between two destinations. The dalasdalas are not on a specific time schedule, but instead begin each run when the bus is jammed packed full. Many of my friends avoided these buses at all costs - either due to feelings of claustrophobia or to avoid body odor. I admit, however, I traveled by dalasdala frequently, as it was extremely cheap.

The bigger buses are used for long distance transport between two towns. Depending on the type of bus, the trip can be rather comfortable or down right miserable. I traveled to Songea via bus many times. This is definitely the most dangerous thing I did as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The road is pretty good between the two points so the buses drive very fast. I kept my mind occupied by counting the number of buses that had been unsuccessful in following the windy, mountainous road and had rolled down the embankment. The entire trip usually took twelve to fifteen hours and included a fifteen minute bathroom and dinner stop.

A slower, but easier on the bladder mode of transportation was the train. There are two separate railways in Tanzania, the Mwanza line and the Tazara. The Tazara was built by the Chinese and isn't all that bad, but the Tanzanian built Mwanza line...yuck! O.K. I'm a little biased. My bag was stolen from my cabin on a trip to Mwanza and rats ate the bananas out of my just-purchased bag on the return trip to Dar es Salaam. There are also many stories of people being drugged on the trains and all of their possessions stolen. But if you watch your back and don't mind the grime, the slow, rhythmic ride through the beautiful country-side is quite enjoyable.

(12KB jpg) Train stop

As with the aforementioned modes of transport, boats are also stuffed full with passengers, with the exception of Zanzibar ferries. I traveled by boat along the coast from Dar es Salaam to Mtwara and up Lake Malawi. My strategy on each of the boats was to claim a spot on the upper deck next to the railing. This way I could enjoy the lovely scenery during the day and star saturated sky at night without the danger of being vomited on.

The plane is definitely the most comfortable mode of public transportation available in Tanzania. Do not assume, however, that it is the most reliable. Air Tanzania's nickname is 'Air Maybe' due to frequent delays and cancellations. Just the same, once your flight begins, the trip is quick and comfortable and the peanuts are delicious.

My most enjoyable travels in Tanzania didn't cost a shilling. When I was not confined by a schedule, I chose to hitch-hike. Once I scored a ride, it usually offered comfort, interesting company and an amazing view. For instance, a friend and I got a ride in the back of a pick up along the windy, mountainous road to Songea. It was so incredible to look at the country-side without peering through a grimy bus window. Another 'lift' was provided by an Iranian who invited my friend and I to his house for tea. I would never hitch-hike in the states, but in Tanzania the dangerous people are the ones that want what I have. If a person had a car, they obviously already had more than I had.

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Personal Safety

As a foreigner in Tanzania, especially if you are of the white-skinned type, host country nationals will assume you are very wealthy. Tanzanians are typically extremely friendly and generous people. But there are also a few that would like to have everything that you have, and will do anything to obtain it. Please be cautious, but don't be paranoid. Here's some suggestions:

* Do not walk around by yourself at night

* Avoid barren beaches

* Do not accept food from strangers when you are traveling

* If traveling by car beware of bandits

* Carry your money in several locations

* Watch your baggage religiously when traveling by public transport

* Never walk (even if accompanied) along Toure Drive in Dar es Salaam at night

* Learn as much Swahili as possible to avoid being stereotyped as an ignorant foreigner

* Act like you know exactly what you are doing, but if you need assistance just ask. Most Tanzanians are eager to help.

Home Page

Lost on Mt. Meru

Everyday as I returned home to my host family from training, I would be mesmerized by Mount Meru. Click for map Mount Meru is the second highest mountain in Tanzania (third highest in Africa) at 15,000 feet. I was determined to make it to the top of that mountain before I left Arusha.

The first time I climbed Mount Meru I went with four other trainees through Mount Meru National Park.


A guide led us up the mountain and pointed out to us giraffes, monkeys, birds and plants. We did not allow ourselves enough time, however, and did not reach the summit. So Erik, my partner in the climb, and I arranged for another ascent. But this time we would climb the back side of the mountain - where there's no fees, no cabins and no guide.

We left our homes at 6:30 am and started on foot toward Mount Meru. Our plan was to get a 'lift' by a log truck for the 3 miles to and a little ways up the mountain. Well, it didn't happen. The foot of the mountain was a dirt road that led to a timber forest. You would not believe the dust due to the lack of rain. We literally sank to our knees in silt. Luckily by 10:00 am we were away from the dusty dirt roads and any other signs of civilization.

Our hike took us through many environments. We went from fields to a young forest (due to the replanting of cut down trees), to a forest of old trees, to a bamboo forest, to a tropical rain forest, and then through an area where there had been a huge fire, so all that was there were shrubs and briers. By 3:00 pm we must have reached 10,000 feet. The altitude was obvious, due to difficulty breathing as well as getting caught in a mad hail storm. Boy was I freezing! You just don't expect to get bombarded by hail stones when you're in the tropics.

The altitude and weather were taking their toll. By 5:30 we were ready to set up camp. We pitched our tent in an excellent spot overlooking Arusha. We gobbled down our gourmet dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and made a little camp fire. Our nights entertainment consisted of star gazing and sharing a little bottle of Dodoma wine (or cough syrup as the taste suggested), while warming up beside the fire.

(21KB jpg) Our camp on Mt Meru

We were wide awake by 5:00 am, but were reluctant to get up do to the frigid temperature outside the tent. We finally mustered up our courage by 6:30, packed up camp, and headed on up. At 14,000 feet we dropped our packs. We didn't have to worry about thieves because we were the only ones on that side of the mountain. The climb was very steep to the top of the mountain and the wind blew hard. A lot of the climb was soft dirt which used up a lot of energy because it required us to take five steps in order to progress one step. The previous day we had been given walking sticks from some bamboo farmers, which proved very handy for the climb.

By 9:30 am we had reached the summit. It was a tough climb but well worth it! At 15,000 feet, we were about 1,000 feet above the clouds. It was incredible to sit on top of the mountain with a perfect view of Mount Kilimanjaro, and what seemed as all of Africa!

(12KBjpg) Top of Mt Meru looking toward Mt. Kilimanjaro

An hour after reaching the summit, we began our descent. The terrible soft dirt turned out to be a blessing on the way down, as we were able to ski down the first 1,000 feet. After we retrieved the packs the route became rocky, and extremely tedious. Upon reaching the burnt forest, we decided to take the route down between two ridges for an easier descent. Eventually we had to get back up on the ridge, however, and mistakenly chose one different from that which we climbed. Luckily, after a while we came upon a path. But suddenly the path just ended! We had no idea where to go. We decided to get off the ridge. BIG MISTAKE! We ended up going down a steep embankment through a dense forest of prickly bushes. Poor Erik was clearing the path and broke into a heavy sweat - not a good situation at all since we were out of water. After an hour we concluded that the prickly bush forest was very extensive, so we chose to turn back. We used the prickly bushes as leverage to pull us back up the steep embankment. What a climb!

At last, we reached the top of the ridge, back to the path that led no where. Our only choice was to go down the other side. The bushes were not as thick and we were able to treck our way through. Before long, we came across another path.

The path led us into a forest of huge trees and vines - like the setting out of a Tarzan movie. We shimmied our way across ledges and maneuvered our way down cliffs. During one feat, my heart nearly stopped. Erik was shimmying across a wall of rock to which there was a shallow river about 50 feet below. All of a sudden Erik started slipping down the ledge. I just stood there, frozen with fear. What could I do if he fell? We were completely lost in the African jungle. Where would I go for help? Some how, Erik was able to catch his grip before he made the deadly the fall. Thank God luck was on our side for some things!

We continued to get lost in forest after forest, because the paths would just cease to exist. We eventually got extremely dehydrated and so desperate for water that any liquid was acceptable. We found a puddle of brown water with little creatures swimming around in it, but as I said we were desperate. The visible bugs were easily removed by filtering the water through the t-shirt I had warn the day before. A small dose of iodine was then added to kill the smaller bugs. After a tortuous wait of 15 minutes for the iodine to take its effect, we drank up.

By 7:30 pm we still weren't out of the woods. We were stumbling frequently due to the darkness and our extreme exhaustion. Although we had left word with our host families that we would be home that day, we decided not to risk injury by persisting on. Amazingly, we discovered a river to set up camp next to. The clear, frigid water was perfect for bathing our grimy, aching bodies and refreshing our pallets. I believe I experienced the best sleep that night in my 25 years of life.

The next morning we were awaken by men's voices in the distance. There were people around! The first sign of other people for 2 days! We eventually found our way to the logging road, where a Peace Corps vehicle discovered us. Boy were we psyche! Walking had become quite a chore by that time and the sun seemed to be penetrating through to our soul.

Our Mount Meru adventure did go needlessly awry. We should have marked our route and brought along more water. I did discover that I can make it through just about anything, however, without losing my cool. This was an important thing to know about myself for dealing with future 'adventures' in Tanzania.

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Climb to the Top of Africa

Under Construction

There is no way I could leave Tanzania without climbing Kilimanjaro. I try to give some useful information for other climbers as well as relating what is was like.

(16KB jpg) Kilimanjaro high camp

* Home Page


By omary ( - on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 2:56 am: Edit Post

hello!! iam a student at Minnesota state university in mankato, i lost contant with one of my teacher who was a peace crop in tanzania(Bagamoyo) iam a senior now here at the university, she taught us physics she was from chicago, i will feel so bad if i wont be able to meet her before i leave, her name was shaheen khan, if you have any idea please let me know

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