One week done and dusted, and it’s now my birthday! I still can’t believe I am in Arusha, Tanzania and it may take a few more weeks to sink in.

It has only been one week, but I feel like I have already been here for much longer. It’s funny how time works when you’re having fun and in a different environment.

My week started off with my arrival to the Volunteer House on Sunday night. The house is called Twiga (Giraffe in Swahili) and is situated in an area called Sakina. When I arrived I was overwhelmed by the amount of volunteers who greeted me. I was exhausted and desperately needed a shower, but stayed for a while to chat to all the different and new people I just met. I had no idea what kind of living situation I was getting into, but I am over the moon that I get to stay in Twiga House. There are approximately 30 volunteers living in this place, with cooks and security guards who take care of our well being. The volunteers come from all around the world, and currently I am living with too many Americans to count, six Chileans and a few other different nationalities here and there. The ages range from about 18 to 30+, and it has been awesome getting to know everyone and their diversities.

I arrived on the night of the 29th of January and the beginning of my program started on the 1st of February. I therefore had a couple of days to get the hang of things.

I read all morning on Monday until a volunteer called Mark (from Scotland) came home from his placement and asked if I wanted to see town. He showed me how to take the local transportation (Dala-Dala) into the city centre, also known as Kilombero. A Dala-Dala is a mini van that locals use to commute on a daily basis. It should technically only hold about 10 people, but everyone squeezes in to allow maybe 20 or so passengers. There is no such thing as personal space and the vehicle can get really hot. The roads are dusty and bumpy here, and everything works to ‘African Time’- or in other words, slow and steady. In town, Mark helped me to buy a SIM card so that I could buy 20GB of internet for the equivalent of 32 NZD. I got to see the local markets and tried a Mexican restaurant which was delicious. I already started learning Swahili words and I’m gradually getting to know greetings and key words. By the end of my two months I hope that I have the basics of the language down.

On Tuesday Mark offered to show me his placement, so I happily went with him to see what volunteering was like. He volunteers as a teacher at a local school. On Tuesday morning we had heavy rain and on the way to placement I slipped and fell in the mud, which made for a great start to the day. At Mark’s placement I got to help a teacher named Naomi and learned how to mark children’s work. It was a great taste of what I would soon be doing.

Wednesday brought Orientation Day! 15 other new volunteers joined me to listen to all the information about what we will be doing on placement, cultural customs and potential trips we could go on while we are here. We all packed into a Dala-Dala to g0 t0 Kilombero to explore, exchange money and get SIM cards for those who didn’t already have one. I got to meet my new friends (who were mostly American) and we shared stories about why we came to Tanzania and what we hope to get out of the trip. Because most of the volunteers here are American or Chilean, I am also trying to learn a few spanish words every day, which is a lot of fun.

Thursday and Friday were the first two days of my placement as a primary school teacher in Miale School. Andrew from California is also a new volunteer who will be here for one month and he is the other person who will work at Miale School. We have to take a Dala-Dala for about 10 minutes and then walk uphill for another 40 minutes to find the school. Miale school teaches children aged 2 to 15 years old and each class represents a different age. Andrew and I will soon be given a timetable of the different classes we will get to teach, but on the first couple days we were placed in random classes to get a taste of the school. I was placed in the baby class, of ages 2-3. The kids are THE MOST ADORABLE THINGS EVER. They are all so beautiful and smiley and want to look at me, touch me and talk to me. They love giving high-fives and are all interested in my thin, straight hair, my arm hairs and my watch. Everything seems to amaze them. They make me so happy but it can be frustrating to teach such young children because we spend one lesson just learning how to write the letter 2 or say the word blue. It is testing my patience and I am enjoying it, but I hope to get older children next week so that I can be more mentally stimulated.

This weekend was my first trip away! A massive group of us, including almost all of the new volunteers and two older ones, went on a bus trip to an area called Moshi. We spent Saturday travelling on a bumpy road to the town where we ate at a local restaurant and go to see some touristy sights. Our tour guide, Michael, told us quite a bit of Tanzanian history and took us to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro where we got to learn about the different kind of routes you can take. The record for the shortest trip up and down Kilimanjaro is 5 and a half hours. Regular trips up and down the mountain can take 5 to 10 days. The next stop of our trip was to a coffee plantation where we got to see how coffee is made. We watched how the coffee bean is roasted, and we each tried one freshly roasted coffee bean. After that, it was time to grind the coffee! We used a stick and pounded into the coffee beans to the beat of a song that we all sang together for a while. We can’t get it out of our heads now.

We then got taken to a place where we had a steep 10 minute hike to the Materuni Waterfall. We spent a while there, appreciating the beautiful sights, taking photos and some people were brave enough to swim in the river (although I wasn’t). We then got taken to an underground cave where we got to see how one of the tribes used to live to hide from their enemies. It was very hard to walk in but cool to see how intricately they made their cave, even though we got frightened by bats. For the last part of our trip on Saturday, we got to try local beer and wine made from bananas. I could only take sip of each before gagging and not wanting to have any more. I was amazed to see the other volunteers drinking one or two bottles of the stuff, despite the fact that they didn’t like the taste.

Today (or Sunday) was our final day of the Moshi tour. We were taken to the Kikuletwa hot springs which was the most beautiful springs I have ever seen in my life. The water was clear blue and surrounded by greenery. There was a rope to swing on and jump into the water, and so local Tanzanian men were showing off their acrobatic skills. I took a swing and jump into the water and was pleasantly surprised by how nice the temperature was. They aren’t technically “hot” springs but they feel lukewarm or a nice cool temperature. We spent a few hours swimming and enjoying how beautiful the place was.

As I type this I am relaxing in my new home, Twiga House. It’s so relaxing and peaceful here. The people are so lovely and I am quickly making lots of friends. I cannot wait for the weeks to come, because I know this place can only get even better.

I hope to catch up with you soon and tell you more about everything! I’ll be posting some more photos on Facebook soon as well.

Until next time,

Ailish

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