Go on Safari. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Lounge on the beaches of Zanzibar. Two years ago, if you’d asked, “What are you going to do in Tanzania?” I likely would have cited those three activities. When I finally visited Tanzania this past August, those items weren’t even priorities on my list. What was? Filming.
For fourteen days, my biggest adventure was filming One Day I Too Fly in Africa, a documentary following five African students at one of the U.S.’s premier technological universities. The purpose of our production trip was to follow our student, Sante, home. As expected, her reunion with family was emotional – but so was our visit to a new country. In addition to adjusting to an entirely different culture, my producing partner and I had to navigate foreign production laws. There was no time for jet lag. Nearly every day, we were up by 5am, out by 6am and home close to midnight. We researched a ton before leaving, but our trip ended up being mostly trial and error. My knowledge of Swahili has grown exponentially – though many people in the city of Dar Es Salaam understood and spoke English.
Four days of our schedule were spent in Sante’s family’s village of Kirua Vunjo. Within moments of arriving in their village, a squirrel and a large spider attacked me. I quickly realized that we were in Mother Nature’s arena. Located in sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, Kirua Vunjo’s primary source of water comes from the tippy-top of the mountain. Read: glacial shower water. For a chick who’s used to taking two hot showers a day, this was quite an adjustment. I can honestly say that those four days made me completely rethink my routine in the U.S. My luxurious 20-minute showers now seem over-indulgent. But despite missing certain creature comforts, Kirua began to feel like home.
For four lovely days, we embedded in Sante’s family, made new friends, and got our behinds kicked playing soccer with local kids. Our experience was one that we never could have had on a “vacation” in Tanzania. We witnessed lifestyles in the city and in the villages, saw the landscape of a vast expanse of the country, and learned stories that only locals could tell.
While I can’t give you the “traditional” must do’s in Tanzania, here’s a list of things to do and try, if you’re interested in sampling the life of a true Tanzanian:
1. Take a drive down Bagamoyo: This road connects Dar Es Salaam to the city of Bagamoyo, which used to be the center of slave trade. Bagamoyo means “Lay Down Your Heart. ”It’s believed that the name could be tied to slaves who were separated from their families, or perhaps to sailors who left for long trips from port.
2. Make a friend: This is very broad, but the best moments of our trip were spent over tea or dinner with people we’d just met. If you make a friend, they may just invite you over for dinner. Since returning home, I have decided to be equally gracious with my home and food.
3. Drive, drive and drive some more: If you’re going to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater, or on a safari, it’s easy to catch a flight from city to city. But, if you can, find someone to drive you between cities (driving in Tanzania is 10 times more intense than driving in NYC, so you’ll want a driver). While passing through, slow down and observe as much you can. You’ll miss out on a lot if you opt to fly.
4. Go to Mblamwezi Beach Club: Have you ever dreamed of an open-air bar on the beach with late night Karaoke? This is it! The D.J. is great, but please note that we left the club as Karaoke legends – you have big shoes to fill.
5. Dance the night away at Club Bilicanas: Located in Dar Es Salaam, this club is a popular spot for locals. I now have an entire Spotify playlist dedicated to songs discovered at Bilicanas.
Our next production trip for One Day I Too Go Fly is to Rwanda, in December. If it’s half as amazing as Tanzania, it will be a success.