Chapter 14: Life at the Hotel

One day, I was having dinner with Amina and Aisha, and they brought me a plate of small, dried fish they had cooked.

I used Google Translate on my phone to figure out that they were probably anchovies (daga), but Google wasn’t always accurate. Nevertheless, they were fish, and typically I have to leave the room whenever there’s fish, or anything that smells like fish. Let it be a testament to how much I adored Aimina and Aisha because I not only stayed in the room, I also ate the heaping mountain of fish.While we were eating, the girls showed me a picture of this huge, pumped-up guy on their phone. In my broken Swahili, I asked “anapenda mvulana kubwa,” which I hoped meant something along the lines of, “you like big muscles?” But I’m not quite sure how they interpreted it. They did giggle, though, and start acting out an elaborate skit of pumping iron. They were both so young and fun and weren’t really that much older than Zoe, but their lives had been anything but easy. Amina was twenty-one, and her son was six, so she probably had him when she was about fifteen. By many standards, fifteen was still a baby, and though it was illegal to marry someone under eighteen, it obviously still happened. What I have figured out over time is that there are other ways to communicate with people outside of language. Many mornings, I woke up early and would sit out in the kitchen, which not only forced me to speak Swahili since no one spoke English, it also made me improvise in other ways. I’d often use hand gestures, and when I’d imitate an animal or bug, people would laugh at how silly I was being. They were laughing at me, but in a good way—and it really saved time in getting my point across.

After my time in the kitchen, I would grab a cup of coffee and sit out on the porch. Usually, either Aisha, Oliva, or Amina would join me. Anyone who walked by often knew one of them and would say hello. One time, the woman next door came over and asked how many children I had (“Watoto wengi?”). It took me a while to figure out what she was saying, and after telling her I had one, I tried telling her Zoe’s age and had to count up to seventeen. That took a long time and the numbers four and eight (nne and nane) always caused me to panic. 

Greetings also made me panic. I think it’s because they are almost an art form. An average of two to three question/answer exchanges is normal between strangers, and there are even more if you actually know the person. A casual greeting such as “Niaje” or “Vipi?” calls for an equally casual answer, and there are so many words to choose from. The respectful “Shikamoo? Marahaba” is a way to address an older person. A typical early morning greeting could be “Umeamkaje?” (How did you wake up?), and to that, you answer “Salama!” or “Vyema!”

One day, Moshi and I were sitting on the porch hotel working when an older man came up to me and said “How are you?” My brain went blank as I tried to respond in Swahili. I couldn’t think of anything, so Moshi turned to me and said that I should say “I am fine,” which I repeated back to the old man. Then the man turned to ask Moshi if I spoke any English at all. My confused and complicated brain didn’t register that he was actually speaking to me IN ENGLISH, so I panicked as I do when I’m trying to speak Swahili and searching for a response. Trying to speak Swahili is hard and embarrassing at times.

The Wi-Fi at the hotel not only allowed me to easily stay in contact with Zoe and Loc back in Canada, it also let me look up words on my phone, which made it much easier to converse. On occasion, I’d pull up a translation on my phone and then pass it around. These situations allowed me to make statements that would otherwise be impossible, like “Canadians do not like being mistaken for Americans. We love each other but we have our own identity.”

Life at the hotel grew familiar, and in the six days since my first meeting with Ikaji, I began to recognize the simple things, like the fact that I needed to cut my bangs because they kept getting into my eyes. I borrowed a pair of scissors, but they were dull, and the hack-job left my bangs uneven—I know, first world problems. I looked ridiculous but felt like I was exactly where I needed to be, so I just ignored it and ventured forth.

We can pick and choose the memories that define our life and piece them together like a puzzle.

Many years ago, in the wake of my mother’s death, I traveled to Africa for the first time. Uganda.

Our time to leave Kalagala eventually came, and my family embarked upon a classic Kenyan safari.

The three of us headed for Tanzania where I met Moshi Changai, a pivotal piece to this story.

From Tanzania, we made our way to the island of Zanzibar, a place to pause and reflect, and to write.

We left Zanzibar for Marrakesh, where the sound of Muslim prayers echoed from the speakers.

Life returned to normal—for just a little while. We returned home, and Zoe went back to School.

Fast-forward six years, and once again, Tanzania stood before my daughter and me.

Our destination was Kondoa, but to get there, we had to board a cramped bus like a bunch of sardines.

Before making our way to Cheku, we visited many of the surrounding Irangi villages first.

We drove up the long road dirt road to Cheku village and finally saw the well that had taken so many years.

With the Cheku well confirmed to be real, the time had come to return to Vancouver.

I finally landed in Tanzania, excited to meet Moshi again and the rest of the safari team.

I spent the days before meeting our potential business partner, Ikaji, at the hotel, practicing my Swahili.

By spending so much time at the hotel, I grew close with the girls who worked there.

On our way to snap some shots at Ntomoko falls, we got stuck in the mud, much like how I felt about Ikaji.

One morning, Moshi and I headed to buy trees and I sat and reflected on the situation with Ikaji.

Ikaji was simply not a good fit for this project and we had to decide how to proceed.

To help foster a community around the tours we decided to have a party for the people of Kolo.

The dry season had been especially brutal for the village of Iyoli and water was scarce.

This trip was winding to a close, but before I left, Moshi and took a final, bumpy motorcycle ride.

Once again, Perry Buchan leapt at the opportunity to be part of another water project.

I was back in Kondoa once again, at the same hotel (or at least the one next door).

To help determine how deeply the hole needed to be dug for the Iyoli well, the team conducted a survey.

We went back to Iyoli with a car full of computer equipment, a generator, and people.

With a car full of just about everyone, we headed to Iyoli one last time before leaving, but this time it was for a party.

The time had come to leave. I knew this because I had used my last square of toilet paper.

It took two and a half minutes to walk off the plane into the Turkish airport and breathe the unfamiliar smells.

It was like a fade-in into a movie, one that started with a reunion between two friends.

The next two weeks went by slowly as the drillers dug inch-by-inch toward the depth of 100m.

Initial digging had concluded, but we still had to test the water, build the tower, and dig trenches.

Tower construction began on market day, and led to a lot of people stopping by to watch the work.

Brick-by-handmade-brick, the tower went up. Soon, it would hold two water tanks and solar panels.

One morning in Kondoa town invited me over to play music at his house behind the hotel.

My worst fear, and I’m embarrassed to say but I will anyway, was having to go pee in the bush.

Today, I met Bar from Innovation: Africa - the woman who helped bring this project on.

I debated whether I even wanted to share this part of this story, but I will.

A few days later, work resumed at the project site.

Despite the recent setback, life continued—progress continued.

Things that were once green were starting to turn brown.

In many ways, our engineer was crazy and messed up.

Moshi, Juma, and I were at the site every day to make sure that things were getting done.

Water began flowing to the different distribution points throughout Iyoli.

This is my story. The stories I tell are the ones that hold me up, that keep me going, that feed me hope.

Each night when I drink a glass of water, I often think of Moshi, and the memories wash over me.