Chapter 13: Culture Clash

As I looked out the window on our overfilled bus bound for Kondoa, I saw field after field of dried up corn, more painful evidence of climate change.

The late rains had caused the crops to dry and prices to rise dramatically, making the corn—or maize— unaffordable for much of the population. Many families, including Moshi’s, managed by borrowing from a friend, or if someone could spare, they would lend out the little bit of money they did have to someone who was worse off.

Moshi dropped me off at the Kondoa Climax Hotel and then went home to catch up with his wife and kids. I unpacked my bags and made the little pink room home. It had a double bed and a door that opened up onto a shared courtyard. I soon met three of the girls who worked at the hotel, Amina, Aisha, and Oliva, and I immediately liked them. I was the only guest, and because no one spoke English, they had plenty of time to teach me some simple Swahili.

Language is what connects us, but it’s also what makes it nerve wracking to be in another country if you can’t speak it, especially in a country with huge differences in dress, religion, and socio-economic situations. Not being able to speak makes people seem scary, but the minute you share a laugh, you move from stranger to friend and it invites people to talk to you.

While learning Swahili, my favourite phrase was “pili pili ho ho,” which means green pepper, but I thought it sounded more like a dance move—and the girls loved to dance. Sometimes one of them would flip over the yellow washing bucket and drum out a beat while saying these words and dancing. The girls were all in their early twenties and full of energy, so they laughed a lot—although sometimes I couldn’t tell if they were laughing at me or with me, but either way, I was learning bit by bit and, sometimes I danced right along with them.

Moshi and I spent the next few days working hard to write tour itineraries for the company while sitting on the porch. One day, as we were working, the aunt of the owner came by and threw the familiar traditional blessing on the house. She flicked a white mixture at our feet and all along the length of the porch while chanting ululations—the same ones that Zoe and I had experienced during our previous trip.

The time finally came for me to meet Ikaji. He was a smart guy who worked at the local hospital, but from the moment we met, something just didn’t click, and I felt awkward and uncomfortable. He was wearing a suit and tie, and since I didn’t think to dress up, I was wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. As he looked me over, I could feel the judgement in his eyes, but I wanted to make progress, so I just kept talking and making plans. Language barriers were difficult enough, but it hadn’t occurred to me until this trip that cultural differences presented an entirely new set of challenges. In Vancouver, people liked my creativity, but in Kondoa, Ikaji had no idea how to read how I presented myself, and I had no idea how to read his shiny shoes and suit; I wasn’t used to the business etiquette of Tanzania.

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.