I wake to the sound of rain pounding on the window, only to hear it fade into the distance and realize that in fact it was the sound of a metal bike careening across the dirt road. In fact, the day is bright and only speckled with clouds. The light glints off the metal roofs of the nearby shops, and the city glistens green from the recent rains.
Our hotel, Aba, is in the middle of the city center, but half the roads (including the one we are on) are unpaved and rocky. Nonetheless, they bustle with activity and energy; people lounge and stand all over the streets, half of them wrapped in traditional bright-colored, ankle-length wraps. After a breakfast of toast, fried egg and coffee, Christy and I set off in search of the “must-haves”: a SIM card, GPRS modem (to access the internet using a SIM card), large bottles of water, and a city map. We find the first and last quickly, the second takes a couple more requests. It isn’t until we find an Indian expat in one of the electronic stores that anyone even knows what we’re talking about. My meager sense of direction is tested severely all day – only the largest streets are marked, and the street markers are no more than hand-painted signs stuck in the ground at eye level.
Ernest, the hotel manager and accountant, has found us a driver in the meantime who can take us to Seven Up, a restaurant on the north edge of town where we meet Matt Brown from the TNC Arusha office. While we wait for him, I watch the traffic rolling by. People drive on the left here and the road is congested with motorbikes, shuttles and trucks, but there is much less honking than in, say, China. The local shuttles are basically 15 passenger vans with no doors – people cram inside and hang out the door. But there is wealth here, too, for a Lexus SUV pulls up while we wait.
He’s fantastic, as are the program managers and staff. We meet Fred, who is in charge of the new waterfund outside of Nairobi, as well as two people who will run the Greater Mahale region program. After a meal of wheat flatbread (like a thick naan), rice, beans, sauced up chicken and sautéed greens, plus a coke, we head back to the TNC Arusha office. It’s in a beautiful old home past a number of guarded checkpoints, in the southwest corner of town. There we’re able to sit in on a meeting about the program around Lake Tanganyike, the longest and second deepest freshwater lake in the world. The lake holds 17% of the world’s freshwater and has 250 of its 300 fish species as endemic. The land region has some 1800 chimps, and just north of the focus area is Gombe, home of Jane Goodall’s longest running chimpanzee research project. Matt is a fantastic leader, and I watch him develop strategic thinking in his staff and project managers. Everyone is so sharp and smart, and I learn a lot from all of them. I try not to ask too many questions! Afterward, Matt kindly invites Christy and I back to his house for dinner. He’s just slaughtered two rabbits (they raise them in a hutch out back) for stew, and we head back to his lovely home where we hang out with his family and their schoolteacher. Both Matt and his wife have been to Noloholo, and they tell us over and over how beautiful it is.
Chelsea, the teacher, is from Minnesota and a St. Olaf grad who studied abroad in Dar es Salaam, and she drives us back home after dinner. We ask her lots of questions and she tells us about what it’s like teaching international schoolchildren. She said, for example, that sometimes it takes 20 minutes to get to school and sometimes it takes an hour and a half. A lot is unpredictable in the childrens’ lives, and they develop an incredible sense of patience and flexibility – so much so that sometimes the children calm *her* down when, say, the power goes out in the computer lab and they have to go play a different game in the classroom. They learn Swahili in class, and have classmates who are from Israel, Canada, Serbia, China, India.. the list goes on. It seems a very rich place to me; the children we meet are whip smart and incredibly engaging. On the way back Chelsea drives us through town and points out where the best coffee shop, pizza restaurant and deli are located.
We’re jetlagged but the day was so engaging that both Christy and I immediately head into the restaurant and hop on the internet in the hotel restaurant. We haven’t decided what to do tomorrow yet, but I am certain this is the first day of many great ones.