On Friday last week I left Finland for Tanzania to volunteer at a local legal aid office. The journey took more than 24 hours, and since I didn’t get much sleep on the plane, I was pretty exhausted by the time I arrived at Kilimanjaro airport. It felt surreal to actually be there, after dreaming about coming to Africa for so long! I had read quite a few books about Africa beforehand, so I was really looking forward to finding out if the air really had that special scent so many writers have written about. The first thing I did when stepping out of the plane was to take a deep breath, and yes, it really smelt like Africa. I can’t describe it at all, it’s something you have to experience yourself to understand what I’m talking about.
The airport itself is tiny, basically just one dusty room with paint chipping off the walls. Applying for a visa at the airport did not take long as I had all the necessary documents and, more importantly, the correct amount of US dollars required (never underestimate the importance of money in a country run by corruption). The immigration officer did not seem to buy my story about coming here to do sightseeing by myself for six weeks, but it wasn’t a problem as he could not prove anything to the contrary. So I got my tourist visa and applied for a work permit a few days later.
I was amazed to find out that my luggage was already there as I was half expecting at least one of my bags to be lost on the way. There was a big group of men waiting outside, and soon I managed to spot my driver, a young guy holding a piece of paper with my name written on it. His name was Hillary and he told me loads about Tanzania during the 35-minute drive to my apartment in Arusha. I was trying to talk to him and admire the view at the same time. Everything was so different from anything I’ve ever seen before! The dry and dusty savannahs, the beautiful lush forests, the banana trees with huge green leaves, the corn plantations, the little huts made of mud, the women dressed in colourful clothing carrying huge buckets on top of their heads, and the men sitting on the side of the road looking like they had never been in a hurry in their lives.
It is such a different lifestyle, and I could not wait to be a part of it. I think it was love at first sight!