Because of a mistake with my booking, I arrived in Tanzania a day later than I’d planned. After a cross-Atlantic flight to Frankfurt and a brief layover in Addis Ababba, I finally arrived back in the country I love. My second home. Tanzania.
The familiar smell and wave of heat, the lilting language I know without fully understanding, the bright blue letters welcoming, “Julius K. Nyerere International Airport,” all of this greeted me, and despite the long hours of travel, I was smiling, peaceful, content. But only for a moment. I know there is so much work to be done.
After we had paid our visa fees, I bade farewell to my flight companion, Russell, a North Irishman who works for a gas company in Congo and is here in Dar on business. I noted some small changes in the airport– new fingerprint scanners by the visa windows and a large sign encouraging tourists to report bribery. Two young Tanzanians had already found my bags on the luggage carousel and they led me out of the main doors. And there they were–my friends, my brothers–Benson and Erasmus Rukantabula.
In all of this planning and promoting of the Radio Tanzania archive project, I realize I haven’t properly introduced Benson and Erasmus (but you may have seen them on our website: . I met these brothers at a barbeque sometime around November of 2009. I took to them immediately, Erasmus with his big, bright smile and Benson with his quiet intensity. Our meeting epitomized what I had grown to love about Tanzania: the people are so generous and genuine that deep friendships spring up over the course of an hour or two. We danced and laughed through that night, until some of us took off for the Busta Rhymes concert that was happening nearby (yes, that’s right. I went to a Busta Rhymes concert in Tanzania).
I don’t think I saw Benson and Erasmus much after that for a few months. Things got very busy with school work at the Unviersity of Dar es Salaam where I was studying and the microfinance work I was doing with Kiva never lulled. But some weekends we would manage to escape to Kipepeo beach, just north of the city, and share cold Fantas as we dug our feet into the sand.
In February, after I got in the motorcycle accident, Benson and Erasmus visited me in the hospital more than anyone else. Often, they waited for hours for dalla dallas to take them to the far-off corner of the city where I languished in a hospital bed. Their presence was more uplifting than I could ever let them know. When I felt guilty that they had come so far to visit, they chided me, saying, “we are your friends. This is what friends do.”
After I had left the hospital and moved into a small guest house with my father, Benson and Erasmus visited one last time. They brought with them small presents for me and my dad. My present was a DVD they had created with photos from my stay in Tanzania set to music. It brought me to tears.
Back in the United States, I kept in touch with Erasmus and Benson via email and Facebook. When I decided to digitize the Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam archives, they were the first people I told. “Please work with me on this,” I said.
I didn’t have to ask twice. Together we drafted a mission and vision statement, bylaws and a constitution for the organization we called The Tanzania Heritage Project. With cultural preservation as our goal, we set out to register as an offical NGO in Tanzania and work toward our first big project: the digitization of the Radio Tananzia archives. In those days, Benson or Erasmus would go to the archives once or twice a week, and oil the greasy wheels of bureaucracy with assurances of our good intentions. They were the ones who secured our permission to promote our project using clips from the archives, and to access those archives now. This project would not be happening without them.
So, back to the present. After they picked me up, my friends took me to Tabata Segerea, the area of Dar where they live. They had rented me a room at a guesthouse within walking distance of their house. In the car ride over, we talked Radio Tanzania plans. Did I mention it was 2:15 in the morning when my plane landed? Benson wouldn’t hear my demands that I just be allowed to take a taxi. “You are our friend, you are our family. I will be there. Please send my greetings to your family!” Benson had to say this twice, as I didn’t manage to get word to him in time when I missed my first flight two days ago. So two nights in a row, he was at the airport in the middle of the night awaiting my arrival. Erasmus’ flight from Nairobi got in at midnight, but he too insisted on coming to the airport to greet me. Benson told me later that his mother also wanted to come, but they managed to convince her to stay at home. I will meet her in the morning.
I’m so grateful for all of the support on Kickstarter, and to Nina Carter and Tyler Webb, who are running the campaign in my absence. I will send updates from Dar es Salaam as often as I can! Tomorrow, the work begins.