US teacher ‘falls in love’ with Tanzania

Ms. Meredith Marsden, left, poses for a photo with her tour guide and coworkers. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Meredith Marsden, a school teacher from Atlanta, Georgia, travelled to Tanzania in 2019 to share her passion of teaching. She did, however, receive more than she could have hoped for, including the opportunity to take a safari in Tanzania, visit a wilderness area, and observe exotic creatures in their natural setting.
  • She shares her story with our travel correspondent, Anganile Mwakyanjala.

QUESTION: You have one of the most amazing Facebook profile pictures. Can you tell us the story behind it?

ANSWER: We went on a three-day safari to the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, and we camped outside, so we got to see four of the Big Five animals. It was a really cool experience. We saw male lions lazing around. And then all of a sudden, our driver got a call, and everyone was rushing to a spot where a lioness was stalking a prey. We watched the whole thing, but we did not get to see it kill.

Tell us how it felt to see a lioness attempt a kill in real life. How different was it from watching it on TV?

It was insane. It was really amazing to see nature in its natural setting.

Tell us more about the animals you saw, including the Big Five. Which one did you enjoy seeing the most?

The elephants were my favourite. We saw a herd of them walking with baby elephants in their midst.

What are some of the rules or signs about elephants that the tour guide shared with you?

They did tell us that the elephants might look cute, but they are fierce and defensive. So when they were crossing, we were told not to yell out or do anything that might rattle them. They told us to sit quietly and watch.

We were also warned about the monkeys. We were told to be careful because they can steal your food.

What animals were you obsessed with?

I was obsessed with hippos. They became my new favourite animals. I think they are really cute. Though, I was told that they can really be vicious. We saw some of them at a watering hole, and we were told that the mothers tend to be very protective of their babies.

American food is vastly different from Tanzanian dishes. What’s your experience with Tanzanian cuisine?

I’m a very picky eater, but I actually found a lot to eat in Tanzania. I liked the samosas and chips mayai, which were the most popular because they were the most American-style dishes. I made chips mayai when we had a reunion in the USA. We tried a lot of everything in Tanzania. When we stayed on the coast, there was a lot of seafood.

Tell us a little bit about your teaching career and how it brought you to Tanzania.

I have always loved kids. I think we have to look to the next generation to really make changes, and if we teach the next generation (the kids) to be more compassionate, understanding, and accepting, then that can really make our world a better place. So for me, academics are important, but it is more about the people’s skills and learning to be accepting of people that make a difference.

This trip was recommended by some of the professors at our school who had been to Tanzania. We came here in a group of about 16 students and four professors; some of them came back to be our supervisors. When we came here, we spent three weeks outside of Tanga, on the Indian Ocean coast. We were assigned to five different schools, from primary to secondary, where we taught English, and they also taught us Swahili so we could communicate better. I was assigned to a primary school; I love kids, so it was really fun.

What simple Swahili words did you learn?

Hujambo? (How are you?), Habari (Hello), Mambo? (How are things?), Poa (good).

You stayed in Tanzania for a month, what would you say is the experience that you will not forget for the rest of your life?

All of it. However, there was one day we got to play soccer with the schoolchildren; they were so much better than us, but it was really fun. Afterwards, we got invited to go to some of their homes to break the fast with them for Ramadhan. This was a really cool experience. But, of course, the safaris, which are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, were also very memorable. These are experiences that cannot be replicated. Seeing animals in their natural habitat, where they are supposed to be living, is very different from seeing them in a zoo.

There are so many people of my age who have never been on safari. So whenever I meet them, I encourage them to travel to Tanzania. There is no better safari experience than in Tanzania. On our very last day on Safari, we stayed at a really nice hotel—probably the nicest place I’ve been to in my entire life. We had been camping for like three nights, so we had not had a proper shower or anything. So when we got there, we all took some nice showers, then we had one last big dinner together.

Is it expensive to go on Safari?

I don’t think so. For us, it was all part of the package, which made it really worth it. But it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it is worth the money, and it is not as expensive as one would think. I would have paid a lot more for the experience that I got.

What are some of the things that you could hear about Africa, and Tanzania in particular, that you found to be different or the same?

There are a lot of stereotypes about Africa. First of all, some people do not realise that countries make up Africa. People do not know how many different cultures exist in individual countries. In Tanzania, I got to see the best of both worlds because I got to go to the village, but then also visit a big city like Arusha. When I was talking to my friends about it, there was this disbelief that I would be in a big city. Unfortunately, we took connecting flights, so we did not get to visit Dar es Salaam. The media in the USA does not expose you to the bigger picture of Tanzania and Africa.

Let’s talk about music. What was your experience with music in Tanzania?

One night we went to a karaoke bar, and it was fun. The singing, dancing and upbeat music were so much fun.

Do you have any plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

I want to, and I’ve been planning to. It is something that is on my bucket list. It was not on my bucket list the first time, but after visiting, I said I definitely had to come back and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.