A Tanzanian adventure with Ambassador Donald Wright

What you need to know:

  • US ambassador to Tanzania, Donald Wright, is one of the people who has had a great taste of what Tanzania has to offer tourists. Even before he became the US envoy, he explored different cultures, foods, and places in both the Mainland and Zanzibar. Wright is known for sharing such escapades on social media, giving a glimpse of this side of his life.
  • In a one-on-one interview with The Citizen’s travel correspondent, Anganile Mwakyanjala, the ambassador shares his adventurous moments. The interview was transcribed by Lilian Ndilwa.

Question: You visited Tanzania even before you became an ambassador; how was your experience back then?

Answer: Very early in my medical career, some 30 years ago, I came to Tanzania to serve as a volunteer at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in Zanzibar. I was working with Save the Children, where I assisted in treating malaria, malnutrition, and other diseases. It was during that visit that I developed a strong social appreciation for Tanzania and its people.

What were the major changes you noticed when you came back to work as an ambassador 30 years later?

There are major infrastructural developments that have occurred in the past three decades; however, the people and the country have not changed.

Since you came back, where is the best place you have ever visited?

That’s an impossible question; Tanzania is a country of diversity because every place I have ever visited seems to be the best place. Whether you’re lying on a beach in Zanzibar, taking in the Serengeti scenery, or hiking in the highlands.

What state are you from in the US, and if Tanzanians were to visit, what places would you recommend?

I am from Texas, which is the second-largest state in the United States of America. We have great beaches, forests, and deserts. It’s a state known for cultural diversity.

One of your social media posts that went viral was when you bought chapati at a popular spot in Dar es Salaam run by Mama Miraji. What prompted you to do that?

I had never tried chapati until I came to Tanzania, and even when I did, they were bought at a bakery. One day I heard that Mama Miraji makes the best chapati in Dar es Salaam, and I had to visit her business spot. They were absolutely the best.

You have a tendency to buy different things from local vendors when you are on the road during your work trips; can you talk about that experience?

Long after I finish my term as an ambassador, I will remember the times when I interacted with local business vendors on the road, whether I was purchasing smoked maize or a woven basket.I enjoy supporting their business and knowing that I can add value to it.

You are one of the few people who have come across rhinoceroses during your visit at Mkomazi National Park, one of the most beautiful yet extinct animals. How did it feel?

It was a wonderful experience! It aligned with my educational background when I studied zoology. I have a great interest in the animal kingdom, so when I had the chance to visit the black rhino sanctuary in northern Tanzania, I was thrilled to see the wildlife in the country. One of the richest experiences in Tanzania is its park system, where about 30 percent of the land has been set aside for parks. That is something you rarely see around the world.

Are there things a local Tanzanian or an American tourist can do to help with the efforts of wildlife conservation?

There are a number of NGOs, both American-led and local, that focus on wildlife conservation. These NGOs have raised concerns about both anti-poaching and conservation efforts in Tanzania.

There was a project conducted in Mafia called Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) that relates to the tourism industry. Can you talk about it?

First of all, everyone who has not visited Mafia yet has to put it on their to-do list. It’s a place with great scenery and beaches. The MCC project resulted in a grant to the Tanzanian government that led to the construction of the Mafia airport. This is why, when you are either landing or departing, you will see a sign that says “This airport is a gift from the American people’.”

One of the most astonishing moments was when you held a large snake. How did that come about?

It was, without a doubt, the most unexpected moment of my time in Tanzania. It happened when I visited Mwanza. I was introduced to different cultures and tribes and one of the tribes is Sukuma, whose people are known to dance with snakes. When I was invited to hold the snake and later shared the pictures of my wife and me with the snake with people back in America, they were shocked! It was truly thrilling.

Do you have plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

I would love to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I am old (he laughs). I always hope that when I drive to Moshi or Arusha, it’s a clear day so that I can enjoy the views. However, I have heard from my colleagues at the embassy that it’s a lifelong experience.

\The Serengeti National Park was named the best national park in Africa for four years in a row. How was your own experience there?

The Serengeti National Park has a major reputation worldwide, and I would encourage tourists to visit it. However, I would also recommend other Tanzanian parks for a similar wildlife experience, such as Ruaha, Selous, and Mikumi National Parks. I do not want to only endorse Serengeti National Park, and that’s because of overpopulation. In other parks, they will get the same great experience.

It is noticeable that you are a fan of sports as much as Tanzanians are, especially football. Do you have a favourite local team?

You must remember that I am a diplomat, so I cannot choose a side. I support the Tanzanian national team as well as whichever team takes the victory on that day.

You are a very active person on social media. Why is that?

I love sharing things I experience and people I interact with on a regular basis. This has made me give glimpses of places that Americans and Tanzanians have heard about as well as things and places they have not yet visited. The capturing of such moments allows other people to vicariously live my journey through me.