"2 1/2 planes later....welcome to Bukoba!" Bukoba by trvlrgrl

Bukoba Travel Guide: 4 reviews and 7 photos

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friend

My friend Kathleen works for the World Bank as a researcher...this means that in her world, stopping for a few days to check out progress on a project in Tanzania is akin to you or I stopping by the local Whole Foods on our way home from work to check out what's cooking since we won't be...she'd just as soon book a trip to Malawai, Indonesia, or the infamous S & M (although rumor has that M left S a few years ago....apparently the relationship was just too painful) as she would book tickets for a local play....I don't even want to think about how many frequent flyer miles she's wracked up over the years...

So when Kathleen invited me to join her on one of her "missions" to Africa and offered to give me a chunk of her frequent flyer miles to cover most of the trip, I took a good .1 seconds to think it through before I said yes. The catch is that she works in pretty remote places which requires getting into a series of increasingly smaller planes to reach. As a person who would rather scatter my atoms across the universe a la Star Trek then get into a small plane, this is cause for some concern. But Kathleen assures me that nice "big" planes fly in to the small town of Bukoba...funny how the the siren song of free frequent flyer miles can dull the mind.

We left Nairobi for Dar Es Salaam in a nice big jet....we transferred there to a slightly smaller but still comfortably large plane to Mwanza. We spent the night in Mwanza and the next morning headed off early for our final flight into Bukoba. And that morning, at first glimpse of the "plane" that was going to take us to Bukoba, I had my first true encounter with the divine...because there was no way I was getting on that itty bitty plane without some back-up.

The plane was about the size of a large SUV with wings...in fact it looked strangely similar to some land yachts I'd seen cruising around my home town. This beauty was not only tiny (it had maybe 8 seats), but it also had the charming feature of a nose that opened up to store the luggage...Yes folks, I was flying in the Volkswagon of planes. And to top it off, Kathleen informs me that in Bukoba we'll be landing on a dirt runway.

By this time, I'm ready to bolt for the multi-hour ferry that takes off once a day from Mwanza to Bukoba...but then Kathleen gently informs me that the safety record for these charmers is abysmal and going down in the middle of an African lake is no joke...even if you survive the sinking, there are all kinds of exotic, microscopic creatures ready to set up house in every nook and cranny of your body.

Since I'm here to tell the story, obviously I lived to blog another day. And my time in Bukoba was worth every bead of sweat and every stomach knot I experienced on that flight.

My Bukoba days

Kathleen was in Bukoba to work, I on the other was on some kind of quasi vacation. However, you would have to have a heart of stone to go to a remote town in Africa and spend your days reading a book or hanging out by the lake. There were numerous opportunities to help, and within a day of arriving in town Kathleen helped me connect with the Kibeta English Medium Primary School to tutor students during my time there.

Every child is beautiful...but these Tanzanian children especially touched my heart. The school was a Lutheran boarding schools. Most of the students were from the surrounding region and were considered to have "middle class" backgrounds.

I was assigned to tutor math to first graders in a class led by "Teacher Mary". When I entered the classroom, I was struck by how small the children were for their age. Teacher Mary informed me that many of students were suffering from protein deficiency which stunted their growth....and these were the children that were considered "privileged". Teacher Mary pointed to a chart on the wall...with pictures of a cow, a chicken, a hog, and a little cache of crickets. Because protein deficiency is such a problem, the school teaches students about what they should eat to keep up their protein intake.

Although the children were familiar with foreigners (development workers and ex-pats) coming in to town, very few of them had met an African-American before...apparently there are very few African Americans who work with the large development agencies. They were shy yet curious, and several of the young girls just wanted to hold my hand, touch my braids, and talk to me about what it was like to live in America.

This picture is of three young girls I tutored while in Bukoba.

Bukoba's make shift Indian cooking school

There really is only one good convenience store in Bukoba and that's the Cosmopolitan run by a multi-generational family of Indian immigrants (although many are really Indo-Africans as they were born and raised in Africa). While I was in town, some of the local Euro ex-pats talked Mama, the family matriarch who runs the Cosmopolitan, into giving us Indian cooking lessons.

So one day, after my tutoring duties were over, we all trekked into town for lessons in traditional Indian cooking. Mama first laid out her tray of spices explaining the critical role each played in creating authentic Indian dishes. Next she pulled out a huge bag of flour to show us how to mix and make chipatis...that is after she showed us how to keep your flour safe from chiggers and how to remove them if they find their way in there anyway.....the rest of the afternoon was spent making one delectable dish after another...chipatis, curries, and chutneys, oh my! As we sopped up every last drop of curry with our chipatis, Mama leaned in and asked quietly if it tasted "authentic"...and we assured her that it sure seemed authentic. She giggled lightly and explained that her mother taught her how to cook Indian food, but since she had never been to India, she always wondered how it compared. So if you find yourself in Bukoba, stop by the Cosmopolitan, say hello to Mama, and maybe she'll do a special cooking lesson for you too.

  • Last visit to Bukoba: May 2004
  • Intro Updated Sep 11, 2008
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