The MEGA for SEGA Cultural Exchange: What We Did in Tanzania (Part 1 of 3)

Stopover in Abu Dhabi and Travel to SEGA

The MEGA for SEGA cultural exchange was a huge success! Huge thank yous to all who were involved in the logistics, especially Rhona Mtega, Laura DeDominicis, and Faith Hoenecke!

 Leaving Madison for our trip

Leaving Madison for our trip

The trip began with an intense journey. We took a bus from Madison to the O’Hare airport in Chicago, took off in an airplane from O’Hare, and had a layover in Abu Dhabi. Instead of staying in the airport, we decided to book a little stopover trip, taking a small city tour of the nearby Mosque, Emirates Tower, and the local date market! It was very interesting for all of us to see the city and witness what a completely Muslim country looks like. Women’s styles, especially, were intriguing – all of the different headscarves were fascinating. Our tour guide was very nice, getting us a good deal on chocolate covered dates, which we then brought to SEGA as a snack for our planned spa night. After a very comfortable (but brief…) night at the Radisson Blu Hotel on Yas Island, it was time to head to the Abu Dhabi airport and then SEGA!

 At a mosque in Abu Dhabi

At a mosque in Abu Dhabi

The following 5 hour flight went well! We landed in Dar Es Salaam tired, but excited. Mudi, our driver, met us at the airport, and after a minor incident in which the cash machine stole Faith’s debit card (fortunately Anne, our other chaperone, could take her card to a different ATM), we were on our way. We had the coolest, most green VIP bus, which made us all feel very important. As we were walking with Mudi to the parking lot, all of us commented on the fancy bus in the back, which actually turned out to be ours! Our excitement may have been caused by extreme jet lag, but we all felt it was the perfect start to our trip to SEGA.

 Buying tinga-tinga paintings from a vendor in Dar Es Salaam

Buying tinga-tinga paintings from a vendor in Dar Es Salaam

There are certain experiences in life that transcend language. Experiences that everyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from, can share. In our group, 6/7 of us had not even been on the continent of Africa. Thus, traveling to Tanzania, we did not know quite what to expect. But from the minute we stepped off of the plane in Dar, it became very clear to us how similar we were to everyone in Tanzania.

In fact, the bus ride from Dar Es Salaam to Morogoro was an eye-opening experience for all of us. The bus had really large windows, so everyone outside could see us directly. All of the people we made eye contact with smiled, and sometimes waved: it was a full five hours of waving and smiling back on our part. No one had to speak (neither English nor Swahili), but we all greeted each other, smiled, and waved through windows. It did not require language to be friendly. One particularly memorable moment, however, involved a young girl around eight years of age who saw us, waved wildly and shouted “HOW ARE YOU?!” as she jumped up and down.  We were very obviously travelers, and I think one reason the Tanzanians were so welcoming was that we were foreign – everyone wanted to welcome us and make us feel at home. We were all charmed – it felt extremely different from traveling anywhere in the U.S.A.

It was fascinating to see all of this happiness set in scenes of apparent poverty. The ride through Dar Es Salaam made us all rethink our American definitions of a city. Many central stores or restaurants seemed run down, or held up with makeshift pillars, or covered with rickety tin roofs, but the scenes were vivid and vibrant, with groups of people outside, laughing and talking. There seemed to be endless vendors and places to shop, and everyone seemed to be selling something – but it was difficult to distinguish homes from stores. One source of amusement were the different signs on the barbershops, which almost always featured prominent Americans and their hairstyles – Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, and Obama were common sights.

Once we drove out of Dar Es Salaam, we began to catch glimpses of agriculture and farmers, seeing different animals and homes dispersed throughout the intensely green landscape. Many homes appeared somewhat collapsed, and yet people were still living and working around them. We all noticed the women dressed in traditional Tanzanian kangas, who were carrying their babies on their backs – we all thought this was very cute and seemed very convenient. We admired the kanga patterns – and resolved to buy some to use in our fundraisers, if we could. One scene that we all remembered, and talked about afterwards, was a group of kids who looked around our age, playing soccer with a makeshift soccer ball made of different plastic bags tied together with string. We were all reminded that while we could buy souvenirs for our friends and families without a problem, many children had to be creative if they just wanted a soccer ball.We also noticed the litter – plastic bags and water bottles scattered around the roads and houses.

Mudi played music videos of Tanzanian artists on the bus for us, in the style of ‘Bongo Flava’ he told us. We all agreed that the style was very similar to the style of popular songs on the American charts, and that these songs would be very popular in the United States as well. After a gorgeous sunset and a break for snacks at a convenience store (we purchased some interesting flavors of gum, including cardamom, banana, and one titled ‘funky flavour’), we made it to SEGA, and prepared our very tired yet excited selves to meet the girls.

 A picture of those who helped get MEGA girls to Tanzania

A picture of those who helped get MEGA girls to Tanzania

First Night at SEGA and Meeting the SEGA Girls

After we dropped off our stuff in the SEGA lodge, the girls met us at the gate to take us to one of the classrooms to play some games. We started with introductions and name games, and some names (on both sides) proved difficult to pronounce! ‘Angie’ was pronounced ‘Andrie’ and sometimes ‘Angry’ (quite ironic if you know Angie) while Anyesi was difficult for the MEGA girls to master. We realized that no matter what language you speak, it can be funny when someone else tries to speak it. On the other hand, we also realized how impressive it is when someone speaks it well. The girls had near perfect English, and linguistic barriers were essentially nonexistent.

Still, shyness existed on both sides. It takes more than language to eliminate such an emotion. It takes “Where the West Wind Blows”. “Where the West Wind Blows,” for those who don’t know this game, along with the name games we played, is usually employed on the first day of school at our high school, Madison West High, to get everyone better acquainted (as we told the SEGA girls). One person has to go to the center of a circle and say their name and some fact about them, and everyone who has that fact in common with them must switch seats. Whoever is left out has to be the new person in the center. One of the best statements was when Zunna tried to catch us MEGA girls by stating that all people with long hair had to move! However, she was then reminded she has to share a fact that applies to herself and had to choose another….a popular statement was when Anne said “I like having photos taken of me!” and then everyone seemed to shuffle around…this was a good indicator that our planned ‘photo shoot’ for the last day would be a success!

 Playing Where the West Wind Blows on the first night at SEGA

Playing Where the West Wind Blows on the first night at SEGA

Throughout the rest of this night and our time at the school, we shared many experiences with the girls that required no speaking to understand. Playing several other games, we realized that the giggles are universal and highly contagious. Good luck finishing a game when everyone is trying not to laugh! After a couple of rounds, it was time for bed. As the SEGA girls walked us back to the lodge, everyone got a chance to chat and get excited for our planned activities the next day. Although the MEGA girls were extremely tired, we all felt happy that we had gotten a chance to meet everybody, and were all ready for the next day. The SEGA lodge beckoned us, and we all fell asleep as soon as we got into bed (complete with fancy mosquito nets!).

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!

Lissy, Angie, Tatum, Zoe, Penelope, Anne, and Faith