Tanzania Diaries - First entry
At the start of the millennium, an iconic and beloved film that is also a personal favourite of mine, 'The Lion King' took to the stages of the sparking West End. As an adolescent girl yet to travel, as far as I was concerned this was the furthest I would go into the unknown depths of the Kingdom of Africa. The narrative of the well-known production follows the adventures of Young Simba out in the wild, in which he struggles and preservers through his journey. As we are transported into this story with Simba we meet the ravenous hyenas playing the typical villain in this classic children's tale, chasing poor Simba away from his throne. Simba eventually overthrows them and once again rules the Animal Kingdom, providing us with the typical Disney ending. After my trip to see The Lion King, the African Jungle and what lay inside fascinated me. I eventually got to go to The London Zoo, with its mystifying and exotic animals shipped in from around the world and thought I had surely seen all that Africa had to offer me.
As I watched my brother and sister take their gap years, travelling across the globe to exciting places from the likes of Cambodia, Thailand and Bali I can't say I had an urge to explore any particular part of Africa. I was more than happy to associate my views on the African continent with the idealistic, rose-tinted glasses Disney view that Simba was ruling the animal Kingdom.
But come 2014, sitting in my school assembly, Katie Baxter, a representative from Camps international, a charitable company working with local communities in many counties across the world, opened up the idea of an expedition to Tanzania. They were offering students the opportunity to go and help build schools, carry out conservation work and do a mountain trek. Excited by the prospect of a new adventure into the unknown, I wanted to go. My parents however were not too keen as there was a small price to pay: £3,500.
Whilst only having two weeks to decide if they were willing to make the commitment, my mother somewhat unwillingly came along to the meeting. Between back and forth questions and concerns about travel, our safety, vaccinations. One well-prepped mum challenged. 'How are students expected to pay this large amount of money?" but Katie reassured that 'Students will fundraise, with our help to get the full amount for the trip'.
Rightfully, my mother doubted me. Although she eventually gave in to the idea after my adamant statements that I could raise all the money, in the end she was right. My fundraising skills weren't all I thought they were. It turned out that a few measly cake sales didn't quite get me to my targeted goal and I was left down heartened. My parents acquiesced to donating me the remainder or the sum.
On the 18th of July 2015, after almost a year of 'fundraising', it was day to head off into the unknown of Africa. Being the first time away from our parents was a daunting experience as a naïve 16 year old not only for us, but them too. So they all came to our school to nervously wave us off, much to my embarrassment. Me only having a petite build, my backpack, holding all my belongings for the next month, was bigger than myself. I looked like a child off to my first day of school, wearing the uniform a few sizes too big to last me the next few years.
We started the long 10-hour journey from Heathrow with a stopover in Istanbul. Inevitably, our first flight being with the ever-reliable Easy Jet meant that we were running late. Sprawled over the floor of the airport waiting for our now 45 minute delayed flight, we were bubbling with excitement, not giving a thought to the fact that we only had an hour to change of for our connecting flight into Kilimanjaro.
Once we finally arrived in Istanbul, there was no time to spare if we wanted to reach our final destination. As I stepped off the plane the heat hit me. Sweating from all the layers that I had needed in the bitter British morning. We hurried through Istanbul airport to our connection with no time to remove a few layers or go to the toilet. We made our flight with a few minutes to spare. Next stop Kilimanjaro.
After an exhausting morning, I was looking forward to having a nice nap on the plane to revitalise and energise myself for arrival. I looked at my boarding pass, seat 28A, window seat. I compared seat numbers with my friend Anna, who as it turned out was seated with a few other girls coming on the trip. Just my luck: I was sat by myself at the other end of the aeroplane. I found my row, I was surrounded by a group of 11 German friends. As I was late, they had already taken my window seat. Feeling sheepish I regretfully kept quiet and sat in the aisle seat instead. They proceeded to celebrate their trip for the whole journey. The rounds of drinks kept coming, jolting me awake with their loud laughs and pushing past me to go to the toilet. Some of them even stood in the small gap between me and the other row of people, confining me to an even smaller amount of personal space than you're given. Let's just say I didn't get to sleep.
As the plane wheels touched African soil, the thought of my restless journey left my mind. It was dark outside. Arriving into one of Tanzania's biggest and busiest airports, I was expecting slightly more than a small run down building. The new culture hit me; there were guards, all of whom were carrying guns. Warning signs darted everywhere about the global fear of Ebola. A sense of anxiety started to kick in. What had I got my self into?