Anyone who has sat next to me for more than four minutes knows that this is one of my favourite places on the planet. Mtae is a teeny village high up in the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. I can’t quite explain what it is about Mtae that captures me, but I suspect it’s a combination of things rather than one shiny moment.
The kids – their laughter is contagious. They’re quick to flash the most dazzling of smiles, show your their wiggly dance moves, demonstrate their kung fu skills, or deliver you a guinea pig.
The welcome – Jambo! Karibu! This is called out to you everywhere you wander. Jambo is the Swahili word to say hello to a tourist (mzungu) and karibu means welcome. When I came home I was depressed for weeks, no one was greeting me with such warmth and enthusiasm. My poor ego.
The hope – despite the fact that students are crammed in, after walking up to 3 hours one way to get to class often without a lunch, with few supplies and fewer teachers, they are spirited and determined. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. “A pilot, a doctor, a teacher!” they’d cheer. Of course.
The attitude – I believe that the folks living in Mtae hold an essential piece to the happiness puzzle. Since they don’t have much, their energy is focused wholeheartedly on what they do have. Family, friends, home, and community. Not new shoes, big screen tvs, or iGadgets.
Or perhaps it’s the scenery – jaws drop around every corner.
How to get there: The first time was with G Adventures, who offered an authentic journey – you’ll ride on buses with chickens. You’ll also be in capable hands with the Friends of Usambara Society, who will put your fees to excellent work, engaging and enabling the communities to become self-sustaining.
You can experience the most frightening bus ride of your life, from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Moshi. Completely worth it, I just don’t recommend the journey while hung over.