My name is Natalia and I am a freelance photographer based in Sydney. At this very moment, however, I work as a volunteer photographer for an international organization in Tanzania. Traveling has always been in my blood; it’s the unknown when you enter the country, the feeling of excitement you get when you get out of the airport. It’s everything from culture, experiencing the local life, eating their food and trying to learn basics of language spoken in the country.
What sparked your interest to travel to Tanzania? Which regions did you visit?
Tanzania, or Africa rather, was not on my list of places to visit; it just happened. I simply applied for a position as a volunteer photographer and to be very honest I wanted to go to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The organization asked me if I would be interested in going to Tanzania instead and I jumped at the opportunity. Working for a charity with many different volunteer groups around Tanzania gave me the opportunity to see different regions and places within the country I would not have had the opportunity to see otherwise, like traveling from North to South and trekking near the national park. Most of the projects are focused in rural areas, aiming to educate kids and communities about hygiene & sanitation.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each city?
Planning the trip was easy but time consuming. It took a few months of preparation and paper work; I also did a lot of fundraising to raise money towards this trip. I remember sharing my excitement on Instagram and Nasrin (a girl from Zanzibar whom I had been following for some time now) messaged me to come to visit Zanzibar. So I did. I stayed there for few days before starting the expedition. Strolling through the beaches while talking to locals about fishing, seaweed picking and octopus hunting. Regarding transport within each region in Tanzania, we always travel in between areas with personal cars or public buses because the projects we work on are quite far apart. Taking the public bus can be a bit difficult and overwhelming if you don’t speak Swahili, but can also be a great cultural experience.
How was this trip different from your past tips?
My trip to Tanzania has been very different from any other of my previous trips. One of the most exciting things I got to experience was staying with Tanzanian families in the villages for homestays; which is pretty much the closest you can get to their culture.
What have been some of your culinary experiences as a volunteer in Tanzania?
Living as a volunteer in Tanzania is nothing like I would have ever expected. To start with, I try not to have any expectations so as not to get disappointed or surprised. Particularly with food. Wherever we go, we eat either rice and beans or ugali and beans (ugali is flour and boiled water mixed into a paste that you then roll between your fingers into a little flour ball). Most of the time we also get some greens or fresh produce with the meal. Several foods are also deep fried - from potatoes, bananas to meat or bread.
What would you say has been the most challenging about your experience?
The most challenging part for me has been the language barrier. While in bigger cities you will always find people who speak English, the people in small and rural villages mostly speak Swahili. However, I am thankful for many things and lessons that Tanzania has taught me - from patience, some Swahili, to how to make some of the most delicious treats using mostly just flour and oil.
Most people tend to generalize Africa as one big “country”, forgetting it is in fact a very large continent with diverse and differing cultures and languages. What would you say the biggest similarities and differences you’ve experienced in each region?
Tanzania is the only country I’ve visited during this trip, but because of the amount of time I get to spend here and all the places we got to visit, I can see how different regions are so distinctive from each other. Although the official language is Swahili and business language is English, there are several different languages and dialects. Each region has their own language and tribe, which also has a few sub-tribes. One thing that was remained the same throughout the country, however, is the kindness of Tanzanian people, their big smile and welcoming arms wherever I’ve been.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers?
Tanzania is diverse in several different ways; from beautiful white sand beaches in Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, or Mafia island, to beautiful mountains. I would highly recommend Morogoro as it is a beautiful place and has spectacular mountains, Mikumi National Park and Kitulo National Park that is home to many beautiful flowers and trees. My favourite place is Mbeya, which is like little heaven on earth. Small villages near the region of Mbeya are full of yummy bananas, avocados and mangos (when in season).
What advice and recommendations can you give to those interested in traveling within the region?
Bring a dictionary, try your best to communicate using Swahili and the locals will appreciate it. The word I've heard every day is “muzungu’ – meaning "white person" in Swahili. There can be ‘muzungu’ prices at the markets so be ready to negotiate; it is part of the culture. Once they get to know you, they will start calling you dada (sister) or kaka (brother) which a really nice gesture that makes you feel welcomed and part of the culture. Be sure to greet people and shake hands with the elderly and always use your right hand to pass/ give things to people.
Of all the images you’ve captured throughout your trip, which would you say was your favorite? Why?
This picture (see image below) was taken in Zanzibar where I took a day trip to one of the small islands with a friend. We swam with wild dolphins and had a barbeque on the beach. I took this photo when we were packing to go back to Zanzibar and we were quite late for the departure. It was so pretty I didn’t want to leave. But I knew little about low-high tides and how difficult it can be to get back on a boat once the tide begins coming back in and the water gets rougher, making it harder for us to leave. I certainly would not have minded being trapped there forever.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamourous, though that is not always the case. What types of challenges do you face, and how did you overcome them?
Yes, some people go on luxurious holiday because they work hard and want to treat them self nicely. Some of us do travel to see the world, to see what is past the hotel resorts, to meet the local people, and learn from their culture. It really depends what experience you are seeking. I always like to think I am a traveller and not a tourist. As I mentioned before, the challenge can be sometimes language but it really depends what area you go to.
What’s next for you?
I would like to do an exhibition with pictures from Tanzania to raise some more money for the charities supporting projects around Tanzania and do more traveling. I am also planning trips to Bali and Tonga next year. I have never been to both places, so it should be a good one.
Images Courtesy of Natalia Horinkova
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