Travel Tuesday- Ntagacha, Tanzania- 9/16/2014

Do any of you have a place that, sometimes, you just don't want to talk about? You know that talking about it will make you think about it even more than you already do. Thinking about it will lead to longing for it, and, let me tell you, longing for a place that seems unreachable at times is not fun. Have you ever felt homesick? Do you know the soul-deep ache that comes with being homesick? That's the closest I can come to describing the longing you feel when a piece of your heart is permanently located on another continent.

A piece of my heart is in Ntagacha, Tanzania, and that is where we're traveling on today's edition of Travel Tuesday.

My other posts have been mostly from a tourism perspective. I've described places to which one might travel on a vacation or an adventure trip or to discover delicious food or exotic shopping. Today's destination is a little different. You see, there aren't exactly any 5-star hotels in Ntagacha. In fact, most of the residents of this beautiful little village live in mud huts. You won't have the option of enjoying fine dining in Ntagacha unless you- like me- consider eating the freshest of tropical fruits and veggies fine dining. Exotic shopping will be in the local open-air market where you'll do your best to not pay the "mzungu (white person) price" or have little grandmas trick you into buying their wares. You won't find Ntagacha on your typical travel blog or tripadvisor.com. But, should you venture into the bush, you, too, would risk losing a piece of your heart, and you certainly wouldn't come away unchanged.

Ntagacha, as I mentioned, is located in the bush of Tanzania. Basically that means that it's far, far away from anything that really resembles what people in the US would consider a city. The roads are unpaved, and, during the rainy season, they become a slippery, slidey mess of mud and potholes the size of Zimbabwe...you haven't experienced fun until you've ridden those roads in a rainstorm. My husband would beg to differ, probably because he was the one responsible for driving a van with bald tires that only started some of the time (at that point--I don't know what's happened to that van since) full of children for a significant distance along that road in aforementioned rainstorm. 

Life moves more slowly here. Walking is the most common mode of transportation, and the spider web of small, dirt footpaths that criss-cross the countryside lead to some astoundingly beautiful places made even more beautiful by the warm welcome of friends who call to you as you pass and invite you in. Food that cannot be grown or produced on your plot of land is nearly unheard of (although Coca-Cola very much has a presence in daily life). Your day begins when the sun comes up and mostly ends when it goes down. Chai break is a nationally-recognized half-hour at 1000 each morning.

Green and fertile is the land in Ntagacha; even in the dry season do things bloom and grow in the brilliant African sunshine. Fresh mangoes, pineapples, avocados, tomatoes, corn, watermelon, and other delights abound. Greens are a daily staple, and chapatis (similar to tortillas) are a treat worth looking forward to. Chai is hot, spicy, creamy, and sweet and often shared among friends and soon-to-be friends.

And the sky. It gets its own paragraph and for good reason. Growing up in the south I often heard people gushing about that "Carolina blue sky." Well, no offense to Carolina, but its sky has nothing on Tanzania's. Blue doesn't begin to cover it during the daytime hours, and the sunrises and sunsets explode with brilliant yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, and purples. At night, the stars are so bright and so many that they literally twinkle. I searched in vain for familiar constellations in that night sky; there were just too many stars for me to be able to distinguish any individual constellations.

And the people. Wow. Why do we in this country have so much and hoard it when there are people on the other side of the world who live in a 1-room hut made of mud, straw, and sticks who love and share so generously? And why do we gripe and complain about slow lines in fast-food restaurants and anything else we can think of to whine about when those same loving, generous people have big, beautiful smiles on their faces, songs in their hearts, and dancing in their feet? Are all the inhabitants of Tanzania perfect? No, obviously not, just like not all Americans are selfish and unhappy. But I learned so much about giving and sharing and being joyful in all situations from my Tanzanian brothers and sisters. They are beautiful people with beautiful hearts, and I'm proud to know them.

So, leave your comfort zone. See what God wants to teach you through another man's way of life. Learn another culture's perspective of who God is. Praise Him alongside someone who's maybe a little different from--yet oh so similar to-- you. Make someone laugh when you clumsily try to speak a few words of an unknown-to-you language. See what you can do to make someone else's life a little brighter. Maybe the water won't be hot for your shower. No, there probably won't be high-speed wi-fi or even electricity. But you'll live. You might even thrive.

And that, my friends, is why we go. It's where our hearts live.

If you're interested in where we go in Tanzania and want to learn more about a great organization that is truly making life brighter for a lot of people in Ntagacha check out the City of Hope.

Note to my sister-in-law whose pictures are posted above. I, ahem, borrowed (read: stole) them from her Facebook page because, on my first visit, my camera was stolen in the airport on the way home, so all of my pictures were, clearly, lost. On my second visit, my camera batteries died; they still have not been replaced, so I couldn't get to any of those pictures few though they were. Please forgive me for using your pictures. I'll take them off if you so desire.