After 20 years, a former teacher returns to Tanzania

Frank Bures is a friend of mine here in the Twin Cities. He's also one of the best travel writers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. You might remember his work from a post a couple of years ago, about Bigfoot hunting in northern Minnesota.

He has a more-serious piece out in the recent issue of The Washington Post magazine. Twenty years ago, Frank spent a little over a year working as an English teacher in Tanzania, just outside the town of Arusha. Recently, he went back, both to re-connect with the people he'd met so many years ago, and to make a trip he'd always regretted not taking the first time around—climb Mount Meru.

Unlike most people who travel to Tanzania, I had no desire to climb Kilimanjaro, which seemed like an overrun fundraising cliche. But Meru was different. Meru was difficult, unforgiving, temperamental, with an air of hard beauty and mystery.

Our bus rolled forward, and I stared out the window at the mountain’s outline. After all these years, it looked the same, though much else had changed. Seeing it again reminded me of my last glimpse of it through a bus window, and of the ache of departure, of the bitterness of leaving all my friends and students and neighbors, but also of the sweetness of having known them.

This was a reunion of several kinds. After too long I was back in this place — to reconnect with people, to find out how things had changed.

But also, I was finally here to meet the mountain.

This is a long read, but worthwhile. At it's heart is a story you don't often hear about Tanzania, and other African countries. Turns out, some of the biggest changes that have happened over the last 20 years have been economic. In a good way. When Frank returns to Arusha, he finds that many of his former students have pulled themselves into the middle class. They're creating comfortable, happy lives for themselves and making their own country better.

In the photo above (taken by Washington Post photographer Sarah Elliot), you can see Simon Moses, and his wife Nai, in front of the home they built themselves. Moses was one of Frank's students. Twenty years ago, he asked Frank to take him to America, because he was afraid of having no future in Arusha. Today, Moses owns a travel company. His wife is an accountant.

Read the rest of Frank's story in The Washington Post.

Via Doug Mack

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  1. Arusha is a very strange blend of poverty and prosperity.  When I visited there 10 years ago, it seemed as if half the people I saw on the streets were talking on their cell phones while the other half were begging in the streets/selling wares to tourists (and some were doing all three).

  2. > Unlike most people who travel to Tanzania, I had no desire to climb Kilimanjaro, which seemed like an overrun fundraising cliche. But Meru was different. Meru was difficult, unforgiving, temperamental, with an air of hard beauty and mystery.

    Why are so many unable to talk about their experiences without first disparaging the experiences of others?

    That aside, the area around Arusha is quite interesting. It reminds me quite a bit of the part of Alabama I grew up in the late 70s/early 80s (except for the cell phones). I don’t know how much of the economy is from tourism and how much is from farming but it does appear to be a part of the country that’s on a good path. It doesn’t match very well with the stereostypes so many in the west have of Africa. The blend of indigenous culture and modern technology felt very cyberpunk. I’ll be interesting to see what changes happen should the East Africa Federation come to be since Arusha would be the capital.

  3. “After 20 Years” sounds so romantic and compelling, but he left Tanzania in 1997, and this is a report about something he did in 2011. 14 years, he even says.

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