We did it! Ten of us met up in Dar es Salaam airport on the morning of the 6th of July and started on the long two-day bus journey to Songea in the far south. Having flown in from Dublin via London on a night flight, most of us were pretty groggy but apart from some incidences of panic at the bus overtaking at speed while approaching the brow of a hill we reached our first stop in Iringa safely at about sundown and got to enjoy the welcome facilities of our accommodation and a cooked meal.

The following day we headed off on another day-long bus journey to Songea where we were welcomed individually by the monks and nuns of Hanga Monastery and Pereminho Convent, transferred to 4-wheel drives – in a quieter part of town, having judged it safer to stay on the bus and move away from the terminal where hordes of noisy urchins were clamouring to take our bags and “assist” us – and lodged in one or other of the centres where we were to teach for the next week or so. Suffice to say we were pampered as guests of honour for the next two weeks and our students absolutely devoured all we presented to them. They really want to learn and appreciate most sincerely CAMARA’s efforts.

During that first week at Hanga Monastery we had the rare privilege of attending the induction ceremony and Mass for new postulants. The celebrations afterwards lasted throughout the day with music, singing, and dancing and continued in the dining room that evening. Imagine an Irish Fleá Ceoil and you would have an inkling of the cultural experience that was revealed to us. It was amazing.

After a week some of our group set off for Arusha while the rest of us continued with the courses in Hanga. Our students were mainly teachers, both primary and secondary, and school administrators. They decided among themselves to have two sessions each day so that some could keep the schools going while the others attended the course. It was pointed out to us that it would have been better if we could have come in June during the school holidays.

Eventually, with the courses finished, all of us, students and tutors, were invited to a lavish banquet with the Monks and the CAMARA certificates were awarded with due ceremony and speeches – including a quite extraordinary performance by all the students that involved hand-rubbing and clapping and a chant in Swahili led by Urban, one of the administrators. I hope someone got it on video.

Next morning it was off again on the two-day journey back to Dar and a day recuperating in Mr Ngoba’s recommended lodgings in the Sinza Area or visiting the shopping mall for such urgent provisions as batteries, USB keys, and deliciously hot cappucinos.

We were astonished at the contrast between the modernity of the new airconditioned shopping mall on one side of the motorway and the other which resembled a shanty town with unpaved pot-holed earthen lanes between the hundreds of small houses, workshops, and shacks where people lived and worked. We knew that our evening walk to or from the restaurant in the dark was going to be a most hazardous affair considering the number of broken or missing manholes, the refuse, the rubble, and the deep drainage channels or ditches that lay as pitfalls everywhere in our path. Thankfully Mr Ngoba had sent two of his “sons” to accompany us – all ten of us – and their presence protected us from the curiosity of the clusters of unseen ‘neighbours’ that we passed in the darkness as we made our way home to our lodgings. Asante Mr Ngoba!

The journey to Tanga was uneventful – or was that the occasion when we had to wait for hours while a wheel was removed from the bus to release the brake pads? Eventually in Tanga we again formed groups and went to teach in two different schools: the Commercial School and the Secondary School, both run by the Rosmini order. Once again the students really appreciated the courses offered and applied themselves with a will. A number of them were less familiar with English than others and that made the work more difficult for them. Our few words of Swahili delighted them and we wished we knew more.

The following weekend was spent at leisure in Pangani, a beach resort south of Tanga. The accommodation was once again very good although the nearby bar could have lowered the volume on its blaring PA system which had African pop thudding in our ears for most of the day and much of the night. Next day the more adventurous among us took to a boat and went snorkelling off Maziwe Island. Others toured the old town. All enjoyed the break.

During the Tanga leg of our trip we met some amazing people including Anne Meade, Fr Tony Mitchel, Brian and Vincent and others including Kevin’s friend Mary Gurran who having retired from teaching in Ireland continues to lavish her talents, empathy, and charisma on the children of Tanzania in a school near Muheza. I wonder do they realise what a treasure she is. She invited us all to join her one evening and fed us a lavish meal with such a variety of dishes and desserts that we all returned again and again to the delicious buffet she had prepared. What hospitality! What a hostess! Mary had no difficulty in getting to know each one of us and engaged us effortlessly in conversation. It was a most enjoyable evening and one of the high points of our trip.

Suddenly the teaching was over and we were preparing for home or for a well-earned holiday on our own. I am writing this five days after my return to Ireland and feel myself gradually resuming the regular routines of ordinary life again. I hope others will supplement this meagre account of a most eventful experience. I know I have had to leave out dozens of memorable incidents which may yet be recounted in the Workshop or McGrudder’s. I am certain everyone else has as many more.

I hope people reading this and considering volunteering with CAMARA will realise what a unique experience it offers and go ahead and get involved. It is really a very successful project and brings aid and education directly to people in need and will prove a life-enriching experience for the volunteer.

To my fellow Tanzania group companions, Monica, Ray, Andrew, Seán, Colin, Jan, Anna, Doireann and Kevin, I say a sincere personal “Thanks” for your friendship, good humour and support. Go raibh maith agaibh. Tutaonana!

Thanks also to Kirsty and our Coordinators Colin and Doireann for taking good care of us.

And an especial thanks to Cormac, Eoghan, Jim, and all at CAMARA for making it happen.