Tanzania A Journey Within, directed by tonight’s guest, Sylvia Caminer, begins with a simple concept: Venance, whose mother died from HIV, left his home in Tanzania nine years ago to pursue his dreams of a college education. His friend Kristen, who he met while they attended the University of Miami, is a privileged girl from Virginia, and would like to go with him and see the Africa she dreams of–wild animals, mud huts, a peaceful existence with nature.
What begins as a simple travelog–
Shut up! There’s a giraffe!
exclaims Kristen while traveling across the Serengeti–turns into a far deeper story with long results for both Ven and Kris.
A seven day hike up Mount Kilimanjaro and time spent observing wildlife adjust the duo to Tanzania, preparing Ven to return to the city where he grew up, where his mom saved up enough money to take him to a restaurant so he could learn to use a knife and fork; and helping Kris to learn to focus on silence and observation of the self and her surroundings.
Ven’s next step is to take Kris to his village and visit his grandmother who never thought she would see him again. Over the past decade she has buried five of her children, all dead from HIV. In the village, Kris harvests bananas and works the land with the women, and then faces the butchering of chicken–she’d never really thought about where food comes from before.
Kris also bonds with Alima, a 17 year-old girl from the village who wants to go school and become a teacher. Kris’ solution: Pay for her education, but Ven explains that there isn’t a teacher right now anyway at the school. On their return to the village several weeks later, they make arrangements for Alima to attend classes, hoping that she will be able to balance her duties at home with education. Kris realizes that so many people in Tanzania are limited by circumstances that cannot be rectified.
Kris’ preconceived notions of Africa are further challenged when they travel to see her Disneyfied vision of Africa
a village with round mud huts.
Reality is very different. Up to ten people live a hut, flies are everywhere, smoke from the cooking food gets in her eyes. The river used for fresh water is also where cows wander and people bathe and swim. The river was also used as a dumping spot for bodies–the result of the Ugandan civil wars.
While Kris tries reconciling her idealized vision of Tanzania with what she encounters, Ven is making peace with his mother’s death. He and his brother visit the house where she died and her grave. Finally he is able to touch that part himself and release his sorrow. The specter of HIV hits both of the travelers when they meet Anita, a four year old orphan with horrible head sores, who is shunned in the village because her parents died from HIV. Fear that she might be HIV+, and thus bring shame to her grandmother, has kept Anita from receiving any medical treatment for her sores.
Kris wants to immediately take Anita to the hospital, but Ven explains that things aren’t done that way, and she must
talk less, ask why
and pay attention to the differences.
But now Kris is left alone as Ven travels back to Dar es Salaam to deal with a visa issue that could prevent his return to the US. Suddenly she is stricken with malaria, a disease that kills 60,000–80,000 people annually in Tanzania, and 800,000 a year worldwide.
The friends’ seven weeks in Tanzania changed their lives and gave them focus and direction upon their return to the United States. Kris founded Malaika For Life, which sells beaded bracelets handmade by a group of women in Africa. Proceeds from the sale of bracelets provides women with a source of sustainable income, as well as funding crucial malaria treatment. Since its inception, Malaika For Life helped treat 25,000 malaria victims.
Ven founded Kwanini? Fashion, a “thought-provoking” clothing line made in Africa and the US from sustainable fabrics. Part of the proceeds will support the education of children in the rural villages. The line launches late May, 2014.