The adventure begins in Mwanza

Since my last newsletter, a lot has happened.  In February, I went back out to Tanzania to do another recce trip – this time, to find out if the highly recommended town of Mwanza would be a better spot to set up Pikilily than Songea.  What was wrong with Songea?  While I knew the place quite well after having done the work with midwives on motorbikes down there and despite the fact that the communities down there were very keen for Pikilily to be established there, it still had some big hurdles.  The biggest of these was the location – based in one of the most southerly points in Tanzania, practically on the Mozambique/Malawi border, it is physically rather cut off.  As a consequence, with only one airline offering flights three times a week from the business capital Dar es Salaam at an eye watering $259 a pop one way, it was going to be logistically both challenging and costly to get kit, equipment and also indeed myself in and out.

Mwanza on the other hand is situated on the southern shores of Lake Victoria with multiple flights every day to Dar and indeed to neighbouring Uganda and Kenya, where there are other innovative, entrepreneurship based projects focussing on motorcycle taxis, so all in all a far more practical base.  Fortunately, when I arrived here in February, I also discovered how beautiful the place is – and I don’t just mean the stunning lake views and extraordinarily large boulders littering the steep slopes of the surrounding hills.  The vibe of the town is really great.  Given it’s the second largest city in Tanzania, you’d be forgiven for expecting a large, bustling, impersonal metropolis like Dar, but its nothing like it.  Its expanded quite rapidly over recent years thanks to the growth in demand for fish and other exports, but thankfully has still retained a certain community spirit and charm, which I really like.

During the time I spent here in February, I had the chance to speak with all kinds of local characters to find out whether or not the communities and the environment here would be welcome Pikilily.  What was great was that I turned up on the first day with just one or two meetings booked for the duration of the stay, deliberately allowing things to either evolve or not.  I’m very much a believer in not forcing things and trusting that, if they are right and I’m putting enough effort in, things will unfold exactly as they should.  I’m not pretending that this isn’t, at times, quite a scary thing.  Even during the brief flight from Dar, I did have a rather dark hour of the soul, wondering if I wasn’t more than a little crazy to turn up in a town I didn’t know at all and where I knew absolutely nobody and just see if I’d fall or fly, but in the end I shouldn’t have worried.  Things evolved in a most fantastic fashion and over the course of my stay, I was able to meet all the people I needed to be able to confidently say, YES, this is the right place and YES, I want to start here.

So, 6 weeks later, I got back on another plane from the UK and returned to Tanzania, this time travelling on a 1 way ticket with 4 suitcases, to move to Mwanza and start this project.  I’ve been here for just over 3 weeks now and though at first I’ll freely admit, a certain sort of shell shock set in, where I really wondered if I’d done the right thing, taking this enormous step into the dark on my own, I’m now starting to feel a lot more settled.  Its going to take some weeks at least to get Pikilily registered and my work permit granted, so progress will be a little slow at first, but things are heading in the right direction.  I’ll be updating the newsletter with Pikilily’s progress but if you’d like to read the more personal experience of what its like to move to Tanzania solo to set up a life and a project from scratch, you can check out my blogs at my former London to Capetown blog, www.clairegoesbikeabout.com