Madibira: A Tourist’s Bypass, A Traveler’s Paradise


First of all: roosters. When talking about Madibira it is important to begin with roosters as this is how every day begins in Madibira. This is unfortunate. Roosters are miserable. They have officially become my least favorite creature and I decided that if I ever have a farm with roosters I will have their voice boxes surgically removed. Sans roosters, Madibira would be a little slice of paradise. It’s certainly not a tourist destination. In fact, we were perplexed when we spotted another foreigner in town. And days later, her driver brought her over to talk to us when we were eating. I’m thinking he was thinking that we are all white and speak English so we would surely get along. Because it is not a place geared toward tourists, we got a lot of Tanzanian village flava, good and bad. This meant being greeted by everyone as we walked down the street to town. It also meant hearing the whimpers of a girl being beaten by a teacher at school, as Tanzanians still practice corporal punishment at school. But, as with many places I’ve been in Africa, the good outweighs the bad. People are happy and kind here despite a slew of unsavory circumstances.
At Madibira Secondary School, where our friend Sarah is working for the Peace Corps, there was a gathering to celebrate Tanzanian Labor Day. Sarah, Alex, and I were invited to sit at the high table. It became clear that we were being welcomed in a big way.
“We will sit together and talk, chat. We will drink sodas and party,” Sarah’s headmaster told us.
With his beaming, genuine smile I could hardly keep from chuckling at this. He was pleased that we would travel all the way from America and choose to land in Madibira. According to him, it is very much in the middle of nowhere. He told us later that the reason America is so great is because the people are so charitable and, like us, are willing to travel to a “bush school” to teach its children. Admittedly, our intentions were far less altruistic. We never would have visited Madibira if our good friend had not been put there for her service. The welcome from the headmaster made me feel inexplicably and irrationally guilty about this. Our week and a half there felt longer as we passed the same people each day in town and stopped to chat, as we were invited into their homes to share meals, and as we took part in celebrations with them. Each night we stopped at the same woman’s shop and she quickly became one of my favorite Madibira residents.
In addition to gaining a more genuine perspective of a place, visiting a non-tourist spot also means having a lot of time to do absolutely nothing. We spent hours, even whole days, lounging in Sarah’s house just catching up on each other’s news, completing an embarrassing amount of word puzzles, learning Swahili, and watching TV shows and movies on the computer. But we did get around a bit. We spent one afternoon riding bicycles out to Madibira’s rice scheme. Oddly enough, this was started years ago by a Colorado State University professor. Rice reaches a shade of lime green when it is growing that is unmatched by any other vegetation I’ve seen. It’s vibrant and fresh and in Madibira it stretches for miles and miles over flat land, and is then met with a backdrop of jungle-covered mountains. Is it weird that the Madibira rice scheme is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen on this trip? Wanting to know more, we dropped our bikes on the side of the dirt road and waded through a swampy ditch to reach a berm on top of which a rice farmer was working. Sarah picked his brain about the process of rice farming and translated from Swahili to English for us. Then away we went.
A couple of days later we attended a wedding in the village of another Peace Corps volunteer, up the road about an hour. We arrived more than an hour late. Let me note, that this is acceptable and normal in Tanzania where things rarely start or run on time. The wedding took place in a barn-like building: brick walls, a thatched roof, and dirt floors. Guests sat on skinny benches or plastic chairs. Speeches were being made when we arrived and continued for hours. Then dancing began, with guests sitting down for seconds between each song…I don’t know why. Gifts of fabric and dishes were presented and in-laws were greeted by each other, all the while with the bride, groom, and their witnesses looking fashionably miserable. We were told that this is just kind of the way Tanzanians look during celebrations. Finally by 11:30 p.m. we were scarfing down a dinner of meat, rice, and potatoes. The bride and groom and many guests left shortly after this, while the partiers (like us!) stayed to party.
Madibira is a place where a tourist would never end up but a lucky traveler just might. I’ll leave the getting there part a secret, but if you happen to end up there make sure you eat the Chipsi Mayai (the best in the country), visit the blue and white shop on the far side of town, practice your broken Swahili (and bring someone who speaks it well), watch a sunset, get clothes custom-made by a fundi (technical worker), play with children, look at the stars (no light pollution), ride twosies on a bike, drink booze from a plastic packet, chase a chicken, eat rice and beans until they come out your nose (wait…don’t….this just happened to me during an extra unfortunate vomiting fit), visit the secondary school headmaster, take a bucket shower, and, whatever you do, don’t forget to poop in a hole.



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