Stories from Karagwe:There and back again: A Tale of Water and Fire

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This blog entry is part of an ongoing series from Amizade’s semester Service-Learning course in Tanzania. Today’s entry comes from John Borrelli, a sophomore political science student at Duquesne University.


March 18th was a beautiful morning with sun and a cool breeze. Seven students and two teachers climbed into a boat heading to an island off the Bukoban coast to visit the burial site of ancient kings. What they were not aware of however, was how this boat ride would be like nothing they would be prepared for. As the long, wooden fishing boat set off from the coast a line of swirling black clouds approached at high speed. Soon the water became choppy, the wind roared, and the occupants of the vessel were struck by wave after wave of water. This was by no means the end of this fateful journey. These conditions were met by varying emotions ranging from all out adrenalin filled shouts every time a wave crashed on them, to singing classic songs like: The Sun Will Come out Tomorrow, My Girl, Row Row Row your Boat, It’s Raining Men and many other water related songs. As we sat in t-shirts and shorts hoping that it would all just end we sang our hearts out trying to stay positive. With the looming threat of bilharzias on our mind (A disease carried in water that can cause sickness or in extreme cases death, so water splashing into our mouths as the waves crashed over us was excellent). Caroline looked as though murder was on her mind every second of the trip, Joyce huddled for warmth as she had only worn a tank top and shorts, Juan forwent the trivialities of such things as a shirt and spent half the journey shirtless. As we neared the island the rain began (yes, all of this misery was before the storm had actually begun). This rain came pelting in like tiny hail stones, making a miserable situation downright awful.
Finally we reached the island as only we knew how, by jumping out of the boat into even more water and sloshing our way up the hill to get to the town. At long last, the terrible 20 minute journey was over as we huddled in a bar, trying to get warm any way possible. We wrung out our cloths, jumped around, and began a mini dance party, in the middle of this bar, during a storm. This ritual of dancing and singing at the top of our lungs continued for some time as we tried to warm ourselves as much as possible. At one point a man brought in a dumbbell (It was an iron bar with a bucket of cement on either side as the weights) and the guys started to work out to get some warmth. Finally the storm passed and sunshine pervaded the soaked landscape. Still freezing our director made the suggestion that we should have a fire. Soon enough a fire was started and we all circled around it for warmth at first and then for drying purposes. Steam rolled off our bodies as the fire dried our cloths, finally giving us a sense of contentment. When we were finished we decided that going through a storm, getting soaked, frozen, and then being thawed and dried was enough for the day so we climbed back into the boat and set off back to the hotel. The return trip was nothing compared to earlier, it was blue sky and calm waters as though the weather decided suddenly that it wanted to be happy.

This is Africa; that phrase describes the dynamic here more than anything else. We set out on that boat ride fully intending to climb a mountain and look at interesting burial sites of ancient kings. We were however greeted by a raging storm and frozen body parts. In many ways that was just as rewarding of an experience. We went through horrible conditions together; we danced, sang, and warmed up together. We huddled around a fire and returned together. This adventure wasn’t expected and was definitely not planned but it was such a bonding experience to go through the wind and the waves together and come back none the worse for wear. This is Africa where every adventure can become something totally unexpected.