Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dining for Tanzanians: a different kind of 'safari'

Africa ... the word conjures up images of exotic wildlife, vast plains and jungles, deserts and mountains, adventures beyond what we can experience at home.

It can also create images of the continent's various cultures...the music, art and food of the people who live there, who call Africa "home."

While travelling around Africa, one of the things that struck me - in almost every one of the eight countries I've visited - is how happy the people seem to be, there.
The Serengeti plains, Tanzania, Africa

Keep in mind, these are people that have no TVs, iPhones, cars, desktop computers, fancy flush toilets (in fact, running water is a real luxury), electric ovens - none of the things we take for granted, things we count as given commodities in our western lifestyles.

Yet they seem to be happier than many North Americans.

That may make you think of the old adage, ignorance is bliss; yet, these people - many of them smart, young adults - are aware of the world. They have some education, so they are not really ignorant.

And despite not having these material items, despite their awareness, they are not envious - they are, for the most part, very friendly toward foreigners.

Example: while touring in southern Tanzania not far from the Malawi border, our tour group wanted to go back down the road to another set of outdoor shops; myself and Ann were embroiled in a major bartering transaction that Africans love so much. The guide made sure we felt comfortable being left alone in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road (we were, of course) and they took off.

When we'd concluded our deal (both sides feeling they had gotten the "best" of the transaction), a couple of young men asked us if they could buy us a soda pop in the cafe across the street.

That's right - they wanted to treat us. The well-off foreign visitors. They wanted to buy us a drink.

We took them up on it, and they insisted on paying for the colas we drank.

They were incredibly curious, hungry for real knowledge about us, our country, what we did for a living. (When I told the one fellow I was a sports writer, he told me what that was in Swahili: "michezo mwandishi.")
African cart, ready to load up.

A desire for that kind of knowledge really deserves to be fed.

However, even though by our standards, education there is not that expensive, many of them cannot afford to go to school. Many of them do not even have homes, and live on the streets.

Dan Budgell, a UBC biology grad discovered that same fact when he travelled in Tanzania a few years ago. Rather than just give money to street kids, he bought them meals. But he wanted to do more.

He found out how little (in western terms) it costs to send kids to school, there. So with some other friends, he set up a foundation called the Global Peace Network. Among its humanitarian projects: raising money to help street kids get access to information.

They raise money in various ways. One of those ways is through an event that takes place this Wednesday, Dec. 11 at Simba's Grill on Denman Street in Vancouver. From 7 to 9 p.m. that night, GPN is hosting an African dinner at the restaurant that specializes in East African fusion cuisine. I have eaten Simba's food before, and I'm looking forward to eating it once again.

But it's about much more than just eating...at this time of the year, when we celebrate and feast and give presents, it's nice to feel that by participating in this type event, we do more than just enjoy a nice meal - we help some youngster in Tanzania get an education, and quite possibly, a better life.

I can't think of any better way to celebrate this festive season than doing something like that.

Africa gave me a whole lot when I was there. It's only right I should give something back.

Kurshid Khan cooking up some African cuisine at Simba's in Vancouver.

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