It means “slowly” in Swahili.
During our three weeks in Tanzania we were often encouraged to go polepole and things often happened polepole.
It can sometimes be frustrating.
But also quite freeing.
In Canada, we like to move fast. We want to go places and get things done as fast as possible. I eat fast, work fast, walk fast and often even talk fast.
It can be exhausting and leaves us with a sense of there never being enough time.
In Tanzania, you walk slowly. But it’s okay because you enjoy the journey more and you’ll get there eventually.
In Tanzania the power often goes out for days at a time. But it’s not a big deal because you adjust and keep moving along.
In Tanzania the act of greeting someone can go on for a quite a while. But it’s nice because taking the time to really say hello is something we all should do more often.
Polepole is okay and even encouraged in Tanzania.
We set out on this adventure in search of time and by going polepole we found some in Africa.
And we made some amazing memories along the way!
Our three-day safari through Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater was beyond incredible. We saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, monkeys, lions, cheetahs and hyenas up close in their natural environment. Then, we spent the nights in a tent in a beautiful bush camp at the base of a mountain near a Maasai community. How often I said, “Wow!” during those few days actually became a running joke.
During the three weeks we also swam under the ice-cold waters of the Materuni Waterfall, made coffee and drank banana beer with Chaga coffee farmers and swam in a hot spring that was straight out of National Geographic. We learned some Swahili, explored local markets, rode in a bajaji (auto rickshaw) and ate lots of ugali.
But we also found something more in Tanzania.
From the moment we arrived we were welcomed into a community and surrounded by kindness.
The original plan was to meet up with L’s mom, stay at a guest house in Moshi for a few days before the safari, then spend the rest of our three weeks in an Airbnb on the outskirts of Arusha. L's mom booked our stay at the guesthouse so he and I knew little about it before arriving.
Within 24 hours of being there we decided to cancel out accommodations in Arusha and spend all our time in Moshi.
The Worlds Collide Africa House is a not-for-profit accommodation that supports the Pamoja Tunaweza Boys and Girls Club - an organization just down the street from the house that helps vulnerable and at risk youth in Moshi. The team at the club are beyond dedicated and amazing and are doing some really special work.
When the General Manager found out that LJ was football obsessed, she immediately connected us with the guy responsible for the club’s street outreach and football programs.
Football plays a huge part in the Pamoja Tunaweza program. For example, every morning they run a street outreach program by the market that starts with football. Street connected youth, many who work in the market, come for the football and to hang out. While there, they get informal lessons, support, opportunities, encouragement and a community.
We spent our first morning in Moshi with these boys and they immediately welcomed LJ into their world. They let her play football, taught her how to make beaded bracelets and showed her cool handshakes.
In addition to playing football in the market, LJ was also invited to regularly practice with the Pamoja Tunaweza junior team. In fact, she played in a tournament! It was quite a site to see this little eight-year-old girl hitting the field with a group of 10 to 14-year-old boys. They even gave her the number 10 jersey to wear that day (Lionel Messi’s number)!
These boys and young men and others affiliated with the club taught us so much over the three weeks, and not just about football, Swahili and the local culture. Their kindness, smiles and creativity were infectious, their strength and perseverance in the face of such incredible hardship were moving, and their openness and acceptance were humbling.
Today, LJ says one of the greatest moments of her life was when she scored a goal and one of those boys in the market lifted her up and carried her around the field. The bracelets they gave her are her most cherished treasures and she wears them with pride.
She is currently working on a book about a female footballer in Tanzania and wants to return one day to coach soccer and climb Kilimanjaro. Meanwhile, L and I are working on our own special projects that stemmed from our time there and the connections we made. Heck even LJ’s doll is often dressed as Maasai these days.
Our time in Tanzania did have it's challenges and raised some tough questions and hard emotions for all of us about ourselves, others and the state of our world, but it also captured our hearts unlike any other place thus far and inspired us in ways we hadn’t yet experienced.
I miss it already. I wish we hadn’t pre-booked our flight to India and could have stayed longer to see more of the country and even the continent. It was our tenth country but the hardest goodbye and the first place we’re desperate to return to.
But I guess polepole…there is time.
As we learned there, it's not goodbye but tutaonana baadaye (see you later).
We’ll get there again…eventually. And in the meantime, we’ll enjoy the journey.
Tanzania with Kids
How to get to Moshi, Tanzania
Where to stay in Moshi, Tanzania
What to do in Moshi, Tanzania