The kindness of strangers under the shadow of Kilimanjaro

Ever been lost in Tanzania?

Well, I wasn’t off to such a great start. I didn’t realize that I needed to stay on my plane once I landed in Tanzania. I thought I was at Dar es Salaam, but in fact, I was at Kilimanjaro – and my journey wasn’t over. I got off the plane though, went through customs and waited for my UN Foundation contact to meet me.

And no one came. That’s weird.

Various people came over to talk to me as I stood there. A few said they knew my UN contact, Tina, and had called her and she said she wasn’t coming. So after a half hour wait a driver convinced me he could take me to the Serena Hotel. You see, my phone won’t work in Tanzania–a different OS. So I reluctantly got in, hoping I wouldn’t get mugged and left in the bushes somewhere. I was a petrified New Yorker. Besides, it was totally pitch black and I’m in a strange country for the first time and the roads have no lights whatsoever.

It was a very long road to the hotel, but the disconcerting part was the last leg when the driver said, “We have to go off road” and was it ever off road. It was a rock-filled mud road in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. My heart was pounding. Why would anyone put a hotel out here?

But the adventure was just beginning. I shortly found out I was now in the wrong town at the wrong hotel. And I had no phone. So I paid $3 for a half hour of Internet access to try and get a hold of the people I was meeting here. The phone number I was given didn’t work. And I sent out e-mails, but no one was online. The hotel staff were amazing, although I had a bit of a hard time understanding the Swahili accent, and half the time they were talking Swahili, of which I was clueless. I was in the dark, no phone, out in the bush somewhere with people who I couldn’t understand.

Just ask my kids and they will tell you I don’t do well in these kinds of situations, particularly without a working phone. I was freaking out on the inside and trying not to show it on the outside. But I don’t think I was doing a very good job at hiding my anxiety. Everyone kept asking if I was alright.

Then out of the blue, they said I had a call. What? How? Apparently the UN called the State Department to alert them that they might have an incident and UNICEF was helping, too. OMG! My mistake had caused a search party. I had checked through customs at Kilimanjaro and registered with the Tanzanian Embassy before I left. Did that help? I guess they surmised I would go to the nearest Hotel Serena in Anusha. Somehow they found me.

Anyway, I’m now ensconced under mosquito netting for the night, somewhere in the bush. I have numerous people from the UN, UNICEF and the hotel working on getting me from the bush to the airport and my final destination in the morning.

All I can say right now is the Tanzanian people I’ve met so are the most caring, supportive people. They loaned me a phone for the night and transported me to this lovely lodge. I even got a hug from the manager, John, who took me to the airport and stayed with me for three hours negotiating my flight and making sure I got on the plane.

And so this journey continues. I’m definitely not in America anymore, where we take so many things for granted. But I am under the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, the place Tanzanians believe is where life came from. Maybe I was meant to get lost here because I know my experience here is going to change my life forever.

Holly Pavlika
Holly Pavlika

Mom, advocate, philanthropist, entrepreneur and writer.