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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Sawa Sawa

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

At the bottom of Sawa Sawa’s dirt road (where I sat for 3 hours & had my nails wrapped din tin foil) is a fake Kilimanjaro.

WORLD'S WORST PHOTO OF ME... but sooo funny! I actually can't stop laughing.

It's made up of the same material that you often see on climbing walls, like a hard, foamy plastic. From my extensive Google research, I think it’s called polyurethane… but I can’t confirm that. Anyway - this fabricated peak is about as close as I’m ever going to get to climbing the real thing, so I find it quite a bonus to have it so close. I actually advocate hard for this gimmick. I intend to put it on my list of the Top 10 things to do in Arusha and I am alway s trying to drag some poor volunteer down to do a photo shoot with me.

Anyway, you can wander to the top and get photos of your ascent.

It’s fun… it’s funny… and a good alternative to the real deal, when you're lazy, overweight and have bad knees. Hmmmm....

On one of my first visits there to do the tiny trek, we were met by a suspicious man who (blow me away!) asked for money. Finally, not really in the mood to argue, I handed the man a little bundle of small bills, which did not even begin to equate to what he had originally asked for… but got him to go away. Of course, he immediately shoved it into his own pocket and disappeared. Typical.

When I returned, another time, with different volunteers, I made a point of letting them know to expect this request and to beware. Everyone here is so money orientated. If they aren’t implying that they might want it, they are flat out asking for it. As soon as we entered through the front gate, I made a point of announcing that we had come to make the insignificant ascent, but first, we were going to patronize their establishment.


I figured our large contribution to the food & beverage department would offset any expense we may have had to endure for the photo shoot.

It did… for some of us.

The others were persuaded to follow one of the members of staff, who promised them a better view and was eager to take photos of them… for the “website.” Of course, it all resulted in nothing but a request for money. Realizing what was going on, and finished with our pictures, I was eager to escape the harrassement. A few of us high tailed it out of there as fast as we could, with the promise of returning for dinner at a later date.

I was almost at the gate... free from the molestation of it all, when I realized I was being followed, quickly and closely. Instead of picking up the pace and fleaing, I decided to nip it in the bud.

I spun around and confronted my pursuer straight on.

“Hi,” I said, holding my hand out to shake his. “My name is Joanna McBride and I am a travel blogger.” I pulled out one of my business cards and handed it to him. As soon as he took it, I opened up my travel blog on my phone and showed him. “This is my website.”

I guess my confidence managed to impress him, because there was no more talk of money for partaking in the resort gimmick. He was suddenly mesmerized by the opportunity of ME standing in front of him.

“I’m writing an article on the top 10 hidden gems of Arusha,“ I continued. “I’m hoping to include your Kilimanjaro in that list.”

It worked like a dream.

He told me all about how they are considering turning the fake mountain into a climbing wall for children, and how he would love to discuss the possibilities with me.

So… for the first time in my life, I convinced someone I was somewhat famous. Well.. maybe not famous... but definitely influential. Thanks to my uncanny ability to stretch the truth, we all escaped without paying an additional fee.

The next day, I received an email invited me to have dinner with him. Networking, he said ... and to discuss future opportunities.

Shit… now I have to walk the walk… and write the damn article.

Double shit...

Better get to work.

If he’d actually taken the time to look down at my dirty feet, he would have figured out I’m nothing but a poor volunteer…

Speaking of poor… and dirty feet… I went to the spa!

Someone said massage and of course, I crumbled at the mere thought of it. Africa is apparently known for its treatments of different ailments, including deep tissue therapy… so I was IN. The massage therapist even let me pick my favourite oil… which, of course, was lavender.

I must mention that my feet were atrocious when I arrived. So atrocious that she made the request that we wash them before the massage.

Top that request.

Slightly embarrassing… but in my defence, there is a LOT of dust in Arusha.

My feet are horrific.

They really are.


Sawa Sawa (the dormitory) has been buzzing with activity. Drama.

As I mentioned before, there are a lot of new volunteers here. Some are fabulous... some are older than me (bonus! bonus!)... some keep to themselves... and some stay up all night, drinking & being loud, while the rest of us lie in bed all night, wishing they’d shut up.

Yes, I know karma is kicking my ass right now for a lifetime of party nights... and I’m in absolutley no position to ever complain… but

It’s been a bit tough.

It’s been a bit rough.

The thing isn't even JUST the noise and the blatant disresect for those of us that will get getting up early... it's the mess they make along the way! Every morning, the few of us that wake up early have to see the mamas of the house clean up cigarette butts scattered about on the table, ashes all over the floor, garbage, spilled drinks, crumbs, left overs, dirty dishes... etc etc...

The mamas are here to cook and keep Sawa Sawa clean... but they aren’t here to clean up after the all-nighter. That's unfair.

So… we wrote a note.

To be fair, I 'literally' wrote the note... but it was a group effort and well instigated by days of multiple complaints. The note was kind, colourful and full of hearts & flowers... and it’s main message was “Clean Up!” The mamas appreciated our efforts and even helped make a flour paste in order to properly stick it up on the wall. Of course, the young culprits, bless their hearts and their rowdy spirits, decided it was patronizing, and they jumped to the defence of “you should have spoken to us.” Obviously incapabile of understanding that we’d all tried to talk to them about it for 4 days in a row, they ripped it down and tore it to shreds.

Oh well... what do you do?

They apologized for their behaviour, again... but nothing much changed.

One of the older, and more annoying girls in the group, (let's call her Mambo, for lack of a better word) who should have really known better, decided to fully insert herself into the drama by trying to play devil's advocate... and she should not have. Instead of having our back and defending our position, as well as the hard working Mamas of the house, she decided to point her finger in both directions, depending on who she was speaking with, and even went as far as to offer her 'skills' as a mediator. Beat it.

Merryl, me and Alaina at the Mount Meru Hotel Pool

With every arrogant move Mambo made, she ended up alienating herself from all parties. For someone who struts around like she's more mature, more intelligent and essentially a class above everyone else, she certainly played her cards in a foolish manner.

Well... we all had the last laugh, because now she got nothing admirable except the worst hair.

Her hair is a prime example of cultural inappropriation. I have always been of the opinion that blonde hair & a white scalp does not mix well with a multitude of tiny braids. Well... add in ridiculously long extensions... and it's even worse. She left the salon with blonde hair braids that came down past her bum...


Who does that?



Honestly though... most of the volunteers have been fabulous and I have had the time of my life getting to know most of them.

The party girls? ... loud, yes... but undeniably lovely. They all have enormous hearts and none of them are coming from a bad place. I was feeling quite alienated and out of place at the beginning, but as with most relationships, things take time...

I have to own some of it too. There are a million things I beat myself up about, and getting older is one of them.

But... can't be helped...

Regardless of the occasional noise and mess, Sawa Sawa has been very good to me. I don't think I would have lasted with Yana and Mama Liz. I've met such incredible people from all over the world while I've been here; England, the USA, Australia, Sweden, Germany, South Africa, Taiwan ... and more. There are mother-daughter teams, young girls on gap years, people trying to find themselves, some dealing with heartache and loss, some only here for the party... such an enormous variety...

And then there's me! Just a girl from Mission, 50 years old and still trying to figure out her place in the world...

Can't believe it's been a month. Sad to leave Sawa Sawa... but I've decided to come back at the end of February and volunteer for another month...

Why not, eh?

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