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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Tin Foil, Mona Lisas & Monkey Slingshots

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

I am finding it hard to believe that I have been in Arusha for almost 3 weeks. Time is really ticking away and my volunteer time here is coming to an end.

It seems like only yesterday that I was at Homestay, wondering if I'd made the wrong decision by coming here. Even my initial age-conscious struggle seems so far behind me, though it does make a cameo appearance every now and then. There is a whole new crew at Sawa Sawa and I am no longer the oldest. Here this week, is an 80 year old volunteer, travelling with her daughter. Her presence in Sawa Sawa signifies a temporary drift back towards the youth spectrum for me. Yes, temporarily, but I like it and I'll take it!

Lanna went home and I was so upset to see her go. On her final night, we made a special trip back to Arusha's Amber Restaurant to feast on our new favourite meal, vegetable Manchurian. Lanna had planned a special evening to thank the family of her placement, and I was honoured to be invited along.

I will miss her.

She was not only my bunk bestie, but a bit of a lost-youth touchstone for me, if that makes any sense. If she was at all conscious of our age difference, she never let on... and always made me feel like a real friend. I am now with two very young British girls who would probably like nothing better than for me to not be in their room.

It's been hard with these two... I will admit. They aren't rude or mean... but there are the occasional subtleties. There have been moments I have sought out my own private corner and a few tears have been shed. Regardless of confidence and/or positivity... when insecurities rear their ugly head, the effects of a sudden blast can be crippling... at any age, wherever you are. And for me, my insecurities sure step up to bat occasionally.

Perhaps I need a spa day.

A real spa.


... and some wine...

Lots of it.

My nails have really suffered while being here. I would say they have suffered more than any other part of my body, but that wouldn’t be fair to my heinie, which has had to endure the explosive consequences of copious amounts of beans, mystery meat, mango, avocado and other assorted delights.

Since attempting to quit biting my nails, I have had gel on each tip. It works. A monthly fill provides the rock hard exterior which makes nibbling exceedingly more difficult. I don’t think one ever really stops biting their nails. There is always a trigger, whether it be a snag or a crack. As soon as it happens, the arm automatically slingshots my finger into my mouth.

Tin Woodsman

Some say it’s a sign of emotional or mental stress... and maybe it is.


Perhaps I have more to deal with than I give credit to, but I am determined to eventually wipe out this ugly oral fixation.

At the end of our Sawa Sawa dirt road is a small resort-like place with a spa. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I felt my nails had a slight chance at survival Yay for the spa! I wandered in, thrust my snaggle fingers in front of them and begged, “Help me.”

I was desperate.

My hands were desperate.

Well… they did so something... that is for sure. HELP probably wouldn’t exactly be the word I would necessarily use. This spa experience was certainly a new one from what I am used to.

They wrapped each of my finger tips up with tissue that had been soaked in some kind of strong polish remover. Once my nails were covered, they secured each tip with a ball of tin foil. I assume the tin foil was to hold the tissue in place... but that is merely a guess...

With a full set of tin foil fingers, I was left sitting there for a very long time.

A LONG time. Alone and bored.

Without anyone to speak to and absolutely nothing to do, I finally managed to pick up my phone and I managed to master the art of knuckle-peck typing.

I was there for three hours.

They scrapped off the gel from each fingertip and then manually sanded each one down to my original nail. Once that was finished and I was au natural, I had to force the lady to cut them short.

Despite her refusal, I insisted they be cut.

“I type," I explained, "...AND I bite my nails,”

She just kept shaking her head and repeating, “No... so beautiful.”


Not beautiful.

Not beautiful at all.

They were anything BUT beautiful. My nails hadn't seen the light of day in over 8 years, and there was no denying it; they were too long, too brittle and too weak.

Easy to break.

Easier to chew.

I know my weaknesses all too well.

Disregarding her pleas, I finally grabbed the clippers and started cutting on my own.

I should've received a discount for doing some of the work!

... and then... she painted them.

That was it. No gel. No barrier between my teeth and the nail. Nothing.

Three. Hours.

I was meant to meet a new volunteer and a coordinator at Sawa Sawa to see the Arusha Heritage and Cultural Centre... and had to keep begging them to wait...

Three. Hours.


Fast forward 10 minutes to 5 days and I have now successfully cracked, snagged and broken SIX of my nails. Three have fallen prey to my incessant gnawing and I am desperate for a good manicure... still... again...

I am also in need of a pedicure… although I’d be horrified to share the state of my feet with anyone. It's a vicious circle... living and working and walking in the African dirt. As soon as they are clean, it takes less than 3 minutes before they’re an absolute sty again. The dirt seems to be attracted to me and accumulates in an absolutely extraordinary manner. The only positive is, from afar, it looks like I have a fabulous tan.

I seriously considering documenting my African journey through my feet each day, but I can’t imagine those photos being beneficial to anyone, including myself.

When the opportunity arose to visit the Arusha Cultural and Heritage Centre, I was more than slightly hesitant. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I envisioned a stark museum with a multitude of literary panels.

Eeek. No, thanks.


I was mistaken.

Was I ever!

I loved it. Every second.

You can’t help but be impressed as you pull up to the Heritage Centre. I was immediately blown away. The majestic and compelling facade is a depiction of the three major African symbols; the drum, the shield and the spear. Surrounding the centre are a variety of wildlife statues, depictions of village life huts and an assortment of vendor booths.

The gallery is a full four floors of cultural artifacts, handcrafts and rich modern and tribal treasures, from all over Africa. It’s focus; history, wildlife and soul.

Entrance is free, and time spent here really evoked the cultural significance of the relationship between people and nature over time. Everywhere you looked, there was something else to capture your attention, including an 18 foot family tree which took 20 years to carve.

My favourite items were the beaded chairs. Not even JUST the beaded chairs... but the bead work, in general, really captured my attention right off the bat. The detail that went into the elaborate decoration was mind boggling.

... and how the hell, back in the day, did they make beads that small?

On the third floor, we found the African Mona Lisa. This wildlife painting of a resting lioness possesses the same phenomenon of da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa.' The gaze of the lioness follows the viewer throughout the room, and the artist perfected the illusion of this magnificent beast’s strong desire to be the centre of attention.

Highly recommended for anyone coming to Arusha.

*Plus, it's a fabulous place to purchase Tanzanite, if you have a spare $220,000 or so to spare. Good investment tip... as they have almost completely mined it out of existence.

A chimpanzee museum is currently being built next door, with a projection of being completed at the end of this year. It is being dedicated to the lifetime work of Jane Goodall.

Maybe a reason to come back?

For most of us, placement doesn’t normally go longer than 12:30pm, so we often have the afternoons to fill.

There are two beautiful hotels in Arusha...

The first honourable mention is the Arusha Coffee Lodge.

We went here as a group on New Year’s Eve, but I recently returned with one of the Australia volunteers. We decided to split a pizza and some sort of charcuterie platter, for lack of a better word. We sat there, enjoying the serenity of the surroundings, as well as the delicious food... when suddenly, mid-chat, a cheeky little monkey had the audacity to jump up onto our table. In the process of his intrusion, he dipped his hand into our hummus, chucked one of the chips onto the floor, grabbed our bread... and took off. It was over before we even knew what was happening, and we were both left speechless.

The staff were horrified and immediately ran off to replace our monkey meal. When our waiter returned with new hummus and bread, he assured us, "Don’t worry, the security guard is here now."

Rooftop at the Gran Melia Hotel

The security guard?

What would the security guard have done?

I guess they come on duty equipped with slingshots to scare the monkeys away from the diners.


What would be more terrifying? A monkey jumping up on your table and stealing some of your food… or the fear of being sideswiped by a slingshot pellet.

What a job though, eh?

"What do you do for a living?"

Monkey slingshot security.


The second hotel, which actually takes the cake for bougie, is the Gran Melia.

I do have mixed feelings about this posh hotel. I love it… really I do... but I hate it at the same time. No one can deny that its rooftop restaurant boasts the most breathtaking panorama of Mount Meru. You can't help but feel quite glamourous looking over the manicured gardens and plantations, with a glass of bubbly in hand. This exquisite hotel is second to none and the spectacular view really must be experienced by anyone coming to Arusha.

The view of Mount Meru from the Gran Melia Hotel

BUT... it’s a surreal and undeniably hypocritical feeling being somewhere so extravagant, after spending hours volunteering your time in impoverished conditions. Being surrounded by people that often go days without food, and then enjoying a meal in a first class hotel just doesn't seem to fit, no matter which way you look at it. Thinking economically, yes, the hotel does provide many jobs, but there is absolutely nothing about the Grand Melia that accurately represents Arusha and its people.

Privilege is prominent.

That is for sure.

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