Travelling in Africa during a pandemic

This is a guest post from my friend, travel industry professional and fellow Africa-addict Winnie Sørensen. You can follow Winnie’s adventures on her blog here: Tales From Abroad

Covid-19 in Tanzania

What it’s like traveling in Africa during a pandemic, my friends ask?

I’ve said it before; I have no idea what happened to covid-19 in Tanzania. The President claims that the country is covid-19-free but that about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard – plus it’s election year. Never trust a President during an election year (no matter which continent he is on…).

Protocols

Tanzania recently received the “safe travels” stamp from World Travel & Tourism Council (https://wttc.org/COVID-19/Safe-Travels-Global-Protocols-Stamp). It takes a lot of protocols to get this stamp!

All the places I have visited have handled things extremely professionally. There have been a lot of temperature checks, washing hands, sitting 2 metres apart from each other and a lot of sanitizing.

During my two weeks in Tanzania I drove more than 1000 km. I’ve been through remote villages in the middle of nowhere with tiny local markets, food stalls, funeral services and coffin-makers – and bigger, bustling cities with supermarkets, nightclubs and huge local markets.

Every single shop/restaurant/office/school seems to have some sort of hand-washing facility outside. I did see one actual funeral but I saw no chaotic scenes outside of hospitals, I saw no long lines outside the coffin-makers and in one of the funeral services the (who-I-assumed-to-be) owner was sleeping under a tree…

What the locals say

Everyone I have spoken to says three things;

  1. They don’t know anyone who has been sick
  2. They have all done the steaming-thing
  3. They have all used local medicine….

IS anyone sick?

As for number one; the same goes for me. I know two people who know someone who was sick back in March. That’s it.

Steaming

I read about the steaming some time ago on the BBC and I honestly laughed my a.. off…. Everyone here in Denmark tells us that sauna/steaming is no good because the virus needs a high temperature to die and your body is designed to cool the air before it enters your lungs = it cannot kill the virus.

Local medicine

Local medicine? I honestly don’t know. I do know that my friends in Tanzania occasionally get sick. They get malaria, flu, colds, stomach issues etc. I know they don’t always see the “normal” doctor, nevertheless they always get well again.

Some positive side effects

In Zanzibar I spoke to our local partner and he said that when the virus first hit Zanzibar the authorities got very busy visiting every single corner of every single village telling everybody about the importance of social distancing and washing hands. In the beginning the markets were just open from 9AM-3PM (please remember, people are poor. They do not have money to fill a fridge and stay indoors – they live from day-to-day…) and everyone was instructed to go in one way and out another way.

Everyone was instructed to replace their normal tea with herbal tea – in heavy doses. The funny thing is, he said; that during the rainy season cholera IS always an issue in some of the lowest-lying and poorest village however this year they haven’t seen a single case of cholera….

With everything so seemingly under control, why was this trip then also more frustrating than ever?

What tourism means in Tanzania

Tanzania has 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 3 of Africa’s 7 wonders are in Tanzania. 25% of the GDP comes from tourism. The local fisherman in Zanzibar has nowhere to sell his fish. The garages in Moshi are empty because all the safari vehicles are parked in the garages. The farmers cannot sell their rice because the hotels are empty.

No man is an island

I know two fine young men in Moshi. Normally they have laughter in their eyes, big smiles and a lot of humour and self-irony. They have both managed to break away from the destiny they were born to have. One because his parents somehow taught him self-esteem in the best possible way – he has super strong core values and knows his own worth. The other one is a rebel – he strives to have freedom and he’s been able to use to rebel side to break free. I call them my friends. In spite of totally different lives, cultures and way of living we somehow always seem to connect, laugh, share stories and through our conversations we all learn a great deal about life.

The spark in their eyes has gone. They’ve both lost weight. They eat when there is food – not when they are hungry. They hide from their landlords because they cannot pay their rent. Their most common answer these days is “I don’t give a fuck”. I know this is not true. I know them well enough to know this is an act of desperation.

They didn’t do anything wrong. They simply live in the wrong country which apparently has no covid-19 but a shitload of other diseases – and absolutely no safety net when every single country in the entire world decides to behave like hermits.

All this frustrates me more than anything else.