Choir Abroad: My Tanzanian Adventure

Over my freshman J-Term, I had the absolute pleasure of traveling to Tanzania and performing with a group of talented Carthage singers (not to mention our dancer friends I’ll talk about later). It was an absolutely life-changing experience and I don’t think that I’ll have a J Term quite like it again. I hope that’s not true.

In the beginning, it was mostly traveling. One of my friends timed our journey and from beginning to end our travel time to Tanzania was 27 hours long. Not going to lie, it was painful. After the first leg from Chicago to Istanbul, we were in “Layover Land” for about 3 hours. At this time I was in and out of consciousness, falling asleep sitting down and waking up to an announcement in Turkish afraid I had somehow missed the plane. This was not the case. After the hours of waiting, we were on the second flight, on our way to Africa.

As a side note, I will say the one quite enjoyable aspect of this leg of our journey was the food. I seriously felt so stuffed by the end that I couldn’t even think about eating. And as a picky vegetarian, that’s hard to do. Hats off to you Turkish Airlines. You did great there.

When we arrived, it was around four in the morning and we had a long day ahead of us. We made it through all the security and stepped out to the beautiful, green nature of Tanzania and met our two guides, Emmanuel and Jimmy, who would soon become some of our closest friends. We drove past children smiling and waving to us on their way to school and men and women setting up their stores for the day. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t stop looking around, trying to take in as much of this country as I could. Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped off our bags and were off!

From that point on we never really stopped going. If we weren’t eating delicious food, we were journaling, traveling, singing, taking in culture, or, well, pretty much doing everything at once.

We spent the first few days hammering out our biggest performances with the Ibuka Dancers, a group of skilled dancers in their twenties who work 9-5, every day, trying to be the best they can be. In this group, I met one of my close friends Esther. I would watch her dance (instead of paying attention to my professor, oops) and would be awestruck by her beauty. I told her this once on the bus and she laughed. So talented and so humble.

In the 3 weeks leading up to our arrival, they managed to choreograph and memorize all 15 of the pieces that we were singing. All 15. When our professor spoke with them about some sort of collaboration, he was thinking maybe two or three pieces should be accompanied by dance. But they went so far above our expectations and performed beautifully to every single one.

We worked with them for the first few days to make sure timing was right, we went to a children’s school to promote, even did a flash mob in the mall down the street (they were not impressed), and each moment somehow felt like a few minutes and like a year. That’s the thing with Africa, it runs on “African Time,” where nothing is exact and people are late sometimes and that’s okay. I struggled to get used to it at first but now that I’m back home it's hard to get back on schedule.

We performed our full 15 song set two times while we were there. The first at a children’s international school and the second at a university. Both times, I had to use all of my strength to not stare at the dancers the entire time. Even with this effort, there were still times I’d accidentally caught myself staring. Collaborations like these are fun for the audience, but I’m going to put on record right here that it’s hard for the singers to not watch the dancers, but we had to try our best. If we don’t pay attention to our conductor, then we don’t sound as great and we slow down, making it harder for the dancers, our friends, to make the best art they can. So to help them make their art, we had to focus on ours. (Doesn’t mean I didn’t sneak peeks or give little high fives once they were leaving the stage).

When we weren’t busy singing to our heart’s content, we were exploring the beautiful country of Tanzania. As cheesy as this sounds, Tanzania is something I find very difficult to put into words. It was a breath of fresh air - so communal, so kind, so colorful, so simple, so dramatic, so lush, so green, so red, so many cattle. Pictures fail to show the true beauty of this place. It felt so much like home, no matter where we went. People always were smiling and waving (except for the one man who flipped us off on our way to sing at church).

We saw zebras (one of them was S-U-P-E-R pregnant, like twice the width of a normal tummy), giraffes running majestically in slow motion, elephants giving themselves dust baths, hippos chilling in the water, lions, and so many other animals, too. We visited multiple tribes and saw how each of them lived their lives and how the roles of men and women interact in each of those ways - surprisingly a lot of dowries for marriage are cows.

If I had to the chance to go back, I’d do it in an instant. The only wish I have is that I spent more time exploring and not being bused from place to place. The entire experience was jam-packed with wonder and beautiful sights, but I wish I could’ve taken a little time to discover Tanzania at my own pace. Overall a 10/10 experience, and I can’t wait to go on another trip and perform in even more places around the world.