Lucy & Sam's ICO Experience

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In August 2016 we were lucky enough to move to Tanzania for a month to take on the role of In-country Operatives with Choose a Challenge. Sam and I had been to Tanzania together two years previously to conquer Kilimanjaro, so it was fitting that we could head out together once again to help lots more students do the same.

We had a few days to settle into Springlands hotel. We tested out the pool, explored Moshi and the markets, met Natalie and Sarah (the medics who were going to be living on the mountain for a month) and had a full briefing with our in-country team in preparation for our first group’s arrival.

Before we knew it, our first team had arrived, a lovely bunch from Dundee! They ambled out the airport in the early hours and met me, Sam and Godwin (our in-country manager). They were full of smiles, energy, and a little bit of anxiety, but we soon put their worries to rest. After a quick photo op, we loaded the group onto the buses and gave them a little briefing en route to the hotel. Hotel check-ins were probably the most stressful part of the job, and that was only because it was around 4am and everyone just wanted to get to bed (including me). Once we’d got into a good routine with the hotel staff, Erastus and Hance, things ran a lot more smoothly.

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We established a routine relatively fast. A typical day would look like this:

7 am: Wake up, have breakfast and drink 3+ cups of coffee with the group departing for their trek that morning. I’d make sure the group were fed, helped to calm any nerves and sorted all of the last minute kit hires, bag drops and safety deposit rentals.

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8.30am: The group would meet outside the buses and have a couple of group pictures whilst the guides loaded up the bus roof with all the kit bags. I’d jump on the bus with the group and head to Machame gate, stopping at a small shop along the way to get extra snacks.  We’d arrive at the gate, and alongside Betty (one of the in-country staff) I’d get the group signed into the national park. I loved going to Machame gate, not only because I felt my presence meant the students felt more at ease before departing, but I also got the opportunity to get to know our in-country staff more closely, especially Betty who I formed a close friendship with.

Betty and I would get some classic group shots of the team, walk the group to the gate and wave them off! I’d watch them walk off into the distance, with the incredible views of monkeys in the trees and  Uhuru Peak in the distance (on good days).

Whilst I was at the gate Sam would wake up and see to those who had arrived the night before, making sure they know where to get breakfast and wifi and briefing them on the timings of that day.

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12 pm: Before I knew it, I’d be back at the hotel just in time for the briefing with the guides. We’d watch the guides deliver the same talk each day, and be there to see the participants faces pass through the stages of fear, worry and excitement. Once this was done, we’d head over to the kit shop to assist in rentals (although the in-country staff were fantastic, and often we weren’t needed in the assistance at all).

1 pm: Lunchtime! We’d head over to the buffet room, and explain how it all worked to the new arrivals. We’d sit and enjoy another fantastic Zara lunch, complete with questionable pizza toppings (avocado, scrambled eggs.. etc) and numerous delicious dishes. We’d load up on food, and chat with the team who were now bubbling with excitement for their trek.

2 pm: After lunch, we’d coordinate a trip with the fantastic Zara staff, for the students to go and visit Moshi town. The staff were fantastic at looking after the students on their tour of the market and town. They were extremely accommodating too, and we knew that if a student was desperate for anything (a water bottle, malaria tablets or a jumper to name a few things) we could trust them to go out of their way and find the item for the student.

3 pm: Just as we would send the group out on their Moshi trip, the group returning from the mountain would usually arrive. We did attempt, on several occasions, to meet the group at the gate, but we soon decided our time was more valuable meeting them at the hotel.

The groups would return covered in dust, sunburn and sweat, but the look in their eyes was probably my favourite part of the whole role. The students would pile into the buffet for a late lunch, pile their plates high and tell us the same old jokes stories or lines “oh it was amazing”, “you have no idea how good this food tastes” or “you look nice and clean”. After lunch, they’d head off for their showers and probably spend the rest of the evening in the wifi room where they’d be constantly refreshing their latest Instagram or Facebook post as the likes rolled in.

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Sam and I would work behind the scenes, ensuring all the tips were collected in from each participant- it sounds easy but with teams of up to 40, it could get quite challenging. We’d then ensure that the head guides were completing all the certificates for the group, and we’d coordinate with them on when the certificate presentation would occur.

5 pm: After a few beers, the team who’d spent the day in Moshi or on a project visit would return, we’d brief them on the plans for the evening’s dinner, last minute questions briefing and checking out before they went to use up all the wifi too.

7 pm: We’d get changed and head down for dinner soon after this. On some occasions, the evenings would get quite complicated as we would have up to 4 or 5 different groups eating with us, which again doesn’t sound like much but when some groups are around 40+ it can get quite mind-boggling.

Luckily, between me and Sam we managed to have an action plan and organised the groups so that they were aware of where they would be going for their Zanzibar briefing, pre-trek briefing, Hope for Children project visit briefing, certificate presentation or flight home.

Luckily for the extension trips, the in-country staff would coordinate and run the briefings, we just had to make sure the students were there and ready to listen. We also were joined in Tanzania by the wonderful Caroline from Hope for Children, and she was able to run the briefings without us too.

8 pm: This meant Sam and I could mainly dedicate our time to the pre-trek briefings. We’d find a free space in the hotel to round up the group and go over any last minute questions. They’d usually be pretty quiet until one brave person would ask the first question, “what do I do with my tampons?” and of course this causes an uproar of questions, worries and last minute flaps. But by the third group, we’d heard it all and were ready to answer anything. We would spend a while talking things through with the group, before heading over to the reception to get them all checked out. Although this was a long process, it was well coordinated between us and the in-country team so we’d all get through it within 30 minutes or so. Which gave us some time for Irish snap with Caroline, before one of us would head to the airport at around 10.30pm. 

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10 pm: The lucky airport goer would round up those who were flying home and jump on the bus off. The buses were huge, so usually we’d all have at least one row to ourselves, so we could lie out and sleep/relax for the hour’s bus ride. We’d arrive at the airport, have a flurry of hugs, thank yous and “I’ve had the best time” and the students were gone almost as quickly as they arrived but leaving as different people: They’d come out to Tanzania looking anxious and on-edge, they were leaving looking confident and as if they could conquer the world – as they hand with conquering Kilimanjaro. 

3 am: The person who stayed at the hotel would wake up around 3 am to send those departing for Zanzibar on their way, whilst whoever was waiting at the airport would sleep on the bus until around 4 am for the next arrival on their flights from the UK. I used to love the evenings on the bus and in the airport with Godwin, although it was exhausting, Godwin would keep me entertained and make me laugh whilst we waited in the cold outside the airport. The next group would arrive, and we’d start the cycle all over again. 

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I loved every part of my time in Moshi. From meeting the 358 students who had each raised a fantastic amount for various charities, and who had each developed so much as a person by coming out to Tanzania and attempting the highest free-standing mountain on Earth. The people of Tanzania are one of a kind, and we were so lucky to have them welcome us into their lives with such open arms. From taking Sam and I to local clubs, bars and restaurants to introducing us to their friends and family, I felt truly blessed to be immersed in their culture and wish every day that I could go back and see my lifelong friends once again.

We like to think we single-handedly bought the Irish snap and the macarena to Tanzania, so we hope whoever is lucky enough to get the role in 2017 should be prepared to continue this legacy!

Caitlin GrahamComment