Disembarking the plane sweet and smoky smells make my nostrils flare. The sounds of exotic birds give the dark landing strip the air of a true African savannah, which is not surprising since the strip is part of Kilimanjaro airport. A quick pass through customs and a dazzling ride (and dodging oncoming headlights) into Arusha city, make my first encounter with Africa one to remember.
This morning I met Desdery and Faithfull who work for a Tanzanian NGO which is based in Arusha. In their four-wheel drive we set out towards the Babati district, which is located south west of Arusha. A two and a half hours drive takes us past barren lands, coloured brown, red and yellow because of the enormous drought, which is hitting this part of Tanzania hard. For miles and miles we pass Masai women walking along the road with big plastic buckets and barrels. They are fetching water for their families, their livestock and their lands. It is an ongoing struggle that repeats itself day in and day out. People are definitely craving for the small rainy season which will start in October.
Once we arrive in Babati the scenery becomes much greener, banana trees, sugar cane and maize flourish in this region, mainly because of the direct connection to Lake Babati which lies beneath the city. Following beaten down red earth, our four-wheel drive climbs up the hill and finally reaches the testing plot with jatropha hedges. The plants have lost their leaves because of the dry season. Desdery tells me that once the rains start next month, these jatropha hedges will start blossoming.
This year will be the first year that these plants will produce the fruits from which oil can be extracted. A farmer who works on the plot tells me he hopes that the jatropha oil will bring him a light in his house, petroleum is too expensive and electricity he doesn't have. To this he adds that his greatest wish is that the tractor he and other villagers use, one time might be fuelled by the oil he grows himself.
On my first day in Tanzania it is not so much the poverty that strikes me, but more the sheer determination, the colourfulness and the smiles of these beautiful Tanzanian faces. I hope to see much more of them in the coming days.