Tanzania is a game changer, or more aptly put, a perspective changer. Cosette and Brian DeCesare and their three daughters Genevieve, Theresa, and Maria are evidence of this phenomenon after their recent Tanzania Safari & Service family vacation with Discover Corps. Cosette put it best, “I was in awe of the happiness and disposition of the people. Especially the children. This was not so much a surprise but an observation. These people know struggle. But they have a level of apparent joy and contentment that would make a lot of Americans blush with envy.”
To elaborate on their family’s time in Africa, Cosette and 16-year-old Theresa kindly agreed to share a few thoughts below on what they called an experience of a lifetime. Their words are complemented by a video recap (after the Q&A) of the trip, creatively made by Theresa.
Why did you choose Discover Corps versus another travel company?
Cosette: We chose Discover Corps because it was the perfect balance of service and tourism. It would have been difficult to be in that beautiful part of the world and work all day. Conversely, it would have been difficult to simply be a tourist without being of service to and interacting with the people we encountered. We also appreciated the travel dates. They worked well with our availability to travel. We had two weeks of work off and the dates that Discover Corps had available fit perfectly into what we wanted to accomplish on this family trip of a lifetime.
What is one thing you wish you’d known before traveling to Tanzania?
Cosette: Simply this – as a western woman visiting Tanzania, all a female needs in her suitcase for clothing is long maxi dresses and skirts…lots of them and only a few loose-fitting pants. A few grubby long shorts and t-shirts for work days are needed too. This might seem trivial, but it’s actually not. It’s important to me to honor and be sensitive to the local culture and customs when visiting anywhere. Tanzania is very hot (but not oppressive). Females there never wear shorts. Being sensitive to this, we didn’t either. Flowy pants were not as cool as maxi dresses and skirts but they were nice to have on safari. Otherwise, Discover Corps prepared us beautifully in terms of packing instructions and lists.
Theresa, do you feel your experience will help you in school? If so, how?
Theresa: YES!! It made me extremely grateful for my education and the resources that are open to me. The difference between my school and the high schools in Tanzania are tremendous and I realize how blessed I am to be able to attend the school that I go to. I feel like this trip has made me appreciate and become more focused in school because I am very lucky to live the life that I have. I know that kids in Tanzania dream about coming to a school like mine, so I am now very grateful for my high school and education.
Did you feel this trip was educational and played a role in immersing travelers into the region and local projects?
Cosette:YES! We got to see Tanzanian government schools. We met and worked with the staff and students at one particular school- Mnini & Matoli Primary. We visited a coffee farm and learned in the most delightful way the fifteen steps involved in making my all time favorite beverage. We learned the beautiful art medium Batik and made our own creations. We witnessed and participated in the traditional Chagga tribal dances. We saw first hand how the Maasai people live. We became very intimate with our host, Mama Simba, and learned her story and how she pulled herself up by her boot-straps. She introduced us to her neighbors in Rau Village. Our Kilimanjaro guide was an incredible source of knowledge about the mountain. Our Safari guide knew everything about all the parks we visited and about all the animals within. He also had eagle eyes and could spot so many things from a great distance. From our Zanzibar guide, we saw how and where the spices we take for granted are grown. We learned the incredible history of Stone Town. Finally, we got to see beautiful Indian Ocean coral reefs up-close and swim amongst her fish!
Tell us about the most memorable experience of your trip.
Cosette: I can’t. And I promise you I am not avoiding the question. Upon our return, I have been asked what my favorite thing was about my experience many times. There isn’t just one. It was the culmination of the entire trip that makes it all so memorable. From the smiling eyes of Rau Village children, to dancing with the Chagga, to sipping the freshest most wonderful coffee ever, to creating Batik, to spying a Black Rhino through binoculars, to trail running with local girls near our hotel on safari, to eating the most delicious food prepared by Chef Mama D and Jackie (the Chef’s assistant), to meeting the most lovely people left and right, to watching tree climbing lions napping, to swimming with and spotting the most exotic fish, and everything in between…see why it’s not possible for me to select one memorable moment?!
Theresa: One of my favorite parts of the trip was spending time with the kids at the school. They are what I miss most about Tanzania. They were so grateful for our presence and were beyond respectful in the classroom. Spending time with those kids was life-changing and impacted my life deeply. I also really enjoyed going on the safari’s and seeing animals in their natural habitat. Seeing an animal in a zoo is much different than seeing an animal on a safari. Also, going to Zanzibar and seeing the Indian ocean was such an amazing experience! Seeing the crystal blue water and snorkeling in a reef was something I have never done before, but want to do again. One of my favorite parts of Zanzibar was walking through Stone Town, interacting with the people and making purchases. But out of all of my experiences, spending time with the kids was by far the most memorable and impacted me and my family the most.
Did your vacation change your outlook on your career path?
Theresa: Yes. It makes me want to find a job the will benefit and help other people in need. The feeling of earning money is nothing compared to the feeling of helping other people. This trip has made me want to travel the world and find a way to make an impact on people in need. I feel as though interacting with people from another culture and experiencing their ways of life gave me a different perspective and made me mature.
What did you think of your guide? And what about your accommodations?
Cosette: Mama Simba was our primary guide. She is WONDERFUL! Being a Tanzanian native, she knows so much about her country! She has so many contacts in Moshi, Arusha, and Zanzibar. She is so warm and loving and accommodating. She speaks perfect English so was very easy to communicate with. Our accommodations while in Moshi was her home. This had a gate and fence for security in addition to a day and night security guard. I should note, that NOT one time did we ever feel unsafe. Not once! Mama Simba’s home (it’s a compound) was clean and comfortable. She has staff who are also very accommodating. Our driver Baba T safely took us where we needed to go. Azmina kept our rooms clean and stocked with fresh towels and toilet paper. Mama D and Jackie made the most delicious food. Kaka Sifa and Dada Upendo also assisted in guiding us around Moshi and were lovely, helpful, knowledgeable and hospitable. Mama T is an administrative assistant to Mama Simba. She was also accommodating. We felt APART of these people. We WERE family to them while we stayed with them!
Mama Simba knows she is hosting westerners. She knows we like certain comforts- and God bless her for this. Clean drinking water was readily available in the common area at the house. Being mindful of the preciousness of water, we took very fast showers daily. The toilets are western and worked well. The meals were prepared in a very clean kitchen and up to the standards of picky westerners. The beds were so comfortable we slept like babies (a Mosque is very nearby the home so call to prayer could be heard- including the 4 or 5 am call. I thought it was beautiful sounding and it did not bother us one bit). There is no AC and we did not expect it. We slept in light clothing with fans on us to keep us cool. Mama Simba has a laundress if one is needed. I used this service twice as we packed light. That was super helpful. Our hotels on Safari and on Zanzibar were very nice and comfortable. We spent two nights at each and they are very “western” in their accommodations.
What would you say was the most surprising thing you experienced on your trip that you weren’t expecting?
Theresa: I did not know what to expect when we would talk to local people, but they were so kind and welcoming. I thought that me and my family would either not be welcomed, or simply ignored. But people would smile, wave and made us feel welcome and safe. Also, I was able to try different foods, such as Jackfruit and Mango. I have never had either of these fruits and I am glad I tried them! The mango in America is not as good as the mango in Africa.
Cosette, what you would say to someone thinking about traveling to Africa with Discover Corps?
Cosette: I would say that there is absolutely no time like the present! Book your trip now and go and have the experience of a lifetime!!!
Theresa, what would you say to another teenage traveler getting ready to visit Africa?
Theresa: If you’re a girl, make sure to bring either a long skirt or pants to cover your legs and dress modestly! Also, this is a life-changing trip that will expose you to different experiences and cultures, so keep an open mind and use this opportunity to educate yourself and try new things. Overall, this was a life changing trip and I am a better person because of it. I know that sometime in my life I will be going back to Tanzania to visit the people that I have met. Going through this experience has changed my point of view on many things and has changed my life for the better. I recommend this trip to Tanzania for any family or couples.
Lastly, can you tell us about your inspiration for making the video below?
Theresa: I wanted to make this video because I know that many people have never been to Africa and will never get the chance, so I wanted to document my experience. I thought that instead of telling people about my trip, I could show them through a video. I used my iPhone 8 and took a short video of any moments that I felt stood out to me. I’ve seen travel videos before, so I knew how I wanted the layout of the video to look. Also, I have always wanted to make a video like this, and this would be the perfect opportunity to do so! I feel as though the video was able to help people understand my trip, and hopefully, inspire others to take a trip to Tanzania!!