“Mzunguuuu!!!” a small child shrieked when he spotted us pedaling slowly into his village. Soon his cries were amplified by at least a dozen other children who seemed equally excited to see a white couple approaching by bike. More gathered as we got closer. I had envisioned this scenario – pictured myself surrounded by a horde of excited children – but the reality was sensory overload.
We stopped and were immediately swarmed. Smiling faces chirped a chorus of “hellos” as they looked us over with curiosity, their eyes growing wide at the sight of our mountain bikes covered in bikepacking bags and gear. They pushed one another to get as close as possible, giggling and chattering. After a few minutes, we started to roll onward, but found that we had persistent company. A small group of boys ran alongside for as long as they could. One boy far outlasted his cohorts – he must have run a few kilometers without any sign of letting up. In the end, it seemed he only gave up out of boredom.
This scene played out in many other towns and villages, particularly if we rolled through around the time school was ending for the day. Any time we stopped for a break or to buy provisions, we would accumulate a small audience, usually made up of curious children and teens. Some occasionally practiced their English by asking our names or where we were from.
We were surprised by how few were familiar with Canada. On our bikepacking trip to Jordan, it seemed like everyone we encountered had heard of Canada – many exclaimed “beautiful country” or “nice people” when they learned we were Canadian, but Tanzania was different. There was seldom a flicker of familiarity when we said we were from Canada. Perhaps they were more accustomed to travelers from Europe or the U.K. or the United States – but perhaps most were not accustomed to visitors at all.
The few tourists we saw on our journey were being transported by private hired SUV. They rumbled by in the back seats of Land Cruisers, plumes of dust swirling in their wake. We were a source of much curiosity; traveling by bike.