TANZANIA: A JOURNEY WITHIN (2011)
Running Time: 102 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Sylvia Caminer
Distributor: Heretic Films
“I now have a soul. I feel reborn.” How often do you hear that from folks with whom you’ve traveled to foreign lands? Possibly never. But if you’re a traveler, and not a tourist, your life can be changed forever by what you experience when you get deeply into the people of a land that might seem like another planet. So move over, Paul Theroux; Kristen Kenney may not quite equal your version of traveling, which has included such luxuries as riding seventeen hours straight with goats and chickens on a rickety road, but few people have come as close to Kristen to the Theroux-vian spirit.
TANZANIA: A JOURNEY WITHIN, put together by Emma-award-winning director Sylvia Caminer whose 2004 movie PASSPORT TO EUROPE: FRANCE & ITALY depicts a culture far more modern and Western than that shown here, focuses on two unlikely friends who met as students at the University of Miami. Venance Ndibalema, sporting a Rasta hairdo that may fit into our culture as a style but simply does not exist in Ven’s home country of Tanzania, invited a friend and fellow student Kristen Kenney, to join him on a trip back to his home.
She may have jumped at the chance but not without trepidation. How would a stunning blonde, who could have walked away with a coronation from a Miss Virginia contest if not Miss America, feel about being the only white woman in a black world? She admits to having some idea of what Africa is like, but what she sees—such as the giraffe in Serengeti that makes her exclaim “Shut UP! A giraffe!”—is nowhere near in importance to what she does. With Ven’s support, she plunges headlong into the East African nation whose educated classes speak English but whose national language is Swahili.
She joins Ven and a small crew in climbing the famed Mount Kilimanjaro, called Kili by the locals, the highest point in Africa. But even that journey does not equal in insight the activities she pursues while riding from the crowded capital of Dar Es Salaam into villages known by Ven, some areas having changed so much that he would no longer recognize them. But the village in which his grandmother lives is as it was. Ven’s meeting with his grandmother after being in the U.S. for nine years is a thrill for both, even if the elderly lady scarcely wants to leave the doorway of her simple abode, cameras pointing menacingly at the shy woman. He meets with his brother as well, a fellow who has never left his native Tanzania.
The more interesting of the two (I’m a male) is this strikingly beautiful American woman of privilege who gets right into joyfully dancing with the locals to the cheers of onlookers of all ages, but who grows emotionally and spiritually by helping to take charge of a four-year-old orphan with a serious skin infection on her head who is shunned by the villagers who think she is HIV-positive. She embraces the young girl, taking her to the hospital where she tests negative for HIV and oversees the treatment of the skin infection in a hospital with a surprising array of equipment considering the poverty of the village.
She befriends a 17-year-old woman who has never been to school, being unable to afford what we’d consider a modest expense. She sleeps in a hut next to her, and gets her into the local educational institution. She breaks down and cries in comparing what we have here in the U.S. with the travails of the village Africans she relates to. In one area the water is filthy. Cows do what they have to do in water that that local people scoop up in vases and drink. Ven reminds her that even when the water looks clean, such as in his village, is may still be infected.
Kristen catches malaria, which is treated by the well-stocked hospital, and she seems to be her old self in a matter of days. She is an enthusiastic person, the opposite of college students today who think it’s uncool to show emotion. When she is horrified, such as by the killing of a chicken, she covers her face with her hands, not realizing that the chickens in village Africa have far better lives running about and scratching the soil than those that are factory farmed here, filled with antibiotics, have their beaks trimmed, and are raised with barely enough room to move.
Director Caminer knows how to make a documentary. With the able help of cinematographers Francisco Aliwalas and Douglas Bachman, music from Richard Evans, The Footnote and David Rhodes, and editing by Avril Beukes and Rika Camizianos, she has fashioned a film that has no use for the typically dull talking heads interviews of so many of that genre. There are no interviews here, just the characters relating to one another and occasional narration by the two principals.
The filmmakers have launched a “Buy a movie ticket, save a life” in conjunction with the theatrical release of the movie in April 2014. For info, consult http://TanzaniaTheMovie.com/home/ Proceeds from every ticket sold to the public will be used to provide treatment for African malaria patients. So far as Kristen is concerned, she has said that back in the States all she thought about was having enough money for a house and the usual material goods, but has now changed her views. People are more important than things. Let’s hope she continues with that new philosophy for, well, would a lifetime be too optimistic for people living large in the land of plenty?
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