Welcome to Bush University

When I was in Tanzania last year, I met Sadock Johnson. He is the founder of the NGO I was working with, Foot2Afrika, and we talked over dinner at the hostel several times, while he had his mandatory cup of tea. Sadock was the one I worked with for the preparation of the marketing workshop that I did for F2A’s summer school. I learned a lot about his job as a Safari guide, about the government and (of course!) food. So meet Sadock now!

[This text is in English, because I want Sadock to know what I’m writing about him. Please excuse my mistakes, I am way better in German than in English – obviously.]

Maybe you remember my blog post from last year: Once in July 2016 in Moshi we went to his farm far outside of town behind the sugar cane plantation and he put paralyzed scorpions on my hand while we were waiting for a goat to get slaughtered – what did not happen. Well, at least not that evening and not witnessed by me. And then, on the 14th of february in the year 2017, he was sitting in my office in Oberschwaben. We were talking like it was not some kind of absurd or weird that the Tanzanian guy from my parallel life in Moshi was in Germany.

He brought some of the Tanzanian spirit back in my everyday life that got from adventurous in Africa to – well, let’s say – boring in Germany.
He was sitting in my office because he was on a tour through Germany and other European countries to raise money for his latest project and also visited my hometown to have a talk at the university I am working for. I decided to ask him a lot of questions to introduce him to you. In my eyes, he is a humorous and inspiring person and that is because he is working a lot for society, especially for people that can’t fight or speak for themselves – poor families, youth, mistreated women, sick persons. But what I admire most about his work is that he is not doing the volunteer stuff for his own advantage, he is not bringing loads of volunteers to Tanzania just to let them pay fees for their work. Everything he starts has to be sustainable and in some way self-supporting.

Finally, I managed to do it. I managed to type the article about the guy that taught me how to eat properly with my hands. And one of the persons that helped me to find my trust in the Tanzanian people again, because at some point I was endagered to loose it after some harsh disappointments. I managed to write it down! (Okay, nothing to be proud of after almost three months, but better late never never, right?!)

As my mom says: You can be king or queen without a crown. you don’t need to be on TV, radio or newspaper. – Sadock Johnson

So the evening before I talked to Sadock about his life and his work and Knödel, we were having a glass of wine in an Irish pub with a friend of mine. He was exactly how I remembered him from Moshi: a great story-teller, funny, an imperturbable optimist. He showed me the pictures he took at the Massai circumcision we have been together and memories came up in a huge wave of well-being and happiness (maybe corresponding to the amount of wine I drank in the meanwhile). I went home way after midnight feeling dizzy but I was floating on all these precious memories of my Tanzanian life that felt like it was ages ago.

The next day I still felt dizzy but excited to get to know more about Sadock; where he came from, how he lived and how he became the 37 year old man I got to know.

And he told me. Sadock grew up near Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa between Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. When his father died, the eleven siblings were devided up to the other family members. That was when Sadock moved to his uncle. Before finishing primary school, he moved to live with his brother, a hard working single man, to pass the examination – and he did. Living wasn’t as easy as living for a teenager here is, that only has to care about pubertal acne and the label on his jeans and being annoyed by going to school. His problems, in contrast: When Sadock had no money to buy socks he wore plastic bags in his shoes so the teacher had a good reason to expose him to laughter. His talent was to draw cartoons wherein in found his strength – people called him the cartoonist boy. Soon his dream was to become an artist and earn money with his drawings. But his mom insisited on finishing high school. She was always his rock in the surf, that’s what came up repeatedly while we were were talking that afternoon.
After passing his high school exams, he applied for university to study biology as he was also good in natural sciences. He learned all about genetics and the animal kingdom and started as a safari guide. He had a dream that a lot of the boys from poorer families have: he wanted to go to America and for that he had to be seen by American tourists that should take him to their country. It didn’t happen, he says, laughs without any regrets and starts to tell me about what changed his mind a thereby also his life. It’s what he calls the bush university or the wilderness classroom. When he started to see the African animals in people, he started to see and understand their character. Not without reason, he calls his mom black rhino. She is a strong woman and a tough lady, he is convinced that he became who he is now – from an orphan to the owner of a safari company and founder of a NGO – because of the following reasons: number one is my mom and number two is god.

As there are so many beautiful, wild, dangerous, breathtaking, terrifying animals in the African wilderness (I witnessed this while being on safari for several days), there is a lot to learn about the animals and their corresponding human character. These thoughts brought Sadock down to earth, he became more conscious and appreciatively of nature and saw the advantages when it is clean. He started to share his ideas with his clients and changed from thinking about a big house to I belong nowhere. Where do you get buried when you die? he asks. Based on this world view he started to build up the company in a more philantropic way which means especially not to exploit the people that are working for him. That is a huge problem in the Tanzanian tourism sector – Sadock told me a lot about that when I lived there. The guides and porters get paid frightfully low wages just to offer way too cheap tours to the tourists. Some of these tourists have no idea that the workers get exploited, but others do know and just don’t care as long as they can have cheap holidays. Sadock wants to stop that.

Charity begins at home. When you work with people, they should be happy so that they can make other people happy.

It is as simple as that but unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t treat their workers like that. His focus is on valuing the hard work of the people. Keep it small and simple is Sadocks credo and therefor his company consists of only five people and he doesn’t plan to become any bigger.

But enough about work and the company. What is of even more interest for me: Why is he caring so much about other people? I want to know why he is putting so much effort in helping poor and sick people.

Balancing between the business and the charity has been my struggle because they all carry much weight in my life. I don’t get paid working for Foot2Afrika. – Sadock Johnson

With the wildlife experience, Sadock learned about taking care for each other. Even his mom told him that everyone should be called brothers and sisters, not only your related siblings. He saw elephants that joined a new family; they are always welcome – this should be an example for all of us. By seeing generousity, he wanted to do something, too, and started to refill empty bottles at in town to bring water to the poor kids. Five safari guides joined this project and an Irish guy began to organise volunteers for the project in 2006. Sadock soon used all of his spare time to help the community without any borders; he served the orphans, the women, the church, old people and tribe people like the Massai. And note the word he is using: Sadock is not helping, he is serving. Even if these words seem to be quite similar, they aren’t. To help means to put yourself in a position above the person that receives the help. To serve means to be in the same position, next to each other, even learning from each other. When the number of volunteers increased, he started the hostel (where I also lived btw) and quit his job at the safari company he worked for at that time to manage all the things that came up with the volunteers. He had to be like a father sometimes and the young people weren’t always that easy to handle, for example the group that stole a taxi in despair after they got robbed in a night club and then hit a tree with the car. If that wouldn’t be enough, they broke in the hostel because even their key for the hostel got robbed, too. But as time went by and there were more and more volunteers, Sadock realized that we didn’t change the kids lives, we just gave them food. That is exactly the same experience that I made in Moshi. Maybe it is an utopia to change someones life to the better, but if there are enough people to believe in it, maybe it is possible.

I thought about how to teach them to fish and not to give them fish.

So in 2008 he met the local farmers to find out what they really needed to improve their situation. He now sees himself as an advocate to talk about what type of volunteers Tanzania really needs. We don’t want the young high school students, we want someone with a profession. The young students are teaching the Kids in the orphanages how to count. After some weeks there is another volunteer coming, also teaching the numbers. And then there is another volunteer coming and it goes on like this for years and the kids at school don’t learn anything useful, there is no continuity.

Why should we bring people to plant trees in Africa? Come on, we could plant the trees!

Sadock tells me about the blue cow that all the kids here know (the Milka cow, for those of you who could not make an educated guess). So how can you bring people here to plant trees that think a cow is blue? Well, I guess he must be right in some way. Black people are not chocolate, they can talk. Okay, now we come close to the racism question. And to be honest – I totally get what he means. But he continues and levels out his statements by saying: I blame these sending organisations from Europe and USA and that is what he calls volunteerism. There is a change needed to make sure volunteers get more respected and can be useful, because people come with talents. They need people to teach them how to use Excel and not the numbers for the tenth time. And this is where his idea comes in: Sadock wants to build up Moshi youth village, that offers courses and workshops for the people in the community so they have the chance to use their knowledge and find a way out of the poverty and hopelessness. That’s the project he is raising money for on his tour through Europe. To build the village, they need 600,000 US$ and by now, they reached half of it. I think I can see some pride in his eyes when he tells me. And as he is tired of keeping fundraising (I totally understand that!), he wants the village to be self-sustainable. He laughs while saying that and it is the irony that shines through in his voice. I guess he would keep on fundraising for the rest of his life if it would help but he wants to teach them how to fish and not give them the fish, that is his philosophy.

The Chagga (one of the tribes) gave land to the project – and if the Chagga give you something, they really must believe in you. In total, the Moshi youth village is planned with 8 class rooms and facilities, a theatre and an administration block that will be build up in two phases. With the raised money, they can soon start with phase one. There are also international members of Foot2Afrika that raise money all over the world so he has a lot of support to reach the common goal. A lot of people expect him to show a negative image of Tanzania, like suffering children waiting to die and to be eaten by the vulture or hyenas. But that is not what he is doing – There is a problem, but let us give each other the hope. 

Everything I get is because of my connection to nature.- Sadock Johnson

Lastly, I ask him if he likes the Germans. He confirms the image that we are always on time – except for the trains. And  he laughs about the Germans waiting in front of the traffic lights, even if there is absolutely no car and there will be no car in the next hour – don’t cross the street when there is a red light! Never! Ever! (He’s right. Yeah. I know. I feel like a rebel when I finally decide to cross a street with a red light after thinking about it over and over. Haha.) If technology would fail, people would suffer, Sadock says and smiles. And at the Bahnhof (he even learned to use the German word for train station! I guess it must have been really traumatizing) it is not like at bus stations in Tanzania where people tell you which bus to take and where you can find it, most of the time he was totally lost. He tells me, we would need a new job at the Bahnhof: Someone would have to stand at the train station with a mic to tell everyone where which train is going. I guess this model wouldn’t work with all the different tracks and trains but Sadock says he would pay for that service.

And I want to know how he liked the German food, but he tells me he didn’t find something like a German dish. He tried Weißwurst and – then he is trying to find the right word – Knödeli, he says, and I cannot help it, I have to laugh out loud. The right word is Knödel and it is not that different, but it sounds so funny when he pronounces it.

And it all starts and ends with food – maybe it is just the metaphor for the one thing that can overcome our cultural differences. Isn’t that the best metaphor ever?

If you are interested in more information about the projects, go this way:

And if you want to see amazing pictures from the bush university, go this way, because Sadock is a great photographer and shows you his pics on facebook.

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