The workaway that made me walk away

It’s been two weeks since I left Namibia. I spent about three weeks there and, just like before, I did not want to leave. But, I had to. Because I was going to help out at a dropzone in Kenya during their boogie.
I had arranged this through, a website that connects volunteers to hosts. For a few hours of volunteering each day, they get meals and a place to stay.
So, two weeks ago, I was on my way from Namibia to Kenya. I decided to travel overland as I would see more and it costs about the same.

I took buses from Windhoek to Livingstone to Lusaka to Kapiri-Mposhi, from where I took the TAZARA train that goes straight to Dar es Salaam. This train would take several days, even though it was the ‘express’ train. What an experience! Different classes of carriages, a bar, a lounge area, a restaurant. I had met an American guy in my Lusaka hostel already and together we met two German guys who were on the same bus towards the train station. At the train station, we met two Australian guys and two Zambian girls who I shared my cabin with. We got on the train as (almost) strangers and a few days later, it was like we were a close group of friends that went through so much together. We didn’t want the train to stop. It was a combination of going back in time and being on a party train (mostly for the guys, I went to sleep early most of the time but enjoyed the stories shared hungover the next day).

The weirdest things would happen while we were on this train too. One evening, we were in the lounge area and we were urged to go back to our cabins. So, we went. I was in carriage 2021 and some of the guys were in the carriage behind it, 2022. When we walked back, one of the German guys said “My room is gone”. We go with him to the end of the carriage and find that the other carriage was disconnected. And we were still moving. What. “We cannot leave the others behind! Where are they?” As he is calling his friend, we get the keys to our cabin. Our carriage comes to a stop and some of the passengers get off. Some of the guys get onto the platform as well and start screaming and laughing. They tell me to get off the train and look. I don’t know why, but sure, I get off the train and stand on the platform. I look at our train, only to find out that they had not disconnected the others, but they had disconnected us! It was only our carriage there, next to the platform. WTF?! Eventually, the rest of the train came back, we all got a place to stay somewhere on the train (I sneaked into the cabin with the German guys and the American guy as I knew there was a bed available – even though males and females were not supposed to mix without a marriage certificate) and continued like before. We had a little party in our cabin that night to celebrate the weirdness of it all. The last night before reaching Dar es Salaam, the guys drank so much and spent $50 on drinks. It’s only $1 for a beer or so. I had fallen asleep and at 1am, the Australian guys are in the door saying “Guys, we’re in Dar es Salaam!”. The train ride had taken 57 hours by then, so we didn’t (want to) believe that we were there. We wanted to stay on the train, also because it was the middle of the night and we were sleeping. But ok, I had most things packed up already so I was ready to go. I look in the berth beneath me and see one of the German guys passed out completely. He looked dead. One of the Australians tried to wake him up by shaking him and slapping his face. His brother tells him off for being rough “Dude, do it nicely!” and he steps in. He shakes him, no response. Then he takes his wrists to pull him up, not realising his alignment wasn’t straight, so while he was being pulled up, he went sideways and hit his head on the table. I was laughing so hard! And he was still passed out. Eventually he woke up and we all got off the train. All, except two, who were too late and they were still on the train when it took off again. Luckily, it only went to change tracks, so it came back in a few minutes and we could all get into the station to stay there until the morning. During that night, it was like people would take turns being completely shitfaced too. One of the Australian brothers was throwing up inside the station, a French girl who had joined us halfway decided to sleep on the streets outside. People would not wake up when they had to, so I was telling the one brother to wake the other, one friend to wake another, and we were all trying to get the French girl (who was completely drunk and high) to get up in order to catch her bus to Arusha. She would wake up and then continue sleeping. We would sit her up, she would start packing, and then fall down again. At one point, I drizzled water over her face. She had to get on the bus. The bus driver helped to get her stuff and to get her in the bus. Insh’Allah, she made it to Arusha. I’m sure that when she woke up in the bus, she would have no idea how she got from the train into the bus!

The guys (some of them still puking) and I then continued to take the ferry to Zanzibar. I realised that Zanzibar had changed. While, a week ago, I would say it was perhaps my most favourite travel destination, I can say that it no longer is. Tourism has increased a lot and with that, the attitudes of people have changed too. It was sad to see, as it was so very chill before and now you can’t take a step without having people approach you all the time. And while before, there were still some pristine beaches, now it seems like all places on the beach were taken or in development. We spent some time in Nungwi and then it was time to say goodbye and split up. I had wanted to do some scuba diving, but there was not enough time left. I did get to play with my underwater camera a little though. I hung out one more day in Stone Town, before taking my flight to Mombasa.


From Mombasa, I took a taxi to the place of the dropzone. I arrived at a big resort. Apparently, it hasn’t been in use for 14 years and they pimped it up for the boogie and the festival (with lots of big artists coming to perform). It looked amazing! They explained that there were bronze, gold and platinum tickets and corresponding areas and privileges. Ok, classy party! I would be in manifest, which is nice. I haven’t actually manifested before, but having spent a lot of time at different dropzones, I was confident it would work out. They also use Burble, a system that we are looking into implementing at the dropzone on Texel. So far, so good!
I was assigned a room to share with another Workaway volunteer. We would get all meals, but no water. So, that was a problem since you can’t drink the tap water. We would also not always have water in the room. For five days, I showered underneath a tiny little stream of salty water. But, I’ve been in worse situations. No biggie.

On my first day of work, the manager in charge of manifest showed me Burble. I soon picked it up and we worked on it more with the girls. However, I soon noticed that this manifest is not like other manifests. There is no communication; no radios, no contact with the skydivers. Some would manifest themselves, others would just get on the van towards the airstrip. Not being near the airstrip and not having radio contact, we just had to guess which of the three planes were being used. Sometimes, we would hear the jump plane, but we had not manifested a load. Turns out, people just showed up and jumped. Ok… There was no microphone to do calls through and there were other things that just made the system very inefficient. Especially since Burble uses the internet and the internet would crap out at certain times of the day. Quite a challenge when 400 people would show up before you to get on a load.
Then, it was lunch time. We went to the food court and I saw that the local workers lined up in a different area. Turns out, the managers and volunteers got different (read: better) food than the local workers. Why?
Later that day, we hear local workers being yelled at in an awful and humiliating way. Ok, this is not ok.

The next day, manifest issues were still the same and I realised the local workers were not getting breakfast and lunch with us. Turns out, they got that taken out of their deal (while it was part of the deal, obviously). Also, they were supposed to get paid, but didn’t. Some of them have kids to take care of. How?!

The rest of the week, things just got worse. Two workawayers were told that they were expected to work 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week (this is not what Workaway was set up for!) and that if that’s not what they want to do, they should leave. And that’s what they did. But no-one talked with us about whether it was the same for us or not. The workawayers had to pull on the management’s sleeves to get a meeting to talk about the volunteering conditions. Meanwhile, the local workers had to suffer from even more unfair situations like pay cuts. I wasn’t happy with the situation – not only for me, but for everyone. I thought, even if they improve our situation, they won’t do so for everyone. And this was in a setting where everything looked posh as hell, aiming to sell bottles of champagne, whiskey and cognac rather than beers and where tandems cost $350; $425 with handycam video (compared to €199; €284 with outside video at the dropzone in Texel). Finally, yesterday was the final straw. The manifest manager had asked for two days off next weekend because his wife is having their first baby. The owner told him that if he wants days off, he can leave today (and not come back). So, the morning started with him telling me that he’s leaving today. Right decision. After this, the workawayers had a meeting with another manager and he, with his sunglasses on, told us that we’re basically all working 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the industry and that’s what it is. He clearly had no idea how or why we got there and he had never read the Workaway profile. Workaway was just used to recruit very cheap fulltime labour. I had spent over €1000 to get there and I didn’t want to leave Namibia to begin with, but I thought it would be a nice experience (like Texel) and that I would make a jump or two as well. Nope. During the meeting, my roommate workawayer and I let them know that we won’t be staying under these conditions. My roommate had no plan B and asked to work and stay until the weekend. She was then told to leave today if she was going to leave, so she packed her bags. I had planned to leave the day after (today). I was then told that, if I decided to stay for the whole boogie, I would get $500. But, like I said before, even if my circumstances would get better, it would not be the case for everyone. I can’t support that. So, I decided to pack up my bags as well, have the rest of the day off (finally!).

I’ve been at a backpackers since last night and it has been relaxing. A bunch of nice skydivers came to see us last night and we had some fun before saying goodbye. It’s sad to leave when there are such lovely people around too. But how this place operates and how they take advantage of their staff, nope. You can take the girl out of human rights, but you can’t take human rights out of the girl!
Luckily, I could change all my flights and I will be flying back to Namibia later today! I couldn’t wait to be back, so I’m super thrilled that the end of December came a few weeks early! ❤


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