After finishing high school, Venance Ndibalema made the most of an opportunity to leave Tanzania to study physics and philosophy at the University of Miami. Now, he's ready to visit his homeland for the first time in years, a trip likely to prove traumatic, given the changes both he and the country have undergone during the interim.
Accompanying him on the eventful return to Dar es Salaam is Kristen Kenney, a fellow Miami alumnus who's never been to Africa. A child of privilege, she must brace herself for the culture shock involved in adjusting to modest accommodations sans most of the modern conveniences she's always taken for granted.
The subsequent sojourn is the subject of Tanzania: A Journey Within, a documentary chronicling Venance and Kristen's emotional and physical challenges long the way. Directed by Sylvia Caminer, the picture is worth watching for the spectacular visuals and anthropological insights alone, given the off-road trekker's point-of-view it affords the audience of everything from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti Plains.
However, proving just as compelling are the verbal exchanges between Venance and Kristen, as well as their chats with everyone they encounter. He enjoys a reunion with his BFF William, and searches for a sibling he hasn't seen in over a decade. Meanwhile, Kristen experiences a sense of exhilaration at exploring new places and at being so close to nature, at least until she becomes deathly-ill during a bout with Malaria.
Nevertheless, she has to admit that she'd grown up in the lap of luxury, so spoiled, in fact that she never even had to cook her own food. By contrast, Venance reflects upon the harshness of formative years spent fatherless in abject poverty exacerbated by his HIV+ mother's being shunned by her neighbors until the day she lost her battle with AIDS.
Lessons? "We learn through hardship," Ven rhapsodizes, adding, "If there were no fathers on the planet, I would never have known I needed a father to be a man."
As for Kristen, she finds it hard to leave Africa, "because you get so close to the people so fast." She comes away appreciating that "they don't care about status.
They just care about you."
"I was soulless before this trip," the grateful debutante concedes. "This is the real world I was searching for." Tanzania shows Africa from the perspectives of a "Native Son" returning to his roots and a blue-eyed sister transformed by an unexpected catalyst for spiritual growth.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 103 minutes
Distributor: Heretic Films
To see a trailer for Tanzania: A Journey Within, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRjlvCLFR_w