Of confident Madeleine Schröder and her unexpected life in Tanzania
„I never thought that one day I would live abroad. Even when I was young, I always thought that I would live in my home Thuringia at the age of 25 in a house with two kids and would have somehow settled. The things have just come like that and I am totally happy about that.”
Madeleine Schröder was born in Thuringia, and at 12 years old she witnessed the German reunification. For her, this meant above all that she had to change schools – to go away from her known environment and the clique she had grown accustomed to. A few years later, at 15, Madeleine discovered her passion for triathlons. She trained in a club in Erfurt, became the champion of Thuringia and, after her secondary school certificate, switched to the sports’ school in Erfurt. “That was good for me, it really was fun. You were with people that liked sports equally – it was really a good time. We travelled to competitions and this really connected us”, Madeleine remembers.
After a year long stay in the USA, she started her studies of architecture in Erfurt. It was then Madeleine met her future boyfriend Alex. His father came from Tanzania and they both slowly formed the idea of travelling to this East African country for one year. Even if they are no longer together, Madeleine knows that her ex-boyfriend was the decisive factor as to why she is not living the dream of owning a house with two children in Thuringia today.
In 2004 her dream of Africa became reality and Thuringia turned into Tanzania. Today Madeleine still remembers her arrival in this foreign country. “The streets were dark, not illuminated. Right and left there were small fires. On the street, people fried something to eat. That was all so mystical and eerie”, she explains. But she always felt safe, she admits in retrospect. And the initial overwhelming heat went hand in hand with the appreciation of this consequent lifestyle. “It was calm, the people were not stressed, not hectic. Everything runs a bit slowly, the people actually have time to talk.”
For four weeks, the couple had lived in the coastal city of Dar es Salaam with Alex’s half-sister before they came to Moshi and thus, at the foot of Kilimanjaro. The cousin of her former boyfriend was a mountain guide and so they began to offer tours to the peak. “Back then, I picked up people from Dar es Salaam and drove with them to Moshi. Here we had a guesthouse and I stood there and made the breakfast myself. That was how Afromaxx got under way”, Madeleine tells. Thanks to an article in her hometown newspaper, the couple welcomed 23 guests in the first year and the question soon occurred “whether we would go or stay for a little bit longer and then we said, it is actually pretty nice here, so we’ll stay”, Madeleine says and laughs.
While Afromaxx had been doing really well business-wise in the first three to four years, the relationship of the two emigrants broke down. “We split up and that was a really hard time for me. I was in a foreign country, I basically did not have any friends, I was left alone, I couldn’t comprehend the breakup, and we had just build something up that was really fun”, Madeleine explains retrospectively. For a long time, they continued the project together. Then, her ex-boyfriend went back to Germany and the cooperation became even harder due to the distance. “I was really down and fought with myself, but I always realized – I do not want to give all this up and leave.” And so, Madeleine decided to stay in Tanzania and carry on with Afromaxx alone.
Besides the main destinations Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar, she offers a variety of different safaris – always with the focus of providing an individual experience for her guests. Furthermore, she wants to be on course for further success and expand her offer with more African countries. In the office of this tour operator in Moshi she works daily with her team on the programs, deciding on outdoor convention attendances and the full year targets of her company. “I love this self-determined working. I am my own master and can decide about things however I want”, she explains with pride and adds, “to have the office in Moshi, on the way to work I see the Kili – that might sound naively, but I often sit in my car, listen to music and think, ‘oh, that’s so awesome here.’”
Back then, the work for Afromaxx determined her everyday life. Nowadays she also feels personally at home in Tanzania. Four years ago, she met her present boyfriend. Today, the couple lives together on a sugar cane plantation in the South of Moshi. Here, both have found a small community of emigrants from Mauritius, South Africa, and Europe. After work, Madeleine goes for a walk with her dogs, jogs or works in the garden. “At Kilimanjaro I always felt at ease. But there is finally a place again where I can be home, where I have something besides Afromaxx, that is worth living for”, she explains.
The thought of being a stranger in her new home is nonetheless still present. From the beginning on, it was hard to make friends with locals besides her work colleagues. The cultural discrepancy but also the financial differences have made it often too hard to build real friendships, Madeleine states. “I am always aware of the fact that I might feel home here now but that I have to respect the culture, the people here. It is their land”, Madeleine says. Even the fear of leaving her life in Africa behind one day exists. “I would like to live here longer, but of course unforeseen things can also happen here, like when I am no longer granted a residence permit. At this point, I always have mixed feelings that I am apparently only a guest here.”
Therefore, the contact to Germany is still very important to her. “So this way, the possibility to come back to Germany is something I don’t want to ruin, it is still my home. It is the place that would be my safe haven as a last resort.” She also knows that she can no longer just return to her old life. “Well, it is like that, when you have lived for so many years in one spot that you know the people, the relationships, and their stories. But at this point I have become a stranger in Germany, even at home”, Madeleine admits. “For me, the time has stopped in Thuringia in 2004. The people are still there but I do not know their stories anymore.”
It hit her parents hard that her daughter wanted to live so far away – and for such a long time. But while the contact to many of her former friends has broken off after eleven years, Madeleine senses the connection to her family more than ever. “So whenever I come to Germany, I always see my family. They have become the most important part. Back then, I never really had a strong rapport with them. The relationship has reinforced due to the distance”, Madeleine explains. Today, her parents accept her life in Africa. Above all, they know that Madeleine has found what she had been looking for.
“Nowhere is perfect. There is no place that has everything and some things you just have to accept. I cannot expect to live in Africa and have the same things I would in Europe”, Madeleine begins, “but I have a perfect life, I cannot complain. I have everything that I need. I am just happy. I cannot expect anything else from my life and I hope, that I stay healthy and that I can stay here.”
Translated from German