By Nicanor Gordon
Justa Lujwangana is the founder and CEO of Curious on Tanzania, an experiential travel company that prepares a complete adventure for their clients.
Booking the dream Tanzanian vacation starts on the company’s website.
First, Justa and her team create a prospective itinerary. Do you want to sightsee in Tanzania? She can arrange for you to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Do you have a craving for local cuisine? She knows all the spots in Dar es Salaam. From there, it’s a back and forth to iron out the details. The full service experience includes airport pickup and dropoff, and full trip facilitation.
“I’m also my own client,” laughs Justa over our Zoom call, revealing the secret to the success of Curious on Tanzania.
Justa occupies a unique position as a native and also a tourist. She was born in Tanzania, but migrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her mother and sibling for a better life.
Adapting to the multitude of cultures in America was difficult, but she excelled as a student, finding her footing in medicine with the hopes of helping Tanzania by working with the United Nations or World Health Organization.
To be clear, Justa admits to loathing the word “help” in the context of how people talk about Africans, and by extension Tanzanians.
“The word ‘help’ is overused. When people come to Africa they have the notion that they’re going to help us. They do things that are very superficial, thinking they’re helping, but they’re not.” To truly help African people you have to spend time there, and learn what is needed, she continues.
Having completed her masters degree in International Nutrition, Justa applied for a job at the United Nations and waited for a response, understanding that even if she was selected, she might not even end up in Tanzania. And, there was a lot of waiting… She spent 10 years working in hospitals and clinics with only two weeks of vacation time a year; nowhere close to enough time to do any meaningful travel to her home country outside of the occasional wedding and funeral.
However, at the behest of her uncle, she did take one special trip. He wanted to show her and her family a side of Tanzania that they had never seen.
“There were these amazing safaris, beautiful white sand beaches, and all these beautiful resorts. I was like, Oh My God,” she giggles, “this is Tanzania? This is crazy!” She knew right away this is where she wanted to be – in tourism, and in Tanzania.
Starting from scratch, Justa remembers knowing nothing about tourism or running her own business. While some entrepreneurs might advise that you take the plunge and risk it all, she worked up to her transition. She changed her hours, going from a 9-5 to a 6-2. “In the morning I was working, but in the evening I was working towards my dream.”
Justa subscribed to the 10,000-hour principle of expertise coined by author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. According to Gladwell, it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to excel in your field. The way Justa saw it, 10,000 hours was around 5 years of her after-work session. “That time is going to pass regardless,” she laughs. She decided she might as well get good at another thing.
The final kick she needed was a blessing in disguise. Her day job let her go. The only thought that went through her mind was, “Do I get severance pay? Okay, perfect. This is God’s plan,” she declared. She gave herself six months to figure out the finishing touches of actualizing her dream.
Now she splits her time 50/50 between Tanzania and the United States. She attends expos and conferences, anywhere she can find, and pitches everyone on coming to Tanzania.
She’s still in awe of her country.
When asked if she could launch a “Curious on…” experience with any other country, where would she like to go? She doesn’t laugh, and she doesn’t hesitate. “Tanzania,” she reinforces.