Bringing business home: Justa Lujwangana’s business shares her love of Tanzania

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  • Published on August 12, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In Guest Writers

Curious on Tanzania specializes in bringing customers to Lujwangana’s native country for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Justa Lujwangana lived a journal’s worth of what we today call experiential travel by the time she was 22.

To start her formal education, her grandmother placed her in a Catholic school across the Tanzanian border in Uganda. She studied the Luganda language though her family spoke Kiswahili as a first language and Kihaya in the home village.

The cultural surroundings flipped again when 12-year-old Justa rejoined her mother, who had immigrated to the U.S. The family of six shared a one-room apartment in Brooklyn.

“I’ve lived in lots of different places and I have lived multiple lives, but I am centered around my home (country) and my cultural heritage,” said the 37-year-old owner of Curious on Tanzania. “Every single day when I wake up, I feel like I am the luckiest person, that I was born at the right place and the right time and that I could use it toward creating—or, helping others understand what I love so much.”

The company creates travel experiences for visitors to her beloved Tanzania.

Tanzania_with maasai in-story photo
Justa Lujwangana (center) with Maasai people on a Curious on Tanzania adventure. Courtesy of Justa Lujwangana

“A lot of us Africans, especially the ones who studied abroad, we are coming back,” she said. “It’s becoming normal now. People within my age group are coming back and taking leadership roles, which is important. We need to take ownership of our countries. At every turn, we are supporting our economy back and forth. That’s what gets me. You create a product from scratch, and that’s my joy.”

The holder of a master’s degree in science, with a focus on international nutrition, Lujwangana toyed with starting a nonprofit. Ultimately, she pivoted to a social-good business in the travel industry to create jobs in her country, where the median age is 17 1/2 years old. Over ten years, she has hired 30 home-grown entrepreneurs, guides and artisans.

“It seems like a small contribution, but for me, it’s big because I am able to relate to my country members,” she said. “Like my tailor. When I’m able to match her with clients who want their outfits made, or when I do my goodie bags, she makes my goodie bags. In her showcasing her passion for creating things, we are able to give an income.”

Lujwangana lives between Tanzania and Brooklyn, so she knew how to pamper 40 African American women like princesses and queens during a recent Zanzibar trip.

“They want yachts,” she said. “They want super luxe, five-star hotels, and they have the access income to do so. We, as operators, we want to cater to them. That’s how they are living their lives in the U.S. They want to be welcomed to Africa, but it needs to be like a welcome. You have to give them that va-va-voom experience.”

The goal of sharing with visitors every corner of Tanzania (twice the size of California) is progressing slowly, but that’s a marker of success. That’s because of repeat requests to experience the traditions of the Maasai people on the Serengeti, Stone Town and Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

Nita Wiggins is the Paris-based author of Civil Rights Baby: My Story of Race, Sports, and Breaking Barriers in American Journalism. She is a journalism lecturer at CELSA Sorbonne University.