Today marks my last day of this journey. As I sit on the rooftop balcony of this hotel in Dar es Salaam, overlooking the busy road and many palm trees with a glimpse of the ocean in the distance, I am taking the time to reflect on my experience and all that it offered. Time for some High-Low-Grateful Fors!
The greetings. Never in my life will I ever again be greeted with as many Hellos in one day as I was in these past 8 weeks. My walks to and from work involved the most memorable conversations with people and I experienced a spectrum of feelings every day.
Old men riding bicycles. Everywhere! It was an adorable sight.
My host family. Being called Aunty by the family made me feel so welcomed! In the midst of a large language barrier, I loved finding ways to make my 3-year old host brother Isi laugh.
Fruit. When I had it, it was good. So good.
Exercise group. Those early-morning outdoor exercise classes with the local women were the best way to start the days.
Prayer call. It was a nice addition to my morning routine. It was a sound in the distance as I would begin to wake up, and I found it peaceful to hear while lying in bed and watching my room gradually light up by the morning sun.
Hearing the locals say “Hakuna Matata.” Yes, the phrase is actually a thing here! And I always smiled to myself when I heard it.
The beaches. My weekend excursions to the coasts of the island were short but oh so very sweet. I feel very lucky to have experienced the raw Zanzibari local lifestyle, but I also really appreciated the opportunity to explore how the tourism sector functions and provides to this economy. It was at times shocking to identify the radical differences that exist between the two – between the presentation of Zanzibar for tourism, and the true human life experienced only kilometers away from a coastal paradise that most villagers do not even have access to.
The work. Where lied some of my biggest highs, of course. It was rewarding. It was unique. It came with challenges that were all part of the experience. It gave me new ways of thinking and significantly increased my awareness of various cultural sensitivities. Each day was another lesson taught by another teacher, and I learned more from the conversations I had with these youth than they could have ever learned from me.
While thinking about this list, I realized that a) there really weren’t too many lows and b) most of those that existed are quite juvenile. I deem them as petty inconveniences that came with the standard of living and none, thankfully, (I think), because of any sort of heart-wrenching exposure to a cultural or situational experience. Actually, during my debrief with other volunteers that spent their 8 weeks in another region of Tanzania, I was touched by the stories they shared of working with youth affected by HIV and all the heartbreaking accounts of severe poverty and sickness in their communities. I wasn’t exposed to any of these situations first-hand, as these issues were not what my project in Zanzibar was created to address. And I still don’t know if I should be sorry to say that I wasn’t exposed to any of this kind of shock to share with you, or if I should be happy to report that the severe health and social issues that we often think about when we discuss Africa are not what these people are all about. I have seen sad things here; I have heard sad things. Although none were explicitly related to the AIDS pandemic or to child mortality or to rape or to severe poverty or to hunger or to most of the issues tirelessly fixated on about Africa back home, I can share with you a handful of stories and situations that did break my heart.
The gender inequality… The lack of motivation – the fear – in fighting societal expectations of gender roles; the acceptance of a plague of thinking that certain people are destined to a certain life because of these roles… The feelings of helplessness experienced by youth who envision change in their communities but don’t have the means or support to make change sustainable… The lack of empowerment and belief in youth… The lack of access to education; the lack of knowing the importance of an education… The exceedingly high youth unemployment rates; the lack of job search tools and resources… The lack of support and materials for environmental sustainability practices… The neglect towards healthy living and nutrition with the already select food resources available…
These are just a handful, and I’m sure I learned only a small fraction of the impact of these issues on the people and communities I encountered. My job here was to inspire in a group of youth some positive thinking, empowerment, and change action on some of these issues, and I hope that I left in them even just a little influence and new knowledge to continue to engage their communities.
With that said, I’ll shift gears to the personal lows deemed Juvenile Petty Inconveniences:
Lack of food variety. I like food. I like eating a lot of different kinds of food, and that didn’t really happen so much here.
Being burnt to a crisp. A combination of a cloudy beach day, the powerful hidden African sun, and expired sunscreen. Oops. A couple painful days of recovery followed, as well as a trip to the pharmacy for new sunscreen.
Dirty feet. All the time, no matter what. It must be permanent by now.
Water and power outages. Nothing that water wells, buckets, headlamps, candles, or a wet towel for a bed sheet can’t fix, but still. A minimum three nights a week without power got me usually really absurdly sweaty.
The work. Where lied some of my biggest highs also housed some of my lows. Sometimes it was hard and tiring. To prepare and present facilitation workshops 5 days a week for 7 weeks straight is no easy feat and time was always on crunch for us (which was also hard to manage given most everyone else’s engagement in pole pole Swahili Time).
THE GRATEFUL FORS
I know that “everything” is not so specific, but, yeah… Everything. In addition to Everything, here is my incomplete list that needs no explaining:
Electricity and Water.
The laugh of a child.
My program manager and fellow volunteer.
My family and friends.
The word “Karibu.” I will miss this word a lot. It is pure, peaceful, and sincere, and it is associated with everything I’ve been welcomed to here and everyone who has welcomed me.
So, that’s that! I’m spending the rest of the day winding down and getting ready for my long trip home tonight. It’s been a whirlwind and I’m so happy and blessed for everything I saw, heard, learned, and experienced. Asante sana, Tanzania. Kwaheri na tutaonana siku moja.
Thank you so much, Tanzania. Goodbye, and we will meet again.