By Erin Kesler, Boston College
Jambo! For anyone who may not know, that’s “hello” in Swahili. Those two syllables also encompass my knowledge of the language of the country where I will be spending the next three weeks. Okay, I take that back. I also know “Hakuna Matata” — but I wasn’t counting that, mainly because I learned it from the Lion King when I was seven and also because it means “no worries,” and I have a lot of worries.
On Friday, I will be leaving for Tanzania, a country on the Eastern coast of Africa and home to the infamous Mt. Kilimanjaro. I will be volunteering with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), a non-profit organization that confronts critical global issues such as education and health care, by providing sustainable volunteer service to communities all across the world. The New York Times has referred to service in CCS as similar to a “mini stint” in the Peace Corps. Really? Is it too late to get a refund? Just kidding.
I stumbled across the CCS website as a recent Boston College alumna, having just passed my nursing boards and looking to fill a unique post-college hiatus before I finally become a member of the real word in July. That is when I will begin my career as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse—and no, I’m not talking about the MTV reality show. I’m talking about the going-to-work, paying-your-own-bills, no summer vacation real world. I discovered a few months on the couch can only be entertaining for so long and I have always been someone who feels more accomplished doing something for others than doing something for myself. Guess I have my parents to thank for that, maybe my Jesuit college, and definitely my four years in nursing school.
I instantly became attracted to the idea of traveling abroad to do service and in particular, to Africa. I mean, why not? It is Africa after all. I don’t know if I’ve watched too much Nat Geo and Animal Planet, but when I picture Africa I picture smiling children, beautiful scenery, breathtaking wildlife, and a mesmerizing culture. After a few short days, I talked to my parents, filled out an online form, and paid the program fee. Before I could even update my Facebook or Twitter, I was going to Africa.
Five immunizations, two cans of bug spray, four bottles of hand sanitizer, and fifty anti-malarial pills later, the fantasy outlook for my trip to Africa was definitely altered. Not to mention, partaking in a conference call that discussed mosquito nets, flying termites, cold showers, bringing your own toilet paper and hand-washing clothes in tubs. However, in the midst of all these potentially horrifying revelations of bugs laying eggs in my skin, peeing in holes in the ground with no toilet paper, and coming down with malaria, I also found out my amazing volunteer placement.
During my three weeks, I will be volunteering at Pasua Health Centre — a maternal/child clinic in the center of bustling town of Moshi, Tanzania. I’ve been told that my duties may include helping to check in patients, taking weights and blood pressures, working in the maternity ward, and observing or assisting throughout the clinic. As a recent graduate who has spent the last three years doing clinical rotations at some of the most prestigious hospitals in Boston, I cannot even begin to imagine the culture shock I will experience — especially in the health care setting. However, I could not be more excited to have the opportunity to use my newly acquired nursing skills, let alone becoming immersed in Tanzanian culture.
It is still very surreal that I will be boarding a 23-hour flight to Africa on Friday. The truth is I don’t know what to expect and even more so, how I will react and adapt to the new environment and experiences. I don’t know how I will react to 23 hours of travelling. I hope I manage to still be pleasant and social enough when I arrive to make some friends. A lot of the things I’m debating seem comical — like whether or not to bring my hair straightener and how reliable the Internet connection will be in the local Moshi Internet café.
Seems to me that I should be a little more worried about only knowing one — sorry — three words of Swahili. Or about the proclivity for volunteers to come down with traveler’s diarrhea and have their purses stolen. Perhaps I’m filling my head with nonsense like grooming tools because I would rather not completely freak myself out with the reality of living and working in Africa for three weeks. No matter the outcome, I am sure my post-college hiatus/ temporary reprieve from the real world will be anything but dull and an eyeopener to my thus-far sheltered life.