By Erin Kesler, Boston College
Tuesday began with me attempting to blow-dry my hair and instead, blowing up my adapter. It seems that someone is trying to teach me a little lesson about superficiality and it looks like I will be sporting a half-curly/wavy dysfunctional hairdo for the rest of my time in Africa.
The rest of the day was rather intensive, as I was bombarded with explanations on house norms and policies, goals, and expectations for the volunteers’ time in Tanzania. My placement partner, Majengo Hospital, could not make it today. Instead, I listened in on the introduction for Step-Up Nursery School, which provided insight about Tanzania’s school system. I was most shocked to learn that they still practice corporal punishment. The children are hit with sticks when they misbehave or are not paying attention to their lessons. Can you imagine the uproar if this was still practiced in American schools? I was told that I would be dropped off at the hospital tomorrow, but I can’t help but feel totally clueless and scared.
Before our tour of Rau – a nearby rural town – fellow volunteers Chris and Nicole took a short walk with me around the CCS house, awarding us a closer look at the surrounding community and its beauty. We stopped to see a little boy who was amazed by Nicole’s fancy Nikon camera before posing near a giant termite mound. Even the smallest things in Tanzania are fascinating, inviting you to notice the details of the surrounding splendor.
The tour of Rau was both challenging on a personal level and amazing. As soon as I turned into the center of the town, a group of kids were waving, calling out toward us, and chasing after the van. We waved and yelled “Jambo” and “Mambo,” showcasing our limited knowledge of Swahili.
The town reminded me of a corn maze. Its houses and stores were at first hidden due to shrubbery, crops, and trees, but as you drove further they revealed themselves one by one. It was beautiful. We stopped off at a school for disabled children and met one of the students. He was an adorable little boy who could not walk when the school took him in. Now, he walks using a Tanzanian improvisation of a push-toy walker. It is powerful to see the ability of people to accomplish such remarkable things with such little resources.
This revelation was only further enhanced when we stopped by a center for women. Apparently, groups such as these are provided with two sewing machines (although they really aren’t machines) so that they can have a self-reliant and sustainable business. They make beautiful bags, skirts, kangas, and other clothes. I bought a bag for 15,000 shillings which is about ten USD. I found myself humbled by the resiliency of the strong women.
We walked further into town and saw many babies and children. A little boy jumped up and down excitedly shouting “Mzungo, mzungo!” Nothing like a three-year-old letting you know how much of a foreigner you really are! When we arrived to the market, I found myself growing more shocked. There was a terrible stench and meat hung on hooks, surrounded by flies. The vegetables looked rotten and everyone looked very tired. Everyone stared – and I felt somewhat like a museum exhibit. The kids were dirtier here than in Moshi and many had no shoes. There weren’t many smiles and they all have eyes that seem to look right through you. I felt transparent.
We continued walking with the Mama who was giving us a tour and she explained to us more about Rau. A chief is elected for a five-year term by the people of the town. He watches over the people, stops quarreling between neighbors, and makes sure the children are going to school. It sounded so personal and I found myself thinking we could definitely learn something from these people about the importance of community and looking out for your fellow neighbor.
Important side note: roads are terrifying in Tanzania. It is a free-for-all and there is no regard for pedestrians. “Dala Dalas” – large vans filled to the brim with passengers – bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians all compete for room on the dusty roads. My heart stops at least three times a ride because I fear we are either about to be smashed into or smash into someone else. Our driver assured us he has never hit anyone, or been hit, which was a slight reassurance.
When we returned to CCS, we had more orientation and cultural sharing, learning some more Swahili. Before dinner, I accidentally took my malaria medication and found myself feeling deathly ill. I tried to eat through the nausea and had some potatoes and vegetables. I also was chugging our purified water. Slowly, I started feeling better and realized this was a mistake I would not be making again.
I went over to Kibo house next door to chat with the girls and work on planning the activities we hoped to do in Zanzibar. There are so many options including the Spice Tour, Stonetown, forests of monkeys, dolphin tours, and sunset boat cruises. At 8:30 p.m., already exhausted and falling asleep in my chair, I tried to stay awake so I could sleep in more the following day. When I returned to my house – ready to pass out – I found my housemate Natan playing the guitar and my roommate Jennica singing. Jennica sung a rendition of “Hallelujah” and it was absolutely breathtaking. She is blessed with an incredible gift and the song spoke volumes about the overwhelming experiences of the previous two days. Sitting and talking with new friends, it’s clear how an experience such as CCS can change you at the deepest level of your being.
I attempted to enjoy my freezing cold shower, still feeling slightly ill from my malaria medication and stressed about not blogging. I tried for over five minutes to tightly tuck in my mosquito net and could not help but replay the events of the day over-and-over again. As I laid my head on the pillow, the faces of the people I had seen today seemed to play like a slow-motion movie montage. In the few seconds I had of contemplation before I fell into a coma of sleep deprivation, I could only imagine what tomorrow would hold. After seeing the towns, I could not help but wonder what the healthcare system would be like. I had anticipation, fear, and excitement in my heart.
It’s odd how no experience offers a deeper ability for self revelation and contemplation than an experience that takes away any comfort or any formality you have ever known. It seems that only when you are stripped from the world you thought was your own reality, do you discover the ability to really see yourself and those around you. It is an empowering, yet challenging revelation. I don’t know if I will necessarily find myself or discover a whole new outlook around my life path during my three short weeks in Africa. However, I do know that it will begin the process of ever-constant self-reformation and understanding that is a necessary and vital part of life. I don’t want to simply drift through life without challenging myself. I want to continue on a great adventure and I know that I will do that here.
This is the second installment of a two-part post. See Part One here.