TIA: This is Africa

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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It has been over a month since I said goodbye to Moshi.

It feels more like a lifetime. A world away from here. Everyday I think about my experiences in Tanzania with longing and wonder. Did it really happen to me? Did I swim in the Indian Ocean, van surf down Mount Kilimanjaro, get to know great people from around the world? Did I really walk on the rooftop of Africa, see lions up close, kiss giraffes and hold crocodiles? Did I meet and fall in love with some of the greatest kids I'll ever know, did Moshi really feel like home, did volunteering become my way of life, did I truly discover some of the harsh realities people face? Will the lessons stay with me forever or will Africa slowly fade away? If I'm being honest, how much does that scare me? What will happen next and how can I build on what I know now? How can I reflect my memories, the lessons and truths learned, in my life back home? Well...I am still working on it. Here is what I know now.

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People say that this is an experience of a lifetime. And it is, I do not wish to take one moment I had in Moshi for granted. But for me I feel like that phrase falls flat. How can those four little words sum up the last two months of my life. They don't describe what I have felt or seen, they do not encompass all of the quirks, joys, fears, and beauties that have existed for me. I know that I can not sum up Tanzania in four words or less, I guess that is why I have written so much on this blog :). I hope that by reading my posts over the last 2 months, you have learnt something new and now have no need to listen to me sum up my Tanzanian life. You have heard about it, experienced it, and seen it a long with me. Perhaps you have felt some of my happiness, sorrows, and excitement. And maybe you now have the desire to seek the unknown or help where you have never thought you could. It was my hope and reason for documenting my days abroad.

I encourage everyone to leave behind what they know, to experience a new world and reality. It will open you up to all kinds of possibilities you never imagined, for instance teaching 50 kids who don't speak your language or climbing the highest peak in Africa. Yet I know that these trips are not possible for everyone. And for those of you whose lives are going down different paths than my own, there are still many ways to help, because we can all make a difference no matter where we are.

I know that those who sponsored me as I went on this trip made a difference, to me and the people of Moshi, just by opening their hearts and giving what they could from the convenience of our hometown. You do not have to travel abroad to effect change, although it is a great way to see the world through new eyes. Perhaps, think about doing something through your own community (soup kitchen, Non-profits, hospitals, ect...), look at Kiva.org (a great way to help people out of poverty. looking in to this one myself and have heard good things!), or sponsor a child to go to school (it could be less than your days wage for an entire year of education). I believe that every bit counts, even when you can not see it. If a child smiles, if a woman can finally get her business up and running, if you make someone feel cared for. I have recently come to realize that it all matters.

Through CCS, I learnt that every action we take is added to and built on until a combination of good deeds works together to bring about a positive difference. You may not see it now but it is entirely possible that down the road someone has lifted themselves out of poverty, received an education, or come back from a life they thought to be over. In God's eyes we are all worth the effort.

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Coming home has been an interesting change. Life was never perfect in Africa, it is not what you dream it to be or what you conceive in your mind (not in my experience anyways). I do not want my time there to come across as a fairytale, I do not want it sugar coated or made out to be anything more than what it was. Even though, upon reflection, I remember every moment with fondness, there were many difficult times to be had. These, combined with the amazing experiences and happiness that Africa brought in to my life, make up for one complete and worth while journey.

But the journey does not end with my departure from Moshi. It continues, so long as I keep Tanzania in my thoughts. For now I am dealing with a small case of reverse culture shock. I struggle every day to reconcile the person I was while in Africa with the North American side of myself. Can the two personalities co-exist?

In Africa I was able to enjoy a life with few possessions but lots of great moments and people. Home is not devoid of these things, yet there is a selfishness that exists which is hard to overcome. It is a relatively unconscious way of life that most Westerners adopt. I find myself fighting between the extremes of both worlds every day.

I also feel a keen sense of lose and detachment. I have lost that connection that comes with having immersed yourself in a new way of living. I miss the people and the pace of life that was Tanzania. I miss its problems, as stupid as that sounds...I rather be able to see it everyday and confront it then sit back and pretend that these things aren't happening in our world. I hate that it is so easily pushed aside here. It makes me feel helpless. (I do believe that every little bit counts, and what I can do from home matters. Yet, having just come from the forth poorest nation in the world, things are a little skewed.) The funny thing is, that when I was there, I felt helpless as well, not having the solutions to problems that are so ingrained in Tanzanian life, that are right in front of me. I guess it will never be perfect and you will always be envious of what you do not possess...in this case my home in Moshi.

It is not just the Tanzanians or their culture that I feel a detachment from. But losing the every day conversations and interactions with my fellow volunteers has been a struggle. Finding like minded people, those that share the same passion as you, is not always easy. When you find it, do not give it up. All of us at CCS had a common goal and a love for Moshi that isn't easy to share with others. When you are pushed together in a confined area you draw on each other. We became like a family, the volunteers and staff. It was a great environment for learning. Sometimes now, when I need to get these things off my chest or reminisce, I no longer have the opportunity to do so. It is not uncommon, when you share life experiences with people, it is them who will best understand. Losing the direct link to this sucked, no other words for it. haha. We do hope to have a CCS reunion soon though!

Despite all of the above I think this might be the biggest frustration:
The tabloids in the supermarket. Is that necessary? Really? When people are dieing from starvation? When Mary can only feed her family one meal every second day? When my kids have no resources available to learn what they need to know? When the people of Uru, Kilimanjaro live in such poverty our minds can not comprehend it, even after we have laid eyes on it? It is disgusting. I like fashion as much as the next girl but this is just ridiculous. Famous people are inconsequential compared to what is really happening, compared to real life. The End.

Despite some of the negatives I have experienced since coming home, I am settling back in to life well. I miss it everyday but I also love my home and the family and friends I came back to. I love being able to share Tanzania with them. It is really the two extremes of both cultures that throw you off because they have such opposing views on life. They can not be reconciled, you just have to fight through the clutter everyday to find your balance.

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Most importantly, I try and remind myself everyday of those kids that I love so much. They were some of my greatest teachers, bringing me to the realization that every laugh, every smile, and every word counts. In retrospect, they taught me to be optimistic through it all. Through being with them, I learned that my reality can change, who I am can be better if I am willing to try and am open to the possibilities. Like them, I seek to better myself through education, without fully understanding the repercussions in my life. I hope that I continue to see these repercussions for years to come, I do not wish to forget.

I suppose it was not just my kids that taught me these lessons. Without the privileges and conveniences that frequent our lives in Canada, Tanzanians often find themselves surviving. They struggle and fight because they know no different. Even in the little things, like washing their clothes by hand or walking every where, there is no break. The determination found in the daily life of Tanzanians that continues to amaze me. We would not be happy with these inconveniences because we know no different. It isn't that they are better or we are better. It is just a difference of circumstances. I wonder every day why God choose to give me this life while he gave others a different struggle to sort through. I try to remind myself of this so as not to give in to the temptations that surround us every day. I will admit that I fail more than I succeed. Big surprise, I am far from perfect. I am so far from it that I can not even imagine it. But of this much I am sure: if they can live as they do I am fully capable of the little efforts it takes to change my perspective and lend a hand. Even if I can not go back for years to come I will try my best not to lose what I have gained from Tanzania.

But more than just the struggles and hardships, I have seen the importance of putting people and relationships before money and possessions, a love for nature and the outdoors, and the need to appreciate the little things (like a sticker on the hand, a bag of rice, indoor plumping, a pencil). Living in another culture lets you absorb all of the good things it has to offer. I am so grateful for the opportunity to see both the good and the bad.

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I sit here feeling like I have many more things to share with you, so much that hasn't been covered, or things that have been said that are completely unnecessary. But I have done my best to share my life with you. I know I can be long winded at times so I thank you for sticking it out with me :)

As for Tanzania, I will go back. I can not see any other way. I fear that it gave me much more than I could have ever given. I will reflect on it with both a joy and a sadness. And when the memories begin to fade I will always have this blog to remind me what my Tanzanian life was truly all about. It was real and it was beautiful.


Life is full of love and adventure. Go and find it.
Hakuna Matata <3

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