Monday, June 20, 2011

Asante sana

      I received some incredible news on Friday. The program I traveled to Tanzania with last August, Chocolate University, received a $5,000 grant to purchase textbooks for Mwya Secondary School in Tanzania. There truly are not words to describe how amazing this grant is, and how transformative it will be for these students. I cannot adequately express my gratitude to the Southeast Springfield Rotary Club, but I can start with asante sana - thank you very much.

Over the course of a year and a half the village of Tenende, Tanzania changed from a place I had never heard of to one that I hold close to my heart. The fact that Springfield, Missouri has been able to come together and form such a strong relationship with a small village over 8,000 miles away astounds me. Rather than visiting Tenende and then letting its people fade from memory, a group of 13 students has managed to share the loving, motivating and giving spirit that fills the village and has motivated others to care as well.
    I cannot emphasize enough how deserving of this grant Mwya Secondary School is. A year ago the school had 1,100 secondary students, 10 teachers, and zero textbooks. Yet those 1,100 students valued education enough that they continued to attend school despite the lack of learning materials. Since then, individuals from Springfield and beyond have helped Chocolate University to raise $4,500 to go toward the purchase of textbooks in late January, funded an Empowered Girls club to try to increase the graduation rate of the girls at Mwya and now given an additional $5,000 to buy even more textbooks for the school. In addition, the village of Tenende now has a source of potable drinking water, something that so many take for granted but that is unobtainable for so many others.
 A city of 160,000 has managed to better the lives of 2,000 villagers and 1,100 Secondary students over 8,000 miles away in less than two years. Yet somehow, I feel that the people and students of Tenende and Mwya have given me so much more than I could ever give them. They have changed the way I see myself. They have redefined the meanings of community, happiness and love. They have changed who I am, and I am eternally grateful. I am so excited that I will be the one to take them the new textbooks, and I am so proud to represent Springfield, and in a small way the USA while I am here in Tanzania.

On behalf of those who have played a role, big or small, in making this happen... I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If 13 high schoolers from Missouri can initiate this much change, imagine the possibilities. I urge each one of you reading this: go out and help. Help in your community, donate your time or money to a worthy cause such as this one...whatever you can do- do.  Whatever you can give- give.
"Sometimes a small thing you do can mean everything in another person's life." 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I said what?!

Before  beginning my Kiswahili class I was a bit worried about making significant progress with a new language in just 3 weeks. I also had no clue how much I would absolutely love Kiswahili. It is such a fun language. I enjoy speaking and learning the language so much that homework is fun(!). Humor arises often as everyone in my class has, at some point in the last 10 days, accidentally said something very different than what they meant to say

  • One letter makes a lot of difference. Instead of saying "see you later" or tutaona I found myself telling my teacher tutaoana, which means "we will get married". Oops.
  • The order of the words doesn't always make sense when translated word for word; and using the familiar syntax of English? Well, the result can lead to comical errors. For example, one of the other students attempted to say "Ray is a good husband" but ended up telling us that "Ray has a good husband". 
  • Leaving words out can lead to awkward sentences. Another student accidentally left out the word 'news' in his sentence, resulting in him calling our teacher "the hot Mama Gaude".
  • Then there are just those times when you look at your homework the next day, and wonder what you were thinking when you did it. None of us are really sure how it happened, but while translating the sentence "we are visitors here" someone managed to change it to "I eat the visitors".  
Mistakes aside it is amazing how quickly we have all picked up the language. After 8 days of class, while far from fluent, we all know enough Kiswahili now to introduce ourselves, hold basic conversations, order food in a restaurant and provide great entertainment for all those who are fluent in Kiswahili as we continue making our own little blooper reels. We had our first 'field trip' today and ventured out into a market to buy fruits and vegetables for the kitchen. It was quite the experience. We actually left the markett with the correct items, and are all quite proud of ourselves and each other for passing our first test and surviving in the Kiswahili speaking world without our teacher!

Friday, June 10, 2011

"For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."
                                                                 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One roller coaster of a ride

    I expected to have conflicting emotions leading up to this trip. After all, I left almost everyone and everything I knew back in the US for 5 months. Not only that, but my 5 months would be spent in a new culture, with a new language, and few familiar faces. What I didn't expect was the pattern that emerged regarding my feelings both the week leading up to my departure and during the few nights I have spent in Africa. During the days leading up to my departure, I spent every possible second with those I love, storing up enough memories to last me 5 months. I ran errands, did last minute shopping and became more and more excited about my upcoming journey. I woke up early, went to bed late, and had next to no free time. I had an amazing graduation party where I got to see many of those adults who have played important roles in my life, and a great going away party to see all of my friends before I left and they headed off to college near summer's end. I have never felt as much love as I did in that one week.
    At night though, I seemed to undergo a complete change in emotions. While I never once wished I was not taking this opportunity, my excitement was overshadowed by not so pleasant emotions. I lay in bed one night, crying to my mom. Everything was happening so fast. I just wanted more time at home. I was scared. I wasn't ready to grow up quite yet.  What if I hated it? What if something bad happened at home, and I couldn't be there? The realization that, after this week, I would never truly live at Home again, was terrifying. Come the next morning, I would be swept up in a whirlwind of excitement and positive emotions once again.
    As soon as I stepped off the plane at the Kilimanjaro Airport I immediately remembered why I had fallen in love with Tanzania. Everyone is kind, willing to lend a hand, and happy. On the drive to MS-TCDC I got to see the beautiful landscape that would be the backdrop for the next 5 months. I didn't know a single person at TCDC, yet my first lunch that afternoon was filled with laughter, interesting conversation and, of course, ugali. That first night was a different story. As I lay in bed I couldn't stop the tears. What in the world was I thinking? Why did I think I could do this? Had I really overestimated myself so much? I was sure that I had made a huge mistake, and that the next 5 months would be filled with homesickness and sadness. All I really wanted at that moment was to be back in my bed at home. I won't lie; I cried myself to sleep the first night I was here. Nothing was familiar. The smells, the sounds outside my room, the language I heard all around me... Everything was new, and I just wanted comfort.

    The following morning I dragged myself out of bed and to breakfast, the negative outlook from the night before still with me. By the end of breakfast I had made 5 new friends, all with their own fascinating and compelling story that had placed them in Tanzania and in my Swahili course. While it is only the 2nd night after my tear filled one, I haven't shed another tear. I know that I will before I go home. I will probably shed quite a few. I also know that however rough a night I may have, the following day will more likely than not make up for it by far. The amount of support I have pouring in from the states will continue to boost me up. The encouraging words of both strangers and friends alike will remind me why I am here. The next 5 months will test me in ways I have yet to imagine, but I am determined that I will pass each one of those tests.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Safe and sound!

I have arrived! I finally got to Tanzania around 9 am after a long day and a half of traveling, and arrived at MS-TCDC shortly after. The MS-TCDC compound is much larger than I had anticipated and is beautiful. I realized that I was not in Springfield anymore when a monkey ran infront of me and up a tree as I made my way to my room, who needs squirrels anyway! I will try to get some pictures of the center up soon, but for now I believe I am going to take a nap and then get some lunch. I'll leave you with a picture of my room for the next 3 weeks.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Until next time...

As I sit here in the Springfield airport I find myself shifting emotions too rapidly to keep track. One moment I'm excited, nostalgic the next, followed by nervous, then plain scared--always coming back to excitement.
This journey I am about to begin is one that I never imagined I would undertake; one that came about by a good deal of luck, and one that I already know will be unforgettable. Saying "see you later" to those I love was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but I know it is just that: see you later. I will be back, and I will see these wonderful people again. I will see Springfield again. And hopefully I will be able to touch the lives of all those who have touched mine. These past 17 years have been more amazing than I could have dreamed for, and a large part of that is due to the influences I have been blessed with in my life. To all you who have helped me along the long, winding path that lead me here... thank you. To all those who have helped me these past weeks as I prepared emotionally and physically to leave... I will never forget it. The support, belief and love I have felt this last week have touched me beyond words or measure. I will never forget any of you. I am so excited for what the next 5 months have in store, and I promise to keep all of you updated!