Monday, October 17, 2011

So long for now, Tanzania

          134 days ago I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport. I was exhausted, nervous, knew no Swahili and was feeling uncertain that I was ready for what I had committed myself to: five months away from home; in a country where I could count the people I knew on one hand. I knew almost nothing about the people, the language, the culture and back home I wasn't even a legal adult. Upon hearing what I was planning to do after high school, so many of my friends had told me that they admired me - and how they couldn't do what I was setting out to do. That first day I wasn't so sure that I could do it either. Had I gotten myself in over my head? The day (click for link) was filled with nerves, tears and many doubts.

      Almost five months later, I know how off target my feelings were that day. I did it, and I thrived. Never before have I been as consistently happy as I have been these last few months in Tanzania. I came here a stranger, but felt at home before week one was over. Despite my Swahili being basic at best those first few weeks, I found no shortage of people willing to help me practice and found the subjects I could talk about growing quickly.

       As I sat in a shop on market day in Engaruka last week, helping a Mama out with customers as she repaired clothing, I realized just how much I had learned. We were sitting there talking about America: the people, weather and daily life. We talked about Tanzania: where I had gone, why I had fallen so in love with this country, why I liked the food so much. I talked about myself: what I wanted to study in University, where I saw myself in ten years and how many kids I wanted. We talked about the differences between Tanzania and America, religion and so much more. I spent four hours talking with a woman who knows no English and I felt pretty proud of my Kiswahili.
         I've experienced so many new things here. I've held the 3 day old baby of a stranger. I purchased a cow at church. (click for link) I was in my first dust storm. I've spent time with widows who are barely older than I am. I've talked with students about setting goals and peer pressure. I've danced with Maasai women, climbed the tallest mountain in Africa (click for link) and built a chicken farm in Zanzibar. I have seen a woman being carried by her neighbors more than ten miles to the hospital. I have learned that material objects are not what what bring happiness but rather family and love, full stomachs and health, friends and laughter. I've learned to be thankful for what I have; that nothing should be taken for granted and to give what I can. l have been renamed. I have felt more love than ever before. I have seen parents who are grateful to Kellen, Daudi and me, not because we have given their children scholarships to attend secondary school, but simply because we are trying. Whenever I find myself getting frustrated with the difficulties of finding scholarships for 8 students to attend Secondary School (around $5,600 a year total) I will remember the gratitude of the children and their parents and be reminded of why I want to help.

          On my last night in Engaruka, I had one of many long conversations in a strange mixture of Kiswahili and English with a man who had been a stranger a few months ago but I now consider family. He told me "You are family now Namunyak. Whenever you are in Tanzania please come visit your family in Engaruka and feel at home. We will miss you, but we know that you will return and that you will not forget us. We love you." With those words I realized what a gift these past five months have been. I have seen things I will never forget, met people I will always hold dear and lived in a place that will stay in my heart.   

        Baadaye, Tanzania. I won't say goodbye because it is never goodbye, just “see you later.” I might not be able to save or change the world, this country or even the village of Engaruka. I will however do whatever I can to meet the needs and find the tools by which they can change their own lives.

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