‘How did it get so late so soon?’ -Dr. SeussDr. Seuss spits some truth. October 12th marked the 1-year anniversary since I walked off a plane, got slapped in the face by Dar humidity, was kindly greeted with PB&J’s, malaria prophylaxis and the PC staff, and stared into the future completely clueless about the year ahead.
In a shout out to Dr. Seuss and his brilliance (‘Stars upon thars,’ I mean….brill) I have been looking back on my first year through ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go.’
‘You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.’After 9 weeks of being babysat, also known as Pre-Service Training, we were dropped off at site with a ‘see you in a few months, good luck’ send-off. PST did load us down with not only Swahili language skills, but everything else humanly possible to learn in that short amount of time and applicable to our service. Gardening, HIV/AIDS basics, facilitating trainings and talking to village leaders were all on the list. But once at site and on my own it was completely up to me, myself and I to decide where I will go. This was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
‘You’ll be on your way, you’ll be seeing great sights.’And great sights have been seen indeed. From the coffee fields and rolling hills of Mbeya, the cold weather of Iringa, the tropical trees of Tanga, waterfalls tucked away in the mountains of Morogoro, strawberry fields in Songea, Maasai bombas in Manyara, Singida sunflower fields, rainy Moshi, strangely foreign feeling Arusha, roller coaster dirt roads of Dodoma, fast paced metropolis of Dar, and the most beautiful drive in East Africa through Lushoto.
‘I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.’And boy did I see bang-ups: malaria, worms in my feet, skin rashes, dog bites, allergic reactions, elbow sprains and a broken toe, anemia, and a car crash with significant consequences. Feelings of extreme doubt, followed by extreme loneliness all on a quest to figure out ‘WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING HERE?!’ That frustration with the language, it still happens….a lot. That adjustment to Tanzania life, it still surprises me….a lot. That need for a countdown to keep me sane, it still exists….Brett and the ‘Rents come in 63 days.
‘Do you dare stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?’Answer: always say ‘yes.’ Do you help the man make sambusas because he asked? Yes. Do you eat the food swarming with flies that the mama made for you? Yes, but be prepared to become intimately close with the choo. Do you get henna on your hands knowing it will take 2 hours and you only wanted to ask the man a question about directions? Yes. Do you go to the baptism even though the baby will simply cry when she sees a white foreigner there? Yes, bring it on tears!
‘The waiting place.’Oh my how you wait. You wait for people to show up to your meeting, who come 2 hours late, if at all. You wait for the bus to arrive, which is NEVER, EVER on time. You wait for your food to come-let’s just say I’ll never yell at a waiter in America. You wait for your grant to get processed, months upon months. You wait for your project to get going, where price checking 5 items dictates a successful week. You wait for your Swahili to improve so you can actually do something. You wait for the next day to pass so you are that much closer to another trip where you can actually see some familiar faces. You wait for the rain, it’s been 8 months. You wait for your water to come back on, which does unexpectedly two days later in the middle of the night. If you don’t have patience, I invite you to Tanzania.
‘There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.’Kijana (Youth): Asha, do you want to play a basketball game with us?
I proceed to get in a car with 10 20-year-old guys and we drive an hour outside town to play in a basketball game. The court is a beautiful paved mass with actual nets on the goals, in the middle of NO WHERE. There is another team and we play a semi-legitimate game….yes, we were the winning-est winner of all. But the beauty of this game is that more points were surely scored and that ball was surely magical. This game catapulted the start of a youth health club that includes over 20 regular members. Through this club members have learned about HIV/AIDS, condom use, STIs, and how to teach peers. As a result, they will be leading and educating peers during a World AIDS Day Basketball Tournament on December 1st. And all because of a basketball game.
‘You’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you. All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.’For every successful idea come 5 very unsuccessful ideas. And when things don’t work out, and projects simply go bad, how alone one can feel. All alone! Listing every idea and every failure deserves its own entry, because there have been many each month. It is a difficult pill to swallow when enthusiasm is high, but is slowly chipped away at by the chisel of reality. It’s like losing a game of solitaire, over and over and over again. And no matter how motivated or passionate one can be about an idea, sometimes it simply isn’t meant to be, and that is not a fun feeling to sit with alone.
‘There’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.’*Move over Lion King, because hyenas are SCARY in real life and drive the stray dogs crazy.
*I really enjoyed going to my friend’s village on the edge of Ruaha National Park only to learn that someone was eaten by a lion the week before.
*Transportation in Tanzania is like looking Voldemort straight in the face, while standing on top of the Empire State building.
‘You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.’Peace Corps Volunteers are a strange bunch. I’ve kept a list of quotes with my daily journaling and I’m fairly certain if someone reads it in the far future they’ll be seriously concerned about who their ancestors were exactly.
‘Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.’Staying on guard for safety, security and cultural appropriateness is difficult to do every day. But it is ever so necessary. Finding the middle ground between professionalism, an adventurous spirit, remembering my values, and being mindful of the strong contrasts that test them is growing up. Doing this in Tanzania, well, I can only be stronger for it.
‘Off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!’Now a look ahead to year two, which I’ve been told goes faster than fast and is more rewarding than days past. This year has been so giving, and truly lived. If past volunteers reflections hold true, as they have annoyingly so thus far, 2013 is going to be absolutely bonkas.