As my program comes to an end, I have been reflecting on the life I have built for myself here in Tanzania, outside of my American program. With that said, perhaps the most important lesson has been learning to integrate into the Tanzania community. Now, I will be honest, there were barriers. My Swahili is very limited, and English is not well spoken in rural Tanzania. Plus, I have an uncomfortable amount of privilege and wealth compared to the average person; this creates an obvious cultural barrier. So it was that integration was not necessarily easy. There was always an initial discomfort; one that would lead me to want to retreat back to mzungu / white person territory.
Perhaps the best example of this is time that I spent in local friends’ homes. I would sit in their living room, sipping chai, only able to exchange about 20 words. I’d immediately panic… do they think I’m rude? Do they actually want me in their home or they invite me to be polite? Are they uncomfortable by my presence? I feel ashamed of my privilege as an educated woman able to travel the world. I feel guilty wondering if they only invited me here to ask for money, and knowing that I financially cannot help them. I calculate how long I need to stay to be polite, and when it would be appropriate to make my move to leave? Ok… no… I tell myself, take a deep breath… embrace the unknown… it’s going to be ok.
And then it was. We would learn to use pictures on our phones to tell stories. They would show me how to make different teas and to cook their main dishes. They would pull out their radio to present their favorite music; they would explain (as best as possible) what the news was documenting. There would be many moments of silence (that I eventually learned to embrace), but after each period of silence, more conversation would pursue. Eventually I would return home to mzungu land and see that my comfort zone still exists just as it had before. Only now, I had been transformed, having learned at least one thing through this new connection. Following, every time I saw my friend in town, my heart rate would race in excitement… a friend! She would rush over to greet and hug me; she would introduce me to her friends and family; she would invite me to their church service on Sunday and to tea with their best friend. My time in Tanzania becomes marked by these connections as they fill my time with laughter and the opportunity to learn. That initial discomfort that felt so unbearable ended up being so miniscule compared to the long term friendship that came from overcoming it. Without a doubt, leaving these relationships will be the most challenging part of parting from Tanzania; I can only hope that I will be able to return at some point in the future.
After an amazing semester in Tanzania, I am excited to announce that I will be continuing my adventure in Rwanda for 5 weeks following this program to conduct research with the Rwandan government. There I will be living with a host family who has kindly offered to take me in as their daughter. Will there be a language and cultural barrier? Of course! However, I do not doubt that we will both be able to overcome it and build a priceless friendship. Pictures below with both my Tanzanian and American friends featured! Enjoy!