My semester in Tanzania has been unlike any study abroad program I have ever heard of. Most people go to European counties with big metropolitan cities to see where their ancestors came from or to join a more “ethnic” and “sophisticated” society. These programs include attending a local university and experiencing classes taught at a different level. For me, that type of trip didn’t make any sense. I have no desire to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in a foreign class room to take the same notes I could be learning at home. My desire to go to Tanzania was deeper than that. I wanted to immerse myself in a culture, to see a developing community at work, and to see how modernization and different aid works played a role. In the matter of a two hour conversation in the downtown Pittsburgh Amizade office, I was coerced to take that chance, to step out of the stereotypical biochemistry major “life-plan”, and to journey to a country far different than my own.
My journey started with months of anticipation, packing, and questions unknown. I knew virtually no one that had traveled to this side of the world and got much of my advice from Goggle. The internet told me to be afraid of parasitic diseases, to bring lots of anti-diarrheal medicine and most of all to pack lots of sunscreen. All of these answers were great, but was I really prepared? When I began my 24 hour journey from Pittsburgh to DC to Belgium to Uganda, I did not know what to expect and left my mind open to all possibilities. I was afraid of the unknown, sad to be leaving my family, and excited for the potential of adventures to follow. If I had only known what I was really getting myself into…
My time in Karagwe started with an 8 hour bumpy, Land Rover ride from Entebbe, Uganda to Kayanga, Tanzania. After passing board control our paved road was gone and the rocky Tanzanian wilderness awaited us. One of my first impressions of my new home was that living on top of a mountain hours from a major city left us very remote. How would I ever communicate with people back home? I had to sleep under a mosquito net and squat to use the bathroom. Was this real life?
The next two and a half months consisted of me making friends, learning to communicate in Swahili, becoming accustomed to local foods, and getting to know Nyakahanga Hospital. No amount of pictures, journal entries, or oral stories will be able to explain my time spent here. I have had some of the highest of highs (like dancing under the stars on a naked mountain, a 2 hours walk from the closest village) and the lowest of lows (like cry in bed for days when the death of a friend occurred and I had no family to lean on).
My mom recently asked me in an email, “Had you known everything you would have experienced, do you think you would have chosen this trip?” It took me a while to think about, but my final answer was no. Six months ago any of my crazy stories would have scared me half to death; I would have questioned my abilities and inevitably doubted my strengths. Thankfully, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This has been the biggest adventure of my life so far, and I still have a month before it ends.
I thank God every night for the opportunities that he has given me, to step outside of my comfort zone and to see how a different part of the world live. Looking back on my initial fears and research, I’ve found that nothing can truly prepare you for adventure like mine. Parasitic diseases?! No big deal, I basically swam in Bilharzia and had mdudu (bugs) living in my toes for a week. Diarrea? What better place to have it than a groggy 3am morning squatting over a hole in the ground?! And sunscreen? I don’t think I’ve used it yet. Why didn’t someone tell me how cold Africa was?! Living in the mountains during the rainy season, we can go days without seeing the sun.
I guess the moral to this story is that life is about living. Sure you can stay in your nice, warm comfort zone all of your life, but what will you have gained from it? Instead, I hope to keep this new found empowerment within me and to continue to push myself toward more unknown advances in the future. A friend recently sent me a letter and attached this verse to the end, “Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” No matter what path I take in life, which will definitely be influenced by my time here in Karagwe, I am going to choose to live by faith and not by fear.
My time here in Karagwe has officially come to an end; we head out on safari tomorrow. I must say goodbye to this home and the family I have created here in order to start a new leg of my journey. In all hopes I will post another blog from Zanzibar retelling my crazy adventures that are bound to happen. However the reliability of the internet connection willing, you may not hear from me again until I arrive in Europe. If all other communication fails, we’ve got a date “History of Science and the Influence of Religion” class for the morning of May 6th where I anticipate meeting you all in the Vatican Square! Tutaonana karibu. (We will see each other soon.)
One of my last sunrises in Kayanga