How you see a country depends on whether you are passing through it, speaking the language, living in it. How you see a country depends on whether or not you can leave it, if you have to.
I have always found it difficult to identify from somewhere. My mother is the only sense of home I have ever known. Wanting to experience a place wholeheartedly and, naively perhaps, contribute small efforts toward improving the lives of those around me. The lives of strangers who have become family, those who I call unto when days get difficult. When I am too hungry to feed myself. When we can exchange stories, laughter and silence. Those who are more than strangers I am providing for as a privileged American. One year into service and I’m drawing further into the realization that I have gained more being in Tanzania than perhaps provided. In a constant state of self-discovery, finding pieces of myself in conversations, challenges, encounters, and in being alone. Most days I sink into a peaceful numbness, into routine, into morning tea with neighbors, fetching water from well, and walks throughout the village. How I can conduct a health workshop with village women, tease the neighbors’ kids, joke with elders over evening coffee, curse rude men who hiss at you on side of roads and bargain at markets for cheapest price. Then moments when I realize there will always be cultural intricacies I may never understand. There will always be gaps between Tanzanian culture and my understanding of it. No matter how long I live here or speak the language. Perhaps the beauty lies in differences. And I’m learning to be okay with that.
The universe is a mirror reflecting what is put forward. The mind is the only aspect of life we can control. Understanding the mind, emotions, and thoughts toward everyday challenges is a power I am learning to cultivate. Nothing about life is ever predictable. Nothing about love is ever on purpose. Nothing about self is ever defined. My Peace Corps journey further enhances that in every way. You are forced to trust strangers and redefine meaning of home, of country, of friendship. Constantly off balance and in motion, carrying home everywhere you go and inside your heart. There is no great attachment to possessions. Learning to unpack heart from regret, envy, jealousy, unforgiveness, negativity and you are only left with essentials – air, sleep, dreams, the ocean, the entire moon to sustain.
This morning, I sweep my front porch, place a hand-woven mat my neighbor Sofia made as a gift, sit against the rusty wooden door; mint tea in one hand and yesterday’s newspaper on the other while watching the sun rising over the misty mountaintop, roosters alert, farmers with an early start and children walks to school. Sitting there for hours, it suddenly hits me –thirteen months in Tanzania. My mind replays images of past year: pre-service training filled with excitement, learning language, culture and host family’s generosity. The severe sickness and Dar hospitals for weeks. First day in village, strangers’ lips and arms and words embrace my arrival. Balancing gallons of water on head, cook Ugali, beans and chapatti, gather wood from distance, farm corn and greens; attend weddings, funerals, experience Ramadan, Eid and life in a new perspective. Understanding other’s struggles, strengths, and weaknesses. Understanding myself in new situations. Early service training and workshops in new towns with new friends, new stories, new challenges. Long days teaching health lessons at schools, installing washing stations, painting world map, promoting HIV awareness, working at village clinic, learning traditional dances, songs and embracing people at their happiest, saddest, and most vulnerable state.
As I pass through Tanzania, I find pieces of home in everyone I meet. In rainy days, in strangers on buses and backroads, in speeding traffic and busy streets, sometimes I find pieces of myself sitting alone in silence counting my own heartbeat. It hasn’t been an easy journey. There are days when distance feels like dying butterflies taking their last flutter at the pit of my stomach. When longing for home, for family, for comfort is what inspires me to thrive and yet keeps me up most nights. When dark skies swallow me whole, I seek God in the darkness. My father always told me, 'good doesn't last forever and neither does bad. Eventually everything fades and you are only left with lessons.' I'm grateful. To be here. To be alive and breathing. To be among genuine people. To transform the frustrations, the lows, the doubts, the insecurities into prosperity. Tanzania is a beautiful place and offered me beautiful relationships. I have been here long enough to know Tanzania will not significantly change during the reminder of my service. However, I've learned to control how I react to Tanzania. I am at a crossroad in my service where I can either focus on all the things I cannot change or focus on what I can do here. Accepting the challenges, the victories, disappointments, the entire experience, mosquitos, poop holes and all. It only gets better from here!