Waking up to the sound of heavy rainfall on metal roof and morning fire. I neatly fold mosquito net. Make full-sized bed. Brush off dead insects that crawled their way into a sleepover the night before. Sun slowly peaks through the clouds, roosters alert, and neighbors with an early start. I grab bathroom slippers, solar light and Kanga in the right hand, water bucket and Target bought shampoo, toothpaste and shower gel on the left. Every morning, I fill bucket with water to bathe in a bathroom consist of nothing but a hole.
Four weeks ago, this was all strange and uncomfortable. To live a lifestyle that seems almost unbearable. Now here is me, starting my own fire and fetching water from a well in the early mornings. Cooking dinner under the moonlight, conversing in a language that taste sweeter than my mother tongue to strangers who become family. Every day I am sinking into routine, into a peaceful numbness of emotion.
Visiting a neighbor in the evening in a house large enough for five families, in-laws, children, cousins, wives, sisters and grandparents. Fatuma, my neighbor, has three girls of her own. Grown beautiful and responsible, all smiles. Conversing over photographs, ubuyu (local Tanzanian snack), younger sister passing and husband distance away working to provide family with simple living in Tanzania. Looking at wedding photos and birthday celebrations and family gatherings, I realize how similar we are. How human beings are not that different. How we experience loss, heartbreaks, love, distance, joy and sadness. How we seek to love, be loved and belong. Underneath it all –race, ethnicity, religion, and language. Perhaps what differentiates us is the magnitude of emotion, the depths of heartbreak and even then, we experience the depth in similar ways.
It amazes me how the unfamiliar has become a part of who I am. Walks to school in the mornings, greeting villagers by name, men who hiss at you for being a woman, food vendors on the side of the road, witnessing mother and child riding a motorcycle to the market and young girl with a bucket of water on her head, you begin to appreciate this (new) life and all its simple ways.
This is a country that has suffered a history of colonization, slavery and tribal conflict. It has come a long way since but the repercussions of suffering are still apparent in the ways Tanzanians relate to others, especially those of European descent. No matter how many diversity, cultural and privilege sessions are provided, it will never be enough to relate to Tanzania's history of despondency. Born to parents from a war-torn country that is wrapped in conflict until it broke itself in half. I find myself empathizing with Tanzanian struggles, with the suffering and hardship of this country. It is true that all human suffer, but suffering and hardship most of my fellow Euro-American counterparts experience are not even in the same magnitude as the hardship people of Tanzania experience. Most American volunteers here have very little to feel sorry for themselves over.
It can be challenging at times to see the stereotyping, judgments and disparaging attitude of few volunteers about Tanzanian culture. Also, how many Tanzanians have a false perception of America, being a white nation. The media does a terrible job of representing the true America, but this is what Peace Corps means, showing the world how America is the land of ethnic diversity and enrich culture through our exchanges. There is so much I am learning about the world through my interaction with others. Peace Corps expands horizons, provides perspective and challenges our understanding of the world around us.
I have learned very important lessons since being in Tanzania. How amazingly diverse human beings are, not only in the physical but also how we think, feel and experience the world around us. How personal experiences and upbringings shape our view of the universe, which is reflected in our behavior, the way we interpret, perceive and ability to understand others. How many challenges will be inflicted and how comfort zone will be defied. How a foreign culture can feel so familiar and strange at the same time. How as a (black) American, self-identity will be constantly questioned. How life is a direct consequence of what you make it. How some days you will find it difficult to relate to others. How each person you meet is interesting, unique, stimulating, with a story to tell. Perhaps the most important lesson Peace Corps provides is to always keep an open-ear, an open-mind and an open-heart.