Only 8 weeks…by Ruka

I guess it really is true — time does fly when you’re having fun. It’s only been 48 days, but it’s felt like 480 — in a good way of course. From the endless rows of corns to the sounds of the piercing car honks, Tanzania has become my home away from home.

Despite the appreciable language barrier and my seemingly “American” attire, I decidedly look Tanzanian (according to others, that is). And I guess the braids and my milk chocolate skin doesn’t help with this perception. Walking down the street, people disregard the fact that I am a foreigner. They don’t blatantly make an attempt to sell me a product or call me ‘Mzungu’ (meaning ‘Westerner), even though I technically am. I guess its quite nice for people to think you’re Tanzanian…until someone begins to talk to you at 100 miles per hour in Kiswahili and you only catch three words of what they said. And I guess I can’t blame them for doing so either – how often is it that a darker complexioned ‘African-looking’ girl in Tanzania who can’t speak Swahili? Being an African in an African country that is not your own has been quite a unique experience.

You see, my parents are Nigerian. But I was born in America, making me a first-generation Nigerian-American. Seeing as how my immediate family is the only familial relations living in the States, I go back to Nigeria ever other year to visit my relatives. Apart from some similar looking and tasting foods, Nigeria and Tanzania couldn’t be any more different (in my opinion). In the most condensed fashion possible, Nigeria is: in Western Africa, has English as it national language, has one of the most overpopulated city-states in the world (that being Lagos), uses oil as one its main exports, is quite a ‘fast-paced’ country, has a strong system of education, has its fare share of inter-ethnic conflict with an embedded religious element attached to it, and is noticeably corrupt in that the government fails to supply electricity to its people. On the other hand, Tanzania is: in the East, has Kiswahili as a national language, moves pole pole (meaning ‘slowly’), has a fair amount of vegetation, uses its safari and landscape as a main income generator, and is generally more peaceful and friendly (a rather subjective statement but nonetheless true). But even though they could not be more different, I sometimes felt as though I was in Nigeria. The number of times that I have heard or seen a Psquare song or trademark — whether it be the Psquare Barbershop in Lushoto or the picture of Psquare plastered onto the dala dala; or even their songs ‘Forever’ or ‘Chop My Money’ blasting from a passing piki piki. (For those who may not know, Psquare is one of the most — if not the most — popular Nigerian rapping/R&B duo.)

That said, Tanzania has become my home away from home (in America) away from home (in Nigeria). Having been here for quite some time, I will definitely miss the Kilimanjaro Kids Care children. When I first arrived, I questioned whether me coming as a short-term volunteer would actually benefit the children psychologically — seeing as how I would be coming in as abruptly as I left. I questioned whether the gifts other volunteers constantly showered them with would actually make them more unappreciative in the end; with a pencil lost or a school sweater lost, there was another one there to replace it. I questioned if coming in almost ever day disrupted their daily schedule or if it actually helped. I guess you can say I questioned a lot of things. And sadly, its been 6 weeks later, and I haven’t reached a clear-cut conclusion. I guess I’m still in that awkward grey zone no one ever likes to be in. I don’t know.

But, I do know that each child is remarkable in his or her distinct way. I do know that some of the children will go on to do incredible things. I caught the first glimpse of this on our college tour around Tanzania with the Deo, Revo, and Edward, the older secondary boys. I, along with Jessica (my partner in crime/fellow Duke-y/the person I came to Tanzania with via DukeEngage/another Nigerian who understands me like no one else), Francine, a English as a Second Language teacher from Minneapolis, lovely Madam Theresa, ever-so funny Emmanuel, and Kyle, another volunteer from Georgia, drove around Tanzania in 5 days to visit Lushoto, Bagamoyo, the University of Dar es Saleem, and the University of Dodoma. As we meandered from building to building at both universities and as we keenly listened to our tour guides, I could not help but sneak a peak at Deo and Revo. The twinkle of excitement in their eyes, their professional-like body language with shoulders straight and head raised, their commitment to soak up all the information that came their way — those were the moments that I cherished the most. It was like I was watching my children grow up. It was in the conversations that I had with them on bathroom breaks along the road or while we scarfed down our meals that proved to me that they would grow up to be brilliant leaders. They wanted to learn, to succeed, to give back to their community. And that was nothing short of inspiring. They understood – and understand — the importance of education in their country — as the only means to break the cycle of poverty.

And I guess that brings me to my next thought [on education]. I believe that health education is imperative in such a place where communicable diseases affects such a great portion of the population. Jessica, whom I previously mentioned, and I are here on a independent project funded through DukeEngage, a Duke-sponsored program that allows students to address critical human needs through civic engagement for the duration of 8-10 weeks during the summer. From November-January of 2011, we were in contact with Theresa in an effort to design our health project. Essentially, we wanted to jump-start the MAD’s HIV/AIDS Outreach Program, an initiative that aids to address the particular health concerns of the villages from which the children come from. To do this, we developed both an individual and group survey that included questions on HIV/AIDS, sex, sanitation, and stigmas related to sexual wellness (e.g. with frequenting the hospital). In doing so, we wanted to better understand the health disparities of each child’s so that one day, they [the villagers] could be better educated on what affects the environment in which they lived. We collaboratively worked with KIWAKKUKI, a local NGO that was founded to educate and empower women on the issue of HIV/AIDS. Together, we discussed possible questions that could placed in both the group and individual survey. Very briefly, the individual survey was implemented to better gauge each person’s understanding and stance on sex and wellness. Seeing as how individuals tend to shy away from particular questions (especially on such an intimate topic as sex) in a group setting, we felt that this component would be essential. The group survey was used as a poll to access the villagers’ general knowledge.

The process of actually conducting the surveys proved to be harder than we had originally anticipated. In order to enter the villages and conduct such surveys, we needed the approval of the local district commissioners — an approval process that took about 2 weeks. Additionally, we also had to go and consult with the relatives of the child (whose village we were visiting). By the time Jessica and I leave Tanzania, we will have conducted 3 surveys. To date, however, we have only been able to do one. Although I have learned quite a lot about local health practices, I wish that we (Jessica and I) could have done more with our health project and maybe had more autonomy with the survey. I wish that we could had a bigger pool of data to analyze and that we could consulted with more local health partners and clinics. At times it didn’t feel like we were here specifically for that [our survey]. It sometimes didn’t feel like we were here via DukeEngage. Though I wish that the district commissioner approvals would have been done before our arrival to Tanzania and that we didn’t have to play the waiting game for so long, I realize that you just can’t change your circumstances. You have to just roll with the punches. And that’s what we’ve done.

So now, we’ve reached our 6 1/2 week mark. Only 10 more days before we hit our 8 week mark, signaling the completion of our project and of our stay here. Between Emmanuel’s excellent Swahili lessons, Pina’s cooking lessons, and Mama Clara’s (our home-stay) Tanzanian music videos, I feel that I have learned a lot about the Tanzanian culture. I can get around pretty well. I can buy my own cell phone voucher, purchase food from the market, ask how much a piece of art cost, and buy ice-cream out of a car stuck in traffic. I feel quite accomplished. Moshi, Tanzania has been great to me and I really will miss it. Until next time…

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About gomadnowvolunteer

Make a Difference (MAD). An organization which provides quality educational opportunities to vulnerable children. #volunteer #scholarships #orphans #Africa http://www.GoMADNow.org
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