To try and put this experience into words is impossible. No amount of description or number of pictures could portray the amazing journey I had in Africa. It seems like just a minute ago I was nervously waiting to find out if I got accepted for the program or not and then with a blink of an eye it’s the day I leave and I’m fighting to make it through writing this reflection without any more tears! The smells, the sounds, the animals, the nature, the sights, and especially the people and the children have all contributed to making this month incredible. To have been giving this opportunity is life changing and will always be.
Anyone on this trip could back me up when I say my most favorite part was definitely the children… especially because they all had to witness my breakdown on Thursday when talking about having to say goodbye! My days at school were my favorite out of every amazing thing we did while here. To work side by side with the children and the teachers was a once in a lifetime opportunity. At school I was challenged and thrown into situations that made me have to think quickly on my feet and to be flexible. The first week was a little difficult to adjust to, but by the second week I already felt as though I belonged and that I was really making a difference with the children. That is probably what gets me the most… the impact I had on the children and how much they appreciated my being there and being their teacher. They showed me so much love and appreciation. However, what they didn’t realize is their impact on me. They were my very first class, my very first students. They showed me what being a teacher is all about and truly made me realize this is really what I want to be. I hope to feel half as significant to my future American students as I do to my students in Africa.
This experience will be talked about for years and year and for even longer than that. When you stop and think about how crazy it is that when something truly impacts your life as much as this experience has mine, it is then that you can sincerely appreciate it for all its worth. This opportunity and all of the memories I have made from it was nothing shy of incredible. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it… expect that fact that we have to leave after one short month. That being said it only took one month to impact me as much as it did and affect me life the way it has and I will forever be grateful for that.
So I’ve been doing some reflecting the last couple days knowing that our last day was coming up. Today is our last day and I have to admit that I still can’t fully wrap my head around everything that has happened. You try your best throughout the trip to appreciate and take in everything as you go, but it feels like you really can’t fully appreciate everything until the last day and even more so when you get back home.
I have learned so much from here though. I think the biggest take away for me is the confidence I gained in the classroom and realizing that lessons won’t always go as planned. I like to be well prepared in everything I do, so the fact that I made this realization and accepted it is a huge accomplishment. I now feel ready for teaching assisting!
As far as lasting impressions? The biggest lasting impression that I will forever have is the people here. The children that we taught this month are so smart, funny, and caring. The teachers as well are some of the nicest people I have ever met. And even though the vendors can be a bit overbearing, they are really nice once you get to know them. The thing that gets me the most is that we are in a third world country, where people have many reasons to be sad or depressed, and everyone seems happy. I think that they choose to be happy, which is so refreshing to see. In America we see a lot of unhappy people and yet they have everything they need.
As most people know, the motto here is “hakuna matata” which means “no problem”. They really do live by this philosophy…even though there are many problems and worries here. I think I will miss that outlook once I get back to America, where everyone seems to have “problems” and “worries”.
As I begun my journey to Africa it was my dream come true to finally be here but I never knew it could weigh on my heart so heavy to make me love it more than I did before. As I became more familiar with the culture, people, and traditions, I have been able to see the similarities and differences between the people and culture from Tanzanian people and American people. No matter where you are in the world you will have people who are the same as you and some who are different. The children here are similar to children in America, they play in similar ways but have adapted to less play equipment and play with what they have. The older people are different as they aren’t in such a hurry to get to where they are going and interested in others lives.
The culture here has shown me how to love my neighbor as myself. As you are sitting on a DalaDala you get to know people and talk to them instead of just keeping to yourself or talking on your cell phone. People are so consumed in their own life and what is happening next in America that they miss what is happening in the now. When you stop to take a moment and look around, you see the beauty in the culture, the world, the people, and are able to take interest in peoples stories they have to talk about. A simple change of “hello” on the street to a stranger is so common here that a stranger no longer becomes a stranger and it becomes a beginning of a conversation with a friend.
The people on this trip will forever have an impact on me as they all have their own perceptions and have an individual uniqueness that we all worked together so well that we started as individual strangers and grew to a family of unique qualities that bond us together. The best way to describe the bond of the people on the trip is to talk about beads on a necklace made at the market. They are uniquely woven, delicately strung, and forever bonded together. With each other we compliment all of our strengths and make up for the weaknesses that we don’t let over come our sight of seeing the final picture.
While working with the students, I have been able to gain strength in my ability to maintain a classroom and teach for the first time. The ability to know that I can do something that I love and succeed in it, gave me a feeling of grace. The students will forever have a piece of my heart as they captured my heart moment-by-moment everyday. The way their smiles lit up a room when I walked into the classroom, a simple high-five, a positive reinforcement and their reactions, the way they played, and the new material I was able to teach to them in knew ways to retain information.
This experience has been one of the most astonishing experience I could ever dream of. I could not ask for more, except to stay here but Lisa and my parent’s wont let me. As for teaching in the schools, visiting Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, playing with the kids, hanging out at the outpost, getting to know the culture, visiting Mama Anna’s house, the Masaai market, the Shanga Shop, and learning more every day. This experience will forever have an imprint on my heart as I bring a piece of Tanzania back to America with me.
So, I am going to be super cheesy and start out this post with a quote that I find most fitting for my experience here in Tanzania. In Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself he writes, “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Tanzania will always be a resounding part of my life from here on out. Everyone here, including our group, was extremely welcoming and by the end of this month we were (and still are) Tanzanian Americans.
From our first day in town when it was pouring rain and I spent way too much money at the Maasai market, we have all learned so much. I can now barter (somewhat), maneuver my way through Arusha’s dala dalas, and can climb up to the first hut on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I will miss the pole pole and hamnesheda lifestyle.
One thing that will I will never forget are my standard four students and our last day of school. I was such a proud mama bear that day. When Hannah, Meagan, and I presented the morning assembly on Friday we added our own little dance moves. All of our students looked up at us beaming with laughter and happiness. My standard four class will always be the first class I have ever taught and they have truly confirmed that being a teacher is what I am meant to do. I was nervous at first being a special education major and never managing my own classroom before, but their curiosity, imagination, and pure goofiness eased my nerves almost immediately. Three of my students, Yusuf, Mahmoud, and Abdul were the incarnation of The Three Stooges and I am so happy they were able to provide comedy and laughter in our classroom. Our classroom was one big family and I am so blessed that I have had this opportunity to teach them and be a part of their lives.
Our group has built such a strong bond that I truly think we will be friends for many years to come. We have shared an experience and a culture that have shaped us not only as people, but also as teachers. When all is said and done I know that when I am flying away today I will be saying “Tutaonana Tanzania!”
I’m not really sure how to sum up the things I have learned into a short paragraph…or a long paragraph for that matter. You never quite realize that you’ve done so much until you look back on it…and we’ve certainly accomplished a lot here in Tanzania. So here’s my attempt to condense the important parts of this safari we’ve been on for a month.
1. Pole Pole. Life is too fast. We are always running from one place to another. Running to the grocery store last minute. Running to class. Running to that thing we forgot last minute because the other thing distracted us from it. Slow down. Pole Pole. Life will happen whether you are trying to keep up with it or not. It doesn’t need us to keep up with it. It just needs us to enjoy the ride. In the Serengeti we lost track of time. Waiting. Sitting. Waiting. Driving. Waiting. Taking pictures. More waiting and more waiting. And you know what made it an incredible experience? The fact that we didn’t care whether we were late for dinner. Whether we forgot to call that person that we said we would call and never did. Whether we missed that last tweet from our friend, which in the grand scheme of things, has zero impact on our lives. We just waited. We waited for an elephant to slowly cross the road, because he has nothing important to do except take a leisurely stroll through some tall grass and eat. We waited to see a pride of lions do…nothing…and it was awesome. Tanzanians are not trying to rush through life. They enjoy it. They enjoy the little fleeting moments more than anyone I have ever met. And you know what? They’re happy…with their limited possessions…they’re truly happy.
2. Hakuna Matata. Yes. The most cliche words in Swahili…thank you “Lion King”. But it’s true. No worries. You’re teaching in the classroom and your lesson plan goes down the toilet in the first ten minutes because you had everything prepared and then all of a sudden BAM! You’re shooting from the hip using any technique possible to get your students to understand…none of which are on your freshly typed, brand new, been working on it for 2 days, lesson plan. At the end of the day, maybe none of your students understand the material you wanted them to understand. But maybe they remember a funny joke. An inspiring quote. Or they notice that you’re exhausted from a long week and you still wake up the next morning to do the thing you love. In the end, they will learn something…maybe a small something…maybe a large something. But Hakuna Matata, something is better than nothing.
3. Don’t work too much. During this trip, we had a week of teaching in a classroom where maybe half of the students understood us. Where we had to deal with students not having textbooks because they spent their money getting food for their family. It’s exhausting work. But if you don’t live a little and go on a few adventures you’ll end up hating your work. Take a day or two to relax, by yourself or with friends. Don’t do any work, don’t think about work, just don’t do it. Because if you never go on any adventures…you’ll never have anything exciting to talk about on Monday when you get back to the classroom. And let’s be honest…Mondays suck.
I was told by a friend before I came on this safari, that it would change me. I wouldn’t be the same person when I got back home. And that scared me. I’m not scared anymore though. I’m ready to go home and accept that I have been through an incredible experience and it has changed me into a better teacher, a better friend, and a better man. This experience just simply makes you better. And that’s nothing to be afraid of.
Today it really hit me that I am in Africa. I think it is because today is our last day in Africa. When I first arrived I did not have a huge culture shock. I think it was because I came here knowing that the people here are people just like me but they live a different life style and they have different colored skin. They do what they need to support them and go on about their everyday life.
Here is a few lasting impressions that will always hold a place in my heart: (in no particular order)
- No matter where I go I will always love to shop. In the past two days (alone) I think I have been to the Maassi Market 3 times. I only had things to barter and even though I walked away more times then I wanted I still had a fun time. Especially when I went back in to find my rifiki (frined) Jeremy. A huge group of us were leaving and I knew Jeremy was still shopping. I asked the venders if they knew which isle my tall mozungu rifiki (white friend) was in. As I went down the isle they were saying that I found my rifiki and to come into their shop. I think they figured it out when I was blitzing through the market to find Jeremy.
- Hakuna Matata and pole pole (slowly slowly)- the exact two mottos of how people in Tanzania live their life.
- If I had more time with them I would have taught them more about number concepts. It was really hard to go in everyday and see my students struggle and have misconceptions with adding, subtraction, multiplication, division, and number concepts. They would be working on a new concept that my teacher or I have taught and still have to struggle with concepts that they should have learned in the younger grades. At Tetra (my school) their way of helping with students who are struggling in math is to give them more problems to work on the same concept. More practice makes perfect but if you do not take the time to it with students and teach them another way or coach them through the process then the excessive practice problems will still be a struggle for students.
- Community-in the classroom and in the streets. In my teacher assisting and student teaching placement I was able to see how the classroom community was set up but I never had to build my own community. In my classroom here I had more opportunities to build my own community of learners. I now have better confidence that I will be able to create a community of learners in my classroom back in the states.
- Unexpected Friends-It never even crossed my find that I would become such close friends with people in my study abroad group or even people here in Africa. Walking from school to the dalah dalah I thought I would b-line it without talking to people but we stopped quite a few times to talk to safari drivers that we have met. It just amazes me that we find each other-the world seems really small when you run into people you are not expecting to run into.
- No matter how hard you are on your students they will always love you. I would say that I am a stickler on rules and how I want my classroom to be run because I want to create a safe environment to learn. I also know that at the end of the day you need to have fun. To create that experience is tough. It is something that I will keep working on every day in my classroom.
I am not going to cry because my trip is over, I am just happy that it happened and that I was able to experience everything I have here.
Until we meet again Africa,
As I reflect back on this month, I can’t put my finger on one thing that I will take away because there was so many wonderful experiences. I just would like to start by saying that all of us students bonded so well together and still at the end of this month, we are all great friends. Everyone gets along and we are all so close. These friendships that I made on this trip are definitely forever friends. My professor, Lisa, is such a great leader and I couldn’t image this trip without her. She helped to inspire me to do my best everyday and also to push me to be the best teacher I can be. It saddens me to leave this beautiful place called Tanzania, but all of the memories are forever.
Yesterday was the last day at school and it was the saddest part of the trip. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my students, I just wanted to say see you later. We were able to play with the students all morning and then around 1pm, the teachers had us come into a classroom where there was a table and chairs set up for all of us elementary teachers to sit in. All of the teachers at Lutheran Primary were sitting in this classroom smiling at us. They started with a prayer and then the headmaster gave a speech. He talked about how we have helped the teachers and how they have helped us. He thanked us for being so kind and loving to the children and he didn’t want us to leave. They then blessed us with a song from the bible. It was so beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. They asked us to sing them a Christian song so the only song we could think of at the top of our heads was “Jesus Loves Me”. We sang that to them and they blessed us again with another prayer. We were told to stand up, close our eyes and wait until we received a gift to open our eyes. We all received different colored wraps that go around our waist. It is such a beautiful gift that they gave us! They then presented us with soda, a meat pocket, and a muffin. We all talked and for a while and then said our goodbyes. I am really going to remember this moment because of the fact that all of the teachers were there thanking us and blessing us. I was so sad to leave them but Rehma, my math teacher, told me that she will come to America one day. After saying goodbye to the teachers, we said goodbye to the students. I cried and cried leaving those students but I know that I made a good impression on them and they will always remember that. I hugged them and we all sang the Lutheran Tetra School Song and waved goodbye.
I am deeply going to miss my math teacher at Lutheran named Rehma. I was able to get really close to her and become great friends. I told her about my life and she told me about hers, I learned about her culture and she learned about mine, and sharing ideas in teaching will always stay with me and I will never forget that. Rehma is so full of life and believes that God has the right path for her and that path is to become a business woman. She went back to school to get her certificate to be in business. She told me that when she makes enough money, she is going to come to America to see me. I just can’t wait for that moment to happen!! 🙂 My teacher taught me to be more confident in my teaching, she taught me to always believe that God has a plan for you, and to always be happy about life. My nickname at school was Nashiva, which means happy in Maasai. They brought out the best in me and I will never change who I am.
I am also going to miss the town people and how their motto is “hamna shida” which means no worries or no problem. Everyone is so happy with what they have even if they don’t have much. I can see how happy people are here and they just aren’t consumed in money. They do need money and sell things for money, but it isn’t like America because there is the whole “no worries” motto. I would love to live my life the way these people do. I want to believe that whatever happens is going to be okay because God had that plan for us and not to worry. This town was great for me to see in terms of culture and the way of life. It is sad and different when you think about how some of these people live, but they are so happy!
I am going to take back all of my experiences and use them in America to teach my students the best way I can and to live my life in happiness all the time. I am so sad to leave Africa but I know I will be back here. I grew so close to these students and my teachers that I just can’t live my life never seeing them again. Africa is a magical place and it will have a huge place in my heart. As I leave Africa today, I am going to miss the smells, the Dala Dalas, the town people, the markets, the schools, the children, the orphanage, the food, and the great weekend excursions. I will always remember when I first was thinking about this trip and how I almost didn’t come. I can’t believe that I am here and I am so proud of myself for doing this. I believe that I am going back to America with a different attitude and a different outlook on life. I love this place and as they say in Swahili, tutaonana, Africa….see you later, Africa! 🙂