Just a bit more than 4 weeks ago when leaving for Africa I thought I knew what to expect and what the next month would be like. If I had to grade the accuracy of my expectations to reality I would give them a “D”. As high as my expectations were, my experience went far beyond.
The first lasting impression I have is the generosity of the teaching staff at Tetra Lutheran. They took us out for roasted goat last Friday, on the last day of school they presented us with gifts and a prepared a special lunch to tell us goodbye. It is not something that I would expect from a group of people that even though they have a respectable profession, most do not earn enough to keep a personal bank account open.
The second lasting impression would be the sincere love and fondness of the students for us. On the last day at school we spent hours playing, talking, and saying goodbye to the students. While I thought the 3 hours would be enough, the goodbyes could have lasted twice that long, as every student wanted a hug and to personally say goodbye. The general conversation that I had when saying goodbye was only one word, “tutonana”.
Going on the 4th week in Africa I have witnessed many things that I did not even dream of seeing. From being within arms reach of a wild lion to less than 20 meters away from elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses, and a rhinoceros; Africa’s mystic has surpassed all of my expectations. Outside of safari, in town there have been many instances to witness city life and culture, so my question going into the weekend was what else was there to experience.
This question was answered immediately when we arrived at where we were staying and exited our vehicle. Mama Anna, our host greeted us with more excitement than a 5 year old at Christmas. As we started singing songs in Swahili I then knew the answer to my question was that we were not just witnesses, but we were apart of the Tanzanian culture.
Mulala is a small village in the foothills of Mount Meru was the location of Mama Anna’s residence. There we danced to native Meru songs, helped gather honey, make coffee, and milked a cow. All of the experiences were original to me and seemed to be completely genuine to how the Meru people live. For the first time on the trip it seemed like we were more apart of the culture and not as much of a tourist.
With the trip already half over stopping to think about things that I have learned so far is really helping me to realize how much this experience has taught me. The amount of lecture and meeting time in which I would have needed to be thoroughly prepared for this trip would not have been practical. From the different personalities to the school and commerce systems here in Arusha, I am learning things that people who have never been here will probably not be able to learn.
Tanzania’s greatest asset, the people would be hard to describe in a within a novel. Tanzanian’s who may be looking for their next meal or business connection or citizens just wanting a couple minutes of your time to know about you, sprawl the city streets from sun up to sun down. I have learned that millions of people can coexist for the most part, despite different languages, tribal backgrounds and dire economic situations in a downtown in which you could count the traffic signals on both hands.
The opportunity to teach here has taught me how resilient teenagers can be when facing an uphill battle. Students here look forward to the privilege to take notes and learn something that they did not know the day before.
Outside of the things native to Tanzania that I have learned, is what a great group of people I am here with on this trip with.
My First impression of Luth-Tetra secondary school could not have been more different than my African experience to that point. After the most relentless barrage of hounding and salesmanship that I have ever experienced, school was calm and laid back, polepole in Swahili terms.
Inside the classroom, students from secondary forms 1-4 age were attentive and respectful. The level of math being taught was comparable to similar age groups in America. Our first opportunity to interact with the students took a little bit of time to break the ice.
We began talking about America and where we are from but the ball finally started rolling when we showed them some of our pictures from back home. Once though the students were through the pictures the momentum we had going started to slow, with only a few pockets of conversation remaining. The saving grace for the time we had spent with the students was when math questions started to arise and they realized that we could help them with home work. At that point full discussions were being held, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Mathematics, the universal language of the world broke down yet another barrier.
With not having been overseas before, being in Africa is going to be a “first” for me unlike any “first” that I can remember. Stepping off the plane onto an African runway, the past 24 hours I spent in airports and airplanes finally being over consumed my thoughts. My remaining mentally capacity was focused on getting out of the current torrential down pour and hoping I had all of my luggage waiting for me after I went through customs.
Once we were through customs and all of my luggage was accounted for I, took a deep breathe and admitted to myself that I was in Africa. The ride to the lodge as I am finding out is only the tip of the iceberg as to what Africa would have in store for me. The over crowded luggage rack on top of the van/ bus, the overlapping shoulders of people inside the bus, I was finally starting to realize what I the next 30 days were going to be like. With the thoughts of joking, laughter, excitement, and anticipation from all the students, the most overwhelming impression was how much fun this month is going to be.
Preparation for a month in Tanzania began well before the day I hit the “apply” button for the Study Abroad program. My wife and I thoroughly discussed the ramifications and the rewards an experience like this would have on myself and others. Our conclusion was that the rewards far outweighed the consequences and thus work, vacation, family party and daycare schedules all started to adapt accordingly.
As my anxiousness about my level of preparation builds, it is feeble in comparison to my developing excitement about the trip. Most of the developing excitement surrounds being able to interact with a culture outside of the culture I am accustomed to for an extended period of time. This interaction with the Tanzanian people will help me grow as a person, and growth as a person to me is hands down far more exciting than an experience by itself. That excitement for growth has been the most influential factor of why I would like to become a teacher.