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Preparing for a Giant Change

Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

It has now been almost 7 weeks since I left the US for Tanzania and I continually have realizations of, “I am in Africa.”  This thought simply makes me stop in place, reflect on what I have been doing here,what have I learned, and what do I want to take back with me.  I have been trying to answer each of these questions and still come up
lacking something, which I am certain I will find when our final weeks come around.  But for now, let me tell you this:  there is no honest way you can prepare yourself for what you see here, no way you can walk into a situation and quickly understand why things are the way they are.  Tanzania is a 3rd world country, and though you may study about it or watch movies on it, there is still no way of truly understanding it until you come here and experience it.  I am still struggling to understand it; and by that, I mean understanding the culture, the hundreds of tribes and their rivalries between one
another, the deep community aspect of things, why the people live the way they do and why it has been this way for decades.

I visited one of the staff members homes yesterday to find what I had expected, but it still shocked me.  We walked up to a mud hut surrounded by almost nothing.  There were a few trees and some corn stalks for the cows to munch on, but otherwise, it was essentially a bare area with a two-bedroom mud hut; a bed for mama, Martha (a staff member), and her son (Ronaldo) and a bed for the cows and chickens.
The house smelt of a thick, heavy smoke and the cow dung added a little bitterness.  We were of course lovingly greeted and welcomed by Martha’s mother, who sported a Nike tee shirt that had obviously been worn several times in a row, something you would most likely bring up to a friend who wore the same dress twice.  This brings up a point I want to make, why do we (as Americans) prize material things so much?
Why does having something or not having something make such an impact on social status or how you feel about yourself?  It boggles my mind to think about how much  importance we place on certain material things.

When you are here in Tanzania someday, there is no room for judgment, no room to care about possessions.  It essentially doesn’t exist in the culture because every one here represents one identity.  The identity of a peaceful, welcoming Tanzanian.  The do not acknowledge individualism or time for that matter.  “There is always time,” is
something I will hopefully come home with.  Tanzanians get work accomplished throughout the day, but they never focus on a deadline or anything.  At Santa Clara and in American life, we live by the clock and deadlines and due dates as well as by individual accomplishment and self-competition; here, none of that exists.  No one wears a watch because they are too expensive and no one tries to out work another.
Of course, there is a difference in opportunity.  I am not saying to stop competing with yourself and with others in America, or stop meeting due dates, because that is not how America works.  We are a world of many opportunities and by working hard and gaining knowledge, we are able to accomplish whatever we desire.  I am simply asking you to recognize the difference and appreciate the message for what it is
worth.  Don’t stop living like an American, and don’t start living like a Tanzanian; just identify the most important things in your life.  Close your eyes and picture them, take a deep breath, and ask yourself why these things are important to you.  Live by, with, and for these things you pictured and accept them solely for what they
are.  Like I said, there is no way you can prepare your mind or your eyes for what you experience in Tanzania, but you can prepare your reactions.

I wish you well,


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Tags: Katharine Kurtz (Kenya

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