After two weeks of settling into life in Moshi, our community hit the road. Destination: Tanga, beach city five hours east of Moshi. After quite happily jumping off my first long-distance African bus ride, we were greeted at a retreat center in which the rooms were fashioned in circular bungalows mere yards from the Indian Ocean. As someone who finds the ocean to be quite sacred, I ecstatically jumped in immediately. I’ve never before witnessed such an intense low tide in which small, wooden fishing boats which once swayed sat still on the sand beside bushes turned trees. Soon thereafter, we were joined by the four Jesuit Volunteers from Dar and tasted the excitement of eight person retreats we’ll experience a few times a year. It was nice to be removed from our new home and share some honest conversations on what brought us to this point and explore our expectations for the coming years. Initially feeling a bit shocked by the niceness of Moshi and my future workplace, it was good to view it all from new light. I will not spend the next two years dwelling in overt injustice (which was slightly romantically expected). I am privileged to spend the next two years entrenched in the response; I will learn from local leaders who have been fighting for female empowerment through education for the last decade and will do my part to contribute.
Dar es Salaam
After waiting in a small village for our broken bus to be replaced, the eight of us eventually made our way to Dar es Salaam on Christmas Eve. The JV presence has been well established in this community, Mabibo, where neighbors greet the volunteers as family. A part of my heart sank sitting in their romantically dark and lived in home and hearing their door knock with greetings. My preconceived image of JV life in Africa suddenly came to life in a setting which more strongly resembled my Latin American travels. A larger part of me was thrilled by this challenge, however, as I realized what an opportunity we have to forge ahead in building relationships in Moshi. On Christmas Day, we watched a fellow volunteer joyously sing and dance in the choir at mass, spent the afternoon visiting neighbors, exchanged our secret santa riddles with one another, and enjoyed long conversations with family back home. Two bus rides, a short ferry trip, and a quick stroll on a daladala later, we found ourselves on the Indian Ocean, yet again!, which pleasantly reminded me of Los Angeles. We were also able to visit the Dar volunteers’ workplaces – a primary and secondary school - which will be a fun source of contrast to bounce ideas off of in the future.
Stolen recipes in hand, we planted ourselves on another bus for an eight hour trip back to Moshi. Although this journey is not the most comfortable setting I’ve found myself in, I so enjoy the silence of public transportation – the ability to zone out while taking in a stretch of land, in this case the beautiful countryside of Tanzania. When we arrived, I was surprised by how comforting it felt to return home – home as I can now call it. While there are aspects to life in Mabibo I yearn for, I adore Moshi: my morning walk on a street in which the trees reach over and touch in the middle, the ability to buy both garlic and popcorn, the sight of Mount Kili piercing the clouds above my roof as I walk home. On New Year’s Eve, we were joined by fellow Dar volunteer Christen and her father to celebrate at the Jesuits’ home. I like placing the first few weeks of transition here back in year 2009 and starting an entirely new decade with an eager spirit to conquer Kiswahili and become a good teacher.
The first morning of 2010 Paul and I journeyed to the foothills of Kili for a homestay at my headmistress’ childhood home. We were accompanied by her sister, Pulcheria, and co-teacher, Mary, to be greeted by her mother, Mama Njau, and some of her many grandchildren. An hour drive up a slight incline and the temperature dropped drastically while the earth became greener. Upon arrival in the afternoon, I helped the women begin cooking for the feast we would share that evening. They were right to assume that we are far removed from our food in the US – we do not pick our ingredients off the trees hanging in front of our windows and develop meals out of them – but they sure got a kick out of my ability to peel potatoes and stir them in a pot over fire. Cell phones in hand, countless pictures of me were taken while we all giggled ferociously. Going to bed that night (happily wrapped in a comforter and free from the necessity of a mosquito net), I thanked my stomach for accepting a brief hiatus from its vegetarian ways and my mind for attempting to disregard the clucking I heard outside while eating chicken inside. The next morning, Paul and I entered a fairytale as our new friends took us on a hike into the forest. We followed a thin path wrapping around the mountain cradled between a clear stream and a steep drop. If there is a seniors most section of a yearbook devoted to trees, then each winner was in this forest – the most tall, the most green, the most unusual leaves, the most epic, the most gentle. In one of these beasts, we spotted a monkey! S/he was unfortunately quite speedy and failed to greet us as we spent the next twenty-four hours devoted to the search. At the end of our hike, we reached large boulders inside a river and our inner children woke up as we climbed. Despite sporting fancy hiker sandals from REI while our friends wore flipflops, I definitely won the slipping contest throughout the hike, so our guides found our excursion quite entertaining as well. Returning home, I sat on the porch with the three granddaughters and we began a language course. The two girls from the village shared words in Kiswahili, the granddaughter from Moshi told me in English, and I gave the Spanish translation. It was marvelous! The two mothers caught wind of this, invited me inside for tea, and began giving the Kichaga (the language of the village) equivalents which I was directed to say to the grandmother. Roaring laughter, roaring roaring laughter! It was such a joy to feel the beginning of a friendship developing. Having only a few years on my students and knowing the twentysomethings population may be hard to tap into, I’ve realized that middle-aged women may become my best friends here, or at this point I hope so. Leaving the village the next morning left a tinge of sadness. I felt the most alive I’ve felt here in that setting and very much look forward to finding excuses to return. After spending time in Moshi and particularly in Uru, it intrigues me what role nature plays in my perception of poverty. The physical poverty I’ve witnessed before was in hot, dusty settings. The homes here match the lack of amenities, yet wrapped in lush goodness they don’t scream of injustice as loudly. Granted a benevolent climate does yield food, but still the image begs the question of comparing my lifestyle with that in the village. How can the goods of both worlds be meshed – health care and education with silence and appreciation? A question to ponder further, if not forever.
After resting a bit at home, the four of us set out to Arusha to visit a friend from work. Pelo took us to his childhood home and introduced us to the woman who raised him. Naïve or assumptive as I am, I was preparing myself for an afternoon of Maasai eating, meat. Instead, we were given a more comfortable meal and showered with gifts. Showered. On the bus ride home, each of us sat decked out in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, Maasai fabrics and Paul wearing a belt of Tanzanian flags. We were asked to return in a month to receive the traditional Maasai gowns being made to our measurements. Initially, I was giddy from the innate excitement of receiving presents, then I was floored by the profound graciousness. I hope we can in some way express similar sentiment back to the Tanzanian community.
After one month chalk full of transition and travel, we are settling into our home in Moshi. Tomorrow I’ll attend my first staff meeting, next week I will assist in the orientation for new students, and the following week I will become a teacher! Though tomorrow will make it concrete, it is almost certain I will be teaching General Studies… a course somehow devised of everything topic I am passionate about in life! More on this soon to come. I hope, wherever you are, you are happy after the holidays and excited for the new decade. Thanks for being with me.