Category: insights and emotions (Page 1 of 2)

being mzungu.

I had only been in Tanzania for a week, everything was new – Swahili, Catholicism, the colorful patterns of women’s kangas and kitangas, and most of all the staring. As we joined the migration to the church I was uncomfortably aware of the glances, the giggles and the blatant stares. During the service I tried my best not to notice the turned heads. A little boy, no more than two years old, sat in front of me. He continuously shifted to look at me, wearing a blank expression. I made faces in an attempt to get a reaction out of him but he just stared intently. Then, half way through the sermon, he reached out and grabbed my hand. It wasn’t a gesture of acceptance or appreciation but rather one of a quizzical nature. He took my large white hand in his little black one and turned it over, again and again, grabbing at my skin in confusion.

I’m not African. This I knew from the beginning. I’m a mzungu, through and through. There is no fooling anyone. Despite this knowledge, when I first arrived in Africa, I found myself hyper-aware of my skin. I wasn’t used to standing out, to being different. I was uncomfortable going places with lots of other students and nervous about speaking Swahili. I cringed when kids screamed “jambo” and “mzungu” at me from inside their houses. The first time I met the Maasai a teenage boy asked me for money, when I told him I didn’t have any he replied, “but you’re a mzungu.” I didn’t want to be American. I didn’t want to be perceived as rich and oblivious. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to blend in.

As the semester progressed I adjusted to being different. I stopped noticing the stares. I learned to return the sass. Learning Swahili and making African friends helped this transition immensely. I quickly fell in love with Tanzania, with the culture. I learned quickly that knowing Swahili earns you immediate respect and vowed to learn as much of it as I could. I spent increasing amounts of time playing cards, cooking, talking and playing soccer with new friends from town and the staff. I learned about Tanzanian culture, about how people treat each other and how they perceive the world.

My love for Tanzanian culture quickly turned in to jealously. I became frustrated with being American. I felt like I was on the outskirts looking in on a community more intricate than I could understand. My African friends make up a group built on appreciation, love, support and kindness. Everything people do is based around the needs of others. It is a community structure I hungered for, a way of life I wanted to adopt. I was fascinated by the concept of having a tribe as part of your identity. The hardest part of the semester was realizing that no matter how much I wanted to I couldn’t be a part of it, not truly. Instead of wanting to blend in I found myself wanting to fit in, but because I am American I felt this could never be achieved.

Then things started to change. First I started to miss my family. My whole family. I started calling my parents more, I reread letters from my grandparents over and over, I talked to my baby cousins on the phone, I started chatting with my brothers online. Then I started talking about them, all the time. When it was my night to present something about myself I chose to present about my family, showing pictures I hadn’t looked at in years. Then I started talking about Maine. I missed the ocean, the forest, running, swimming. I spent hours showing pictures of my home to my friends, African and American. Finally, I started talking about American culture. I found myself explaining why we shave our legs, why we have factory farming, what organic is, how our school systems work, what folk music is, why we run. The funny thing was, despite how absurd half my explanations sounded and the number of times I said “America ni kicha,” America is crazy, I found myself speaking with a tone of endearment.

America might not be perfect, but it’s mine, it’s who I am. In Tanzanian culture you are not only an individual but part of a tribe, part of a team. There are traditions and values that you are born into, that you willing surrender control over. This group identity gives Africans self confidence and strong senses of identity. In western culture this concept seems constraining, controlling. Yet, I wonder if the western idea of individualism has lead to a higher prevalence of insecurity among our people. If you are ashamed of your past you are ashamed of yourself. During this semester I learned not only how to accept who I am and where I came from but how to embrace it. The culture I come from is not only a part of my past but a part of who I am in a way I can never change whether I like it or not. I learned to recognize it and revel in it, to be proud of everything that has made me, me. Because of this I know I can now fit in anywhere even if I can’t always blend in.

‘going back’

During our homestay we spent the morning stooped in the kitchen building over a small fire stirring ugali, vegetables and chicken in the billowing smoke. After, as we waited outside for the table to be set, Kelsey turned to me and said, “It baffles me that in America we ‘go camping’ to go back to this.”

I’ve thought a lot about the concept of “going back” since then.

In America we are obsessed with the concept of progression, of development, of moving forward from a way of living that we seem to think is insufficient and unfulfilling. But as we moved further and further in modernity, materialism and ease we realized some basic cultural concepts as well as human needs and desires got left behind. Instead of recognizing that we had forgotten them, however, we addressed them as factors that needed to be added back in to our new life in new ways that fit our new model. God forbid we move backwards.

Tanzania has made these concepts and needs clear to me because the culture here never moved away from them. The two main concepts I am referring to are minimalism, and purity. The human needs and desires are nature, relationships, and mental health.

Minimalism in America is a new up and coming thing. Many people now see materialism as an evil, for reasons too numerous to name. You see cute thrift shops on popular streets. People bulk shop at health food stores that are ten times more expensive than convenience stores that individually wrap things. Reusable water bottles and bags are the hottest eco trend. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Well, there are no clothing stores in Tanzania, at least none that I have seen. Everyone buys their clothes used from vendors at markets if they haven’t had them handmade. Every local market is a thrifters paradise (and also explains why Tanzanian’s have a very, very interesting sense of fashion). In Tanzania, when you go to a small duka for things like rice or oil they are delivered automatically in bulk, measured out into reused plastic bags or plastic water bottles by necessity. One of the most baffling products in Tanzania is soda. All soda comes in glass bottles, all bottles must be drank in sight and returned to the shop owner immediately or the buyer pays a hefty bottle fee. As a result the soda is stupid cheap. In Tanzania minimalism make sense. You don’t waste more than you need to and you recognize that everything has value.

Purity is something we Americans are yearning for and the economy has decided to capitalize on it. All Natural, Organic, Local. People in Tanzania don’t even know what those words mean. At Moyo Hill everything we eat is local and all natural, not because its environmental, but because its cheaper. The way it should be. In America we decided that pure was for people with money, in Tanzania that logic makes no sense at all.

Nature is something, for a while, we disregarded as unrefined and backwards. When we started to miss it, instead of changing our lifestyles to include and celebrate nature we invented “camping” and “vacation.” Our relationship with nature became vacation, something only the wealthy can afford. In rural Tanzania nature is everything. It is how you cook, what you eat, where you get your money. It is what you look at when you walk out your front door, where your kids play because there is no such thing as a playroom. You go on a hike every time you go to the store. The weather sets your schedule and the sun is your watch.

Relationships between people lost footing as our obsession with money and individualism grew. More time is put into work and less time into family and community relationships. The idea is, if we have more money than our neighbors then our family will be happy. We created daycare and fences. The result has been depression, divorce, and the invention of counseling. In Tanzania, relationships are the most important capital an individual can accrue. Family is the center of everything and, most importantly, community is the foundation. If you don’t have people who care about you, you have nothing, and if you care about no one then you won’t survive. It is from these relationships that Tanzanians find happiness and success. It is love that makes life rich. No wonder people here are so damn content.

Mental Health. This one really caught me by surprise. In America our obsession with money and success has left us with a severe case of stress addiction. To combat this, instead of cutting out stressors, we found ways to help ourselves to handle them better: yoga, meditation, exercise. At home I do all of these things and more to keep myself relaxed. From the first day here when I went on a run I realized just how absurd all of it was. People in Tanzania don’t exercise, they don’t run, they don’t have gyms – they work, physical labor, and they walk, everywhere (and sometimes they play soccer). People in Tanzania don’t do yoga, they don’t meditate – they drink tea, they take breaks, they give themselves time to relax. Tanzanian’s don’t allow themselves more stress than is absolutely necessary, because when your potential stresses are as serious as theirs are you really should save all your strength.

America needs to rethink the “more, more, forward, forward will fix everything” mindset. Moving forward doesn’t need to mean moving away from the past. We need to admit that aspects of this life we have constructed are wrong. We need to admit that in some areas we have gone too far. We missed some crucial basics when we created this “modern world” and maybe fixing them by turning around isn’t necessarily admitting defeat.

More photos of the original homestay, cooking and relaxing over chai:

money is/n’t everything.

“Money isn’t everything,” Is undeniably something I have been known to say.

I always hated the concept of money and the harm it can cause. It can be an addiction, a distraction, a crutch. I swore I would live my life without letting money get in the way a long time ago. I don’t need to buy the world, if I have family, friends, health and happiness then I don’t need anything else.

Last night, I was swinging in the hammock and procrastinating from my paper with Martha. She is one our day guards. She is 26, grew up down the road, and has two kids. Despite the differences in our upbringings and futures and the language barrier she is easily one of the best friends I have here. We were sitting in mostly silence, swinging gently through the warm night air and listening to her pop music on my ipod.

“Sitaki kuondoka,” I grumbled quietly, I don’t want to leave.

I’ll miss you a lot, she responded in swahili, playing with the iPod, but you’ll be back soon.

Yeah, then we can vacation in Zanzibar, I joked.

“Tunahitaji pesa mingi kwanza…” She smirked, looking up at me, we need money first…

Well yeah, I’ll work a lot first. I laughed, knowing that in reality it will be a long time before I can think about vacationing in Zanzibar.

We swung for a few more minutes in silence. I looked over and noticed she was staring intently into space.

“Unafikiri nini?” What are you thinking about?

“Pesa,” she said offhandedly, Money. Then she smirked and surprised me with a new english phrase, “Money is everything.”

I laughed, my instincts rushing towards disapproval. Ugh, money. “Hapana,” I shot back, No.

“Kweli?” She turned to me with true surprise, Really?

I got defensive, Money is nothing if you don’t have family or love.

“Kweli?” she repeated. When I didn’t respond she sat up in the hammock to look me directly in the eyes, holding up her fingers to count off on. What if your family is sick? You need money. How do you feed them? You need money. For water? You need money. If you don’t have money you have nothing.

I lowered my gaze, chastized. “Okay,” I mumbled in English. I had no idea how to reply.

“Sema,” she said, still sitting upright, Say it.

“Money is everything,” I repeated. She smiled, relaxed back into the hammock and returned to playing with the iPod.

A short while later she got a phone call from her mother. I need to head home for the night, she declared in swahili. She tried to sound casual but I could hear the hesitation in her voice. The day before, she had left work early to pick up a friend in the hospital with typhoid fever. Going home meant providing medical care.

As I watched her go, my iPod in her ears and her token grin on her face, I thought about what she had said. Money isn’t everything. What a priviledged statement. Of course I can say that, I have never, ever had to worry about health, food and water. So to me, those things seem free. But they aren’t. So maybe money is everything, the base of everything. But I still maintain that family, love and happiness are just as important – and from what I have learned about Africa and this village, here those three things are rarely in short supply.

So really, I should stand by something else. Maybe, “Excess isn’t everything,” or “Less is more,” or “Money isn’t king.” But none of those really work… I will have to think about it. You get the point.

in time, in time.

There is a calm in Tanzania that, over time, seeps deep into your conciousness. It happens so slowly that you swear it was always there. Without a doubt, it is the greatest gift this country can offer.

Hakuna Matata. Amna shida. No worries.

Today we started our Directed Research Projects. We all awoke and crammed into the dining hall at 7am to grab our breakfasts and lunches and leave by 7:30. The room was a beehive of tension. Breakfast wasn’t ready until 7:15… apparently the kitchen didn’t get the early breakfast memo. As expected, chaos ensued. People running, pushing, whining. My group got our stuff together, jumped in our cars, and realized we had a broken GPS and were missing our professor… twenty minutes later he arrived, giving us enough time to find Yohana to fix the GPS (he can do anything, I swear).

We arrived at our starting point an hour and a half late, waited another half hour for our professor to find our guides, and then spent another hour wandering around in confusion. In short – we started our vegetation plot transects three hours later than planned. The whole of the morning I felt strange, uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We fumbled through the day struggling with our equipment, the terrain (we basically bushed whacked 5 kilometers up and down three hills), and communication with our guides. Mid-afternoon we breached the last hill to the marker that signified we had finished our very first transect. Not nearly what we had hoped for the day but an accomplishment nonetheless. But our professor, instead disappointed with the few plots we had completed, was utterly thrilled. When I looked up from the ground at the world the strange feeling that had hung around me all day escaped in one, big, satisfied sigh. There is nothing comparable to a hill-top view of an African valley, in the rainy season, in the sun. Rolling farms and forests filled landscape with vibrant reds and greens. The sun glimmered off all of the rain coated foliage. Sunflowers smiled from every field.

Stress, I realized. That was the feeling I could not shake all morning. A feeling I have not experienced in a long, long time. When I looked at my professor’s face I almost laughed – how ridiculous. I thought back through the morning, through breakfast being late, my professor being late, the late drive, the late start. I realized that the only ones stressed had been students – and the whole time it was completely unnecessary. At first I considered the contrast in reactions as just a difference in the perceived importance of time, but the more I thought about it the more holistic it appeared.

Amna shida. Don’t worry. Pole pole. Slowly, slowly.

Nothing happens fast in Tanzania. This calm is apparent in time values, as already observed. It is shown through disregard for appearances and etiquettes. Grown men wear pink crocs and sweaters with flowers on them. Dress pants are obviously okay for soccer. Holes are more a factor of indifference than poverty. You should expect public presenters to answer their phones in the middle of powerpoints. It is totally acceptable to pick your nose during a conversation, or spit your watermelon seeds onto the table during lunch. It is apparent in resource sharing – people share food, clothes and other possessions like they were always community ware. The concept of ownership is skewed. I could go on and on.

None of this is a result of laziness, rudeness or aloofness – Tanzanians are the hardest working, kindest and most observant people I have ever met. It is simply because worries are reserved only for things that are important. Africans do not waste energy on the trivial. It does not matter if you are late, what clothes you are wearing, how you eat your food, or what you accomplish. What matters is if you are okay, that you are empathetic and patient, and that you work as hard as possible – everything else you need will fall into place, in time, in time.

Amna shida.

on being 21.

Considering that I turn the big two-one today I thought maybe I would take a little break from studying for my finals and do a little reflecting (or procrastinating). Sorry if it gets a little dorky – I am my mother’s child ;).

This is about the most anticlimactic twenty-first birthday anyone could experience. First of all, I am in a country where drinking is legal for me right now, not that it really matters but it sort of takes the glamour out of “21.” Second off, it is Easter. Now, I have been dreaming about the day my birthday would fall on Easter every since I got my favorite stuffed animal – “Happy Easter” sheep – when I was probably three. Well, now it has happened, but I am not celebrating it with my family and I can’t even go to church because I have to take two exams and study for a third scheduled for tomorrow. On top of everything I am missing the premier of the third season of Game of Thrones – obviously the worst part. Before you start feeling really bad for me though I should probably mention that I am in Africa (in case you didn’t know) and that I am headed for the Serengeti on Tuesday… Happy Birthday Me! Oh and we get to slaughter a goat for Easter… what? I don’t know.

21. What a number. I guess it is supposed to mark a transition from childhood to adulthood (at least theoretically), and I think it is symbolic that during this birthday I am on my own in a foreign country. So many people and so many experiences have influenced my life. My family, for one, will always hold my heart in their hands. My friends will always have my unconditional gratitude. Everyone from the Theater, my education, my places of work and the church have placed their marks upon who I am.

I know 21 is just a number, and usually my birthdays feel like nothing more than that, but having exams really brings a feeling of transition to it this year. After tomorrow we will be done with classes for the semester, heading to the Serengeti and then returning to carry out our Directed Research Projects. I changed so much in the last year and years before that but I think I changed the most in the last month and a half. Today marks a transition from discovering what I want out of the next stage of my life to actually actively pursuing it. Africa has shown me the importance of practicing communication and patience but above all it has shown me the power of appreciation. I am beyond blessed for the last 21 years of my life and this experience in Africa – so thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who made this possible and who had a part in shaping who I am today.

Let’s go 21.


My birthday’s still look like this.

learning to communicate.

For the first time in my life I have immersed myself in a place where my first language is not the primary form of communication (at least outside the other students). Since my arrival to Tanzania I have studied kiswahili vigorously, determined to connect with the non-english speaking people around me – most of whom are our staff. The first few weeks were beyond frustrating. I didn’t know many words, I got embarrassed when I couldn’t say what I wanted to, and the staff didn’t seem interested. But once they realized my efforts they immediately were invested in helping me. I learned a ton of kiswahili in a few short weeks. Since then, however, life has gotten busy and I haven’t had the time I want to put into language study. Somehow, though, I realized my communication skills have still been improving. If I haven’t been actively studying, how could that be?

I realized this morning during cook crew that I have gained an extra set of communication skills here, above and beyond kiswahili – skills in physical communication. Half my relationships with the staff are based around eye conversations, body language, touch and sound. I will spend hours with them comfortably and realize we didn’t actually talk about anything at all. I have taken to whistling, winking and gesturing to convey messages. But above and beyond that I have become hyper-aware of the body language of those around me. I have learned how to read someones feelings through their posture, requests through eye contact and whistles, jokes through winks, and above all, affection through passing touches – a handshake here, a hug there, gentle pats on the back and shoulder squeezes. Through this new form of communication I have become sensitive to the conditions and needs of the people around me. As a result, I have formed new kinds of relationships that are almost more meaningful than any words could achieve.

At home we always say “communication is key,” but maybe we should consider that sometimes more than one form of it is necessary.

sheer exhaustion.

** From March 24th. Apologies… the internet has been temperamental. **

I have never been able to function on limited sleep. I always need eight hours, minimum. Anyone who has lived with me in college knows that. Well, Tanzania has definitely tested my limits.

The first few weeks here I actually worried about having too much time, how absurd. Now that I have settled in, found activities, and know what I want to get out of this experience, the days are never long enough. And they are getting faster. At first days and weeks lasted forever. Then it felt like the days lasted eons but the weeks were somehow passing quickly. This week the hours started to fly.

My days here consist of the following: I wake up at 6:00 and try to use the internet before running or working out with Shealyn, than I rush to breakfast at 7:30 and get to class by 8:00. After classes end around 12:00 we eat lunch. After lunch I hang around the gate chatting with Martha, our day guard, and listening to Tanzanian music. Occasionally I will walk downtown with friends to visit the tailor or grab a soda. Then I grab some chai, slackline and pretend to do homework until 5:30 when we run over to the primary school to play soccer with the staff and the locals. At 6:30 I return to campus, shower and sneak into the kitchen and get thrown orders – they are used to me showing up now. After dinner we listen to a short presentation by the “mwanafunzi of the day.” Then I get pulled into a game of “Kardi Moja” with the staff until I realize it is already 9:00. I do some homework outside under the moon, chat with the night guards and other staff, have deep introspective chats with student friends, realize how absurdly late it is, panic, remember I have to journal (which takes forever) and then go to bed. And sometimes somewhere in there we go places for lectures, community service or field work.

Yesterday I faced the consequences of sleep deprivation and got sick. I had to take a short trip to the clinic, FAME. No worries, I’m fine, I learned Doctor Frank has a legendary history and a sweet woman told me I look smart, so it was a fulfilling trip. However, the medicine he gave me to lower the effects of the other medicine he gave me made me sleepy. I promptly returned to campus and passed out for four whole hours. Oops.

I have learned that sleep is important to functioning – who knew!? But I have also learned that every experience is important to take advantage of. Maybe I am always tired and I keep getting distracted from my homework but it is the spontaneous experiences that teach me the most and that I’ll remember. I received no truer advice for this trip than that from a former SFS student, “you’ll sleep when you get home.” I just have to make sure I don’t keep getting sick… I suppose that could be considered counterproductive.

NOTE: The night after writing this post I was doing homework (obviously way too late) and my throat started to hurt. I woke up with… you guessed it… yet another fever. Welcome, flu. Two full days of sleeping later I finally am starting to feel like a person. (Hopefully I’m not preemptively declaring this again). Karma’s a b*tch. Will I ever learn? Probably not. But really, I should start sleeping…

social capital – a homestay reflection.

Mwalimu Mwamhanga told us in one of our first classes that the western world possesses high economic capital but the tribal communities of eastern Africa can boast of a greater social capital. Our camp in Rhotia is located between two tribes. The first, the Maasai, are the stereotypical African nomadic peoples who extend through large parts of Kenya and Tanzania. The second tribe, the Iraqw peoples, are pastoral-agricultural. They were probably the first food producing inhabitants of East Africa and have a smaller homeland stretching through the elevated parts of the Mbulu highlands in Tanzania.

Historically, the Iraqw built their houses into the sides of hills (much like a hobbit would do) in order to protect themselves from the neighboring Masaai. Nowadays their houses are above ground, traditionally made from acacia trees and clay but more frequently from bricks and cement by those who can afford it. They keep cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys and historically grew small grains and subsistence foods. Recently, with the introduction of cash crops such as maize, wheat and beans, they have begun cultivating for profit at local markets. Men usually take responsibility for grazing large herds and conducting large scale agriculture. Women are primarily responsible for at home activities, such as milking, cooking, cleaning, gardening, fetching firewood and water, and raising children.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Iraqw is their social structure. They have huge families where all older people are equally responsible for raising younger children, regardless of relation. They advocate mutual accord and solidarity over almost all other values. For instance, groups of neighbors will work each others fields in rotation, attending work parties at each house where the only responsibility of the homeowner is to brew buura, sorghum beer, for everyone afterwards. Similar parties will occur if one family faces misfortune that threatens their viability. They will organize a party, serve buura, and the guests will bring gifts of cows or other items to help the family recuperate. It is understood that each person gives according to what he has and each receives according to his needs. This ensures all families have an equal workforce and therefore an equal chance of surviving.

A traditional Iraqw proverb states, “if we all agree with each other, then Looaa must agree with us.” Looaa is their traditional deity and communal support and stability is the presupposition for contact with her. As a result, disputes between individuals or groups threatens this spiritual connection and are dealt with quickly by all members of the community. Buura is used as a symbol of friendship and reconciliation in such situations.

Some of these traditional views and activities are changing with the introduction of a market economy, shifts in gender roles and the expansion of the Iraqw homeland. However, the basic implications of these practices and values are still strongly prevalent in the culture. Many of my staff friends in the kitchen are Iraqw and they are undoubtedly some of the most genuine and accepting people I’ve ever met. In addition, I recently spent my a day with an Iraqw family. in Rhotia. My family, who I had never met before, took our intrusion into their home with excitement and grace. They taught us how to cook, taught us new Swahili words, played katikati and spent an afternoon relaxing with us. They invited us back and I fully intend to return.

Old accounts of interactions with the Iraqw reported that anyone could settle among them as long as there was enough land and the immigrants were willing to adjust to their norms and behaviors. Many outsiders who encountered them accused the Iraqw of putting herbs in the Buura they shared that “make strangers forget their homelands and want to stay with them.” I don’t think the Iraqw would need herbs to do that, just a little alcohol and a lot of their unchecked, unconditional, appreciation and love.

For information cited in this post please see “Money, Milk and Sorghum Beer: Change and continuity among the Iraqw of Tanzania,” from Africa, v. 3, 1996.

no hands.

Emotions are such funny things.

While preparing us to leave for abroad Dickinson made us sit through a slideshow presentation about safety and whatnot and at the end they included a graph about the “emotional journey of abroad.” It was “W” shaped with highs occurring at arrival and later in the trip and lows occurring near the beginning and when we got home. Now that I am actually abroad I realize how much of an absurd simplification that is. The trip isn’t a rollercoaster – every day is.

Every morning I wake knowing that each day will contain two extremes – one of exhilarating inspiration and one of being utterly overwhelmed. At first I wondered what was wrong with me, I am usually a little more level headed and stable than this. It is hard to recognize how I feel at any one moment, usually because I’m feeling a multitude of things. But I have come to realize, maybe that is the beauty of it. I have started sitting back and accepting emotions as they wash over me, recognizing and accepting them as part of this experience and part of who I am. As such, I have eliminated the frustration of emotional confusion and have become more intune with myself and how I react to my surroundings.

At the expense of sounding cheesy, I think emotions, really, are all that make up life. We have nothing if not how we feel at any one moment. Emotions are as much a part of the journey of life as our actions, if not even more so. They are our constant companion – affecting our every perception and action. If you think about it, our emotions write our history – they illustrate our memories for us. In addition, they map out our future, influencing the choices we make. Most importantly, however, they are the present. To feel is to live.

I think maybe I have been searching for the wrong ultimate end – I don’t want to be happy all the time. I don’t want it all to be perfect. Change, uncertainty, they are what make life exciting. If I can write four pages of introspective thoughts in my journal every day then I know my life is worth living. I was never good at “no hands” on the roller coaster, but my new goal is to master how to let go.

b*tch, b*tch, work, work.

(NOTE: apologies for the language in advance)

Our third week was rough. A scheduled seven day school week, two huge research papers and only one active field day … we were getting a little stir crazy. And to top it all off, we were to end the week by picking up rocks.

The morning was shot with frantic energy. After passing our first papers in the night before we found out that we had a pop Swahili quiz in the morning. Flashcards at breakfast, flashcards in class. We stumbled through a Wildlife Management class on estimating population counts (actually some fantastic stuff, but that is for later). Then we wrestled our way through the ten minute quiz only to find ourselves facing new material. Nothing is more frustrating than a new language when your brain has checked out. It was a relatively unpleasant two hours.

When we left class late everyone stumbled to their bandas and fell on their beds in a huff of self pity. My banda determined it was b*tch hour and let it rip along with rest of campus – I didn’t understand any of that. It’s too hot. I want chocolate. I’m so tired. This room smells like s#*t. I just want to nap. I’m hungry. I don’t want to do this second paper, and most of all… I don’t want to pick up rocks.

See, M’Lis scheduled our first community service trip for this particular afternoon. The task: walk to the nearby Lutheran Church and aid the local tradesman in flooring two new buildings – a task that required carrying boulders into the frames of buildings and laying them on the floor in preparation for a concrete filling. In the hottest part of the afternoon. Perfect…

But we didn’t have a choice. So at 1pm we lined up at the gate, Bring a water and a good attitude, my friend Calvin called to us in our banda. Then we walked together to the church. Upon arrival we huffed and puffed in opposition as we got in an assembly line.
And then we picked up rocks.

The change was instantaneous, unacknowledged and beautiful. With each rock our smiles widened, our voices rose, our pace quickened. Covered in spiders, dirt, and sweat we kept moving – brains resting, bodies moving. We sang through every 90’s song and rap we could think of, screamed nonsense Swahili words with our staff members and learned about the spiders and scorpions under the rocks that we let the tradesmen kill (I promise no one was bitten). We finished in half the allotted time. When we found out that we were to leave early we cheered, of course (more time to write that paper…) but there was a moment of hesitation beforehand as we all wondered why we secretly wanted to stay.


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