To say that the trip was an experience is an understatement. It was a phenomenal experience, a rewarding experience, a beautiful experience, and in so many ways an exhausting experience. There has been a lot of professional development in flux in the weeks since our return, but as of today I feel that things are more solidly in order and have returned in many ways to how they originally started out.
The climax of the trip happened early when the trip coordinator became ill, we discovered it was malaria, and as her medical situation deteriorated rapidly in the Tanzanian hospital, she was medically evacuated out of country. She and I had already been in country for eleven days prior to this happening and she became ill on the second day that the students were in country. The experience was definitely daunting, worrisome for her health, taught us a LOT about where policy and program gaps exist that need to be fixed, and also left the coordination of the trip on the shoulders of our boss and myself....The good news is that she's recovered and that we also had individuals in country who were able to assist us with language/transportation/etc. Thank God :)
The daily coordination of multiple details, student advising, travel, programming, etc meant that I had limited moments to myself, slept like a log most nights, and came back home just wanting to sleep for weeks. Since I'm not good at just sleeping for weeks, I actually feel like I'm more tired now almost a month later than I was when I returned....
But on to the good stuff!!
The ten days in country before students arrived, my colleague and I traveled to the various locations where we would be taking students to ensure that lodging, program contacts, travel was all in place and to set up programming activities for students. Since this was my first time ever being in country, it was really great to get acquainted with the locations prior to the arrival of the students. I also discovered that Zanzibar is absolutely beautiful....and I relished the sunrises and watching the morning harvest of seaweed at low tide:
After those ten days, we traveled to Moshi (which is near the base of Mt Kilimanjaro) where our boss joined us and then the students arrived a day later. Moshi was not my favorite town ever. It's a major stop for tourists and climbers thus there are a lot of pushy salespeople and individuals that wander the town hoping to lure tourists. I did however find a great dress shop before the students came where I enjoyed an afternoon chatting with the local women, trying on dresses, and negotiating having a dress made for me. I also took a guy out for lunch who had just come off of Kili and it was great getting his story and seeing his pictures.
Honestly, it was wonderful having the students finally arrive! We spent two days in a rural mountain village halfway up Mt Kilimanjaro. In the village, we toured the local market & clinic, chatted with individuals about health concerns, played with the kiddos, hiked to a gorgeous waterfall, did a herb walk where we learned about the immense amount of local plants that can be used to treat various ailments, and explored the various parts of the town/water sources/ways of living/etc. This was one of my favorite experiences.
From Moshi we went to Serengeti.....on LONG bumpy roads :) I'm not going to lie...I may have choked back tears from the back of the van watching sunset the first night in Serengeti. I just kept thinking to myself...I'm here...I'm in Africa...dreams truly happen...somehow life truly turned around and it keeps going....etc etc. In Serengeti, we went on three game drives. One in the early morning, mid-morning to mid-day, and then a sunset game drive. Truly words could never do the Serengeti justice. It's dusty as all get out and you're coated in it....but man, it's beautiful and you're looking at the most amazing creatures with your own eyes...truly seeing them in their own gorgeous natural habitat.
From Serengeti we drove all the way back over to the eastern seaboard to spend a few days at a different program site. Honestly the second day of driving there was one of my favorites also. We drove alongside this beautiful fog coated hillside for miles that just called to me to come hike it, the terrain changed drastically, we crossed a river on a tiny ferry, I helped one of the student groups brainstorm ideas for the next day's presentation, and we drove through a multitude of small Muslim towns and along dirt packed roads.
We spent two days at this program site. One was a day of rest for students. The second was a programming day when they practiced wilderness first aid and held focus groups with local contacts about first aid practices in Tanzania. This site is BEAUTIFUL and we truly only have this contact due to the coordinator's connections. Interestingly the site coordinator/contact ALSO had malaria while we were there so we were unable to do everything we had planned at this particular location.
From there we drove down to Dar Es Salaam (the capitol) in order to catch the ferry over to Zanzibar....which was an incredible cultural experience in its own right. In Tanzania people don't really line up, so it was a mess of individuals all trying to push through the security door to get into the waiting area to get onto the ferry....in hot, humid weather with sweat running down one's body and hauling our luggage with us...and a couple in our party having horrible flare-ups of traveler's diarrhea. Internally I thought it was an incredibly fun experience that was one of the best cultural exchanges of the trip...but my empathy for others in our group who were struggling was immense too.
Final ten days of the trip with students....Zanzibar...and I have to say....if I fell in love with anywhere on the trip, this was it. Our site location was an hour from Stonetown but we were able to take the group to Stonetown on two different occasions (once for dinner with a public health contact and second for a cultural experience day). Zanzibar is primarily Muslim with a large amount of astonishing poverty that is highly contrasted with the tourist industry that markets its culture, amazing beaches, and incredible water sports opportunities. There was so much in Zanzibar that I didn't get to experience and would have loved, and there were also a lot of amazing potential contacts there for additional programming options for our students. Our ten days there included three days working with a local NGO working with "mamas" (the women of the village) to turn seaweed cultivation & harvest into products to be marketed internationally. We held focus groups with them about particular health areas of concern and then the students developed culturally appropriate suggestions to improve quality of life, etc. We were able to tour and observe in two separate clinics (these students were medical students) and talk about health improvement projects with a NGO representative who is working with the government. We went on a spice tour, saw the Slave Museum, toured Stonetown, had multiple classes, and on our final night we had a traditional goat meal served on mats in the village.
Altogether the experience was pretty incredible and the students made it rewarding in so many ways. I don't know that I truly soaked up as much as I would have if I had been traveling solo nor did I have time to truly process any of what was happening. In so many ways it was just plain surreal though. I already look at pictures and think "I was there?!"
I'm sure there are many more thoughts, reflections, and suggestions, but altogether it was surreal and just plain incredible :)