The best part of this trip so far has been having the opportunity to interact with some of the local Tanzanians. We have local individauls working on our team who have been so wonderful with trying to help me learn parts of the language. Each day I try to learn a few new words or phrases, so that I can at least great individuals and wish them a good evening. Beyond our team members, the staff at one of our locations was also instrumental in expanding my vocabulary and just generally being really welcoming & fun people to interact with. Today I also was able to get away for a few moments by myself and I had a great time trying on dresses and looking at hand bags to purchase. My colleagues pointed out that I probably was given a foreigner price but I definitely don't mind since it was enjoyable interacting with and "just being a woman with other women." Between their limited English and my limited Swahili we worked out a deal for two dresses (one pre-made and one made from a local fabric I chose) and a bag, but it was fun gesturing, exchanging names, and offering womenly compliments to each other.
Yesterday I finally was also able to try some of the local Tanzanian food which is sort of a corn meal porridge along with various types of stews. The one that I had was a lentil soup variety, while the other locals had chicken and veggie stews. The food here is a mix of influences as so much of Tanzania is influenced from local tribes but there is also a large SE Indian/Arab influence (especially along the coast). Since so much of their nation is dependent on tourism, there tends to be a lot of English & American influences with food as well. This morning I also tried one of their standard breakfast fares which is mtori and chapati. The mtori is a beef and raw banana mix, which sort of has the consistency of really runny oatmeal. Over breakfast, we also discussed local practices ranging from learning English (all of their secondary school subjects are in English actually) to marriage practices. I love learning directly from those who live here and are from the country.
In the last week, we have been in four different locations and once students arrive we will return to those same locations plus one other over the course of three weeks. While I have enjoyed having the opportunity to follow a dream to come here and can see where this position could truly open many professional doors going into the future, I've really been struggling with some of the relationship dynamics with and general practices of one of my potential new colleagues to the extent that I am questioning whether I will actually let myself follow through with joining their team as of this fall. I am really looking forward to the arrival of our boss and the students in the next few days and having the opportunity to engage in teaching and interacting with a larger crew of individuals. If I'm additionally honest, I will be more than ready to head home once the program here is complete and at this juncture I am sort of wishing I would have come to Africa under a different context. All that being said, I definitely am grateful for the opportunity to come, the ability to teach in this context, and the assistance that my colleague has provided in country with things like language, etc.
The various sites we have been in have been beautiful in so many ways and we've had the opportunity to travel by Cessna twice which has allowed for aerial views of the land also. To ensure group safety during travel, I'm not disclosing any of the specific areas we're in nor the projects we'll be visiting until I've returned, but it's amazing to see so many individuals truly working to try to bring sustainable programming options to this country. Like many countries, povery abounds but one thing I have witnessed over time is how much joy is visible in areas where less abounds, even when hardship and suffering equally exists. Here (and in the majority of the world) consistent water & electricity access doesn't exist, sanitation standards are lower, and nutritional variety is lacking. (While some research does argue that standard indigenous diets can be healthier than something like the Western diet, lacking nutrition in Tanzania is known to be responsible for stunted growth among other health outcomes.) This is a country where malaria is still prevalent, access to trained physicians & usable medications is almost non-existent, HIV is much more common that readily accounted for, medical & vital records aren't standard, and there are over 120 varying tribes with a wealth of traditional medical knowledge that is not integrated into the Western model of care. While Tanzania in general is a fairly "safe" country for tourists, it's still not a country one would want to be injured in nor one where a visitor would want to enter without being aware of what is standardly culturally appropriate.
Most of what I discussed in that above paragraph is information that I had prior knowledge on and that also translates across to many other developing nations. I have definitely come across many things that I wasn't aware of before coming here however. :) For one, most developing nations I have traveled to were way cheaper than Tanzania :) The inland parts of the country tend to be a bit less expensive than the coastal regions but hotels on the coast were comparable to hotels back home in Oregon, the taxi ride cost about the same, and most locations have a break down of prices that includes citizens, residents, and non-citizen categories. Non-citizen categories have prices in USD$ and things like a nature preserve park entrance are anywhere from $30-60 for non-citizens PER DAY. In comparison, the price for locals is something like 20.000 TSH (Tanzanian shillings) which is currently about $10. Thus just to drive through one park along a highway to get to one destination cost $30/person, which in a sense is a pretty hefty toll tax :) Things like climbing Kilimanjaro are thousands of dollars depending on the route, number of days, etc and definitely weren't in my personal budget for this trip.
Another big thing that I was aware yet unaware of was just how large that the Indian/Arab/Muslim influence is within the country. It definitely makes sense as the coast here was part of the trading route and there are several areas on the coast that are predominantly Muslim. It's currently Ramandan which was also an interesting experience to observe and there were a few times when we had to shove food items/water bottles into our packs in order to be culturally compliant. In terms of dress this means that culturally appropriate clothes include covering legs down past the knees and the upper body should be covered including shoulders (exposing arms is okay). Luckily I was able to get a few days of thrifting in before heading this way (and my amazing aunt altered a few items) so most of my clothes have worked really wonderfully here. The Arab influence is also noticed in some of the words found within Swahili and with local spices, etc. Just like in Hindi and Russian, the word for tea in Swahili is also chai. In every town we have been in (even in the inland areas) the call to prayer has been announced over the loud speakers in the mornings and evenings. A side note to this additional cultural context is that there is also a sub population of people within the country who have Rastafarian tendencies/lifestyles. Thus between the variety of rural local tribes, major urban center of Dar Es Salaam, Muslim & Arab influences, the Rastafarian vibe, and the cultural elements that we might envision as being "typically" African, it's a pretty incredibly amazing melting pot of diversity.
And with all of that I'll wrap up this initial post from the land of Tanzania, where I still have so much more to observe, soak up, and enjoy. Hope each of you is doing well!