Sunday, July 29, 2007
“Go to the people – live with them, learn from them, love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘we have done this ourselves.’”
-Lao Tsu (700 BC)
*Current state of Girls' Boarding Facility, Mahongole Secondary School. Bado kidogo...*
Goodbyes in my village were - in a word - bittersweet. It was heart-wrenching to close the door on my life in Manga, my simple, beautiful life without water and electricity, without all those things I thought I needed (like fruit, for starters), surrounded by the most sincerely loving people I may ever come across katika maisha yangu.
Not only did I say goodbye to an entire village that I loved deeply and that loved me back ten-fold, but I also had to say goodbye to the person I was in that village. Will I ever have the opportunity to be that person, to have that role again? Will I ever be able to live at the same level with people in a small, rural village in the 5th poorest country in the world, as I did in Manga, Tanzania? Being “Furaha,” being a village health teacher who had to bike 20 km for mere groceries, being the only white person for miles and feeling one with the Wabena people of the Southern Highlands, is a role I have embraced and cherished and will never forget “mpaka milele” (until eternity). That role, that life, will be left in Manga, but will live on in my memory.
*giving goodbye speech at front table*
My fondest kumbukumbu (memory) during the week of goodbyes occurred at my official village goodbye party when my favorite bibi (grandmother) 'Kowzin' processed forward to the head table (pictured above) where I was sitting underneath our flag unfurled (sweetly hung upside down:)-perhaps I could've been a better ambassador from the USA, eti?) whilst a herd of my mama's group accompanied her, singing about upendo (love) in Kibena. Holding a basket she wove, packed full of lemons and avocados, she reminisced about the love I showed her and the villagers of Manga...and about my love for her lemon and avocado tree, the lone fruit trees in the village (prior to our avocado planting). Every time I biked by her house, she would call me in, insisting I take a bag full home. I would climb her tree while she hit the fruits down with a bamboo pole (a much more effective method, I soon discovered). These are the moments that are simply unforgettable, forever singed in my mind, my heart. Her song meant the world to me. She concluded with the most perfect Swahili proverb: "Mountains do not meet, but people do."
Ndachene ndiwhilapa ihitundu shenduvile sindi henga hata!
Now, I must move on; I must change and adapt…again. I feel like my 20s have consisted of just this – changing, packing and unpacking. Strangely enough, it’s a process I enjoy and thrive in, somehow. I like playing the “chameleon,” as my Counterpart Kaduma dubbed me. I like to be challenged and to be forced to conform to life in different environments with people of various backgrounds. If there is no challenge, I find myself restless, wanting more, looking for things to be difficult in a way, as sick as that may sound.
And here I sit, in a wireless internet cafe, having moved to Arusha yesterday, a place where convenience is ubiquitous, a place where toilet paper is predictable in every restroom, where English is actually spoken - and well, where tribes are as diverse as the town’s restaurant menus (What? They serve more than rice and beans?): the Waarusha, Wameru, Wachagga and of course, the infamous Wamaasai. Gentleness, however, is not the name of the game as it was in Manga, among the Wabena. There’ll be no curtsying here, Tait (I keep forgetting, finding myself piga-ing magoti and feeling like a fool). But hey, this is city life, and it may not be that bad not having to pack small wads of toilet paper into my bra anymore.
*Tumaini Vocational Training Center (blue bike barn on left)*
So why am I here in Arusha? I am blessed enough to have been approved for a 3rd year extension with the Peace Corps to work for Tumaini, an educational center meaning hope (pictured above). Tumaini is a vocational training center and school for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Its parent NGO is called Global Alliance for Africa (GAA), with its main fundraising office based in Chicago. Established in 1996, GAA has 16 African partners and over 1,500 orphans and vulnerable children involved in its programming efforts to date.
Their mission is to foster self-reliance among youth and community development on a grassroots level. Thus, all of their staff is Tanzanian (aside from me) with major decisions made in consultation with the American staff in Chicago (for more details, see: www.globalallianceafrica.org). Tumaini provides not only vocational training, but also English, Spanish, French and Math classes so as to prepare Tanzanian youth for tourism and secretarial industries. Furthermore, they cooperate with several partner agencies and small community-based organizations (CBOs) in Arusha, such as Women in Action (WIA), Msamaria, Huruma Children’s Trust, Sisters of Canossa, and Edmund Rice Secondary School. These partners serve as feeders to Tumaini center, identifying and assisting orphaned youth. I’m really looking forward to meeting them in the next month in order to assess the potential for joint projects, seminars, etc.
During this next year, my primary responsibility is to serve as a Life Skills teacher for Tumaini’s 20 or so orphans or vulnerable children, along with assisting with their bike program. Core to the center’s vocational programs, Tumaini’s bicycle maintenance and repair program is the essence of sustainability, providing the majority of the 12 current staff salaries (including teachers, cooks and a grounds man). What occurs is second hand bikes are shipped in a large container to Tumaini, whose children (along with staff guidance) fix up these bikes and sell them to the public with rather large price tags, particularly for Tanzania (bike prices range from $50-100+). Spare (au “spea” kwa Kiswahili:) parts are also sold for additional profit. We’re expecting such a shipment in October; all are anxiously awaiting its arrival.
*The current staff at Tumaini, holding gifts, bidding Patrick (previous Peace Corps volunteer) goodbye*
The center’s aim is that this specific vocational training coupled with life skills (better decision making, communication and relationship skills) will provide these children (ranging from 13-20 years old) with a safe, structured environment, allowing them to more effectively integrate socially, communicate with others and build self-esteem. Our hope is that these youth will realize their potential, contribute to their personal, social and economic advancement, as well as engage in the local community. With half of new HIV/AIDS infections occurring among 15-24 year olds worldwide, enhanced education and vocational skills can be life saving and mitigate the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on a larger scale. Moreover, providing these kids with greater access to education and income generation is a primary means to alleviating poverty.
Technically, this means I will continue to receive the Peace Corps salary, slightly enhanced, taking into consideration cost of living in an urban center (bumped up from $6/day to $9/day). I realize it will be quite challenging spending less than $9/day due to all the temptations this city offers – a movie theater within walking distance of my house, food/drinks to stay cool in my refrigerator, balsamic vinegar and all the other countless luxury items that vanished from the realm of possibility over the last two years. Perhaps I’ll just never leave my house and the school campus…okay, that may be extreme, but to compromise, I’ll probably make limited trips downtown, visiting the market for fruits and vegetables, checking email and then returning. I may even venture by bike and strap any groceries on my bike carrier for old time’s sake. An added benefit would thus be Tanzanians not perceiving me as the mzungu tourist heading to the Serengeti on safari, but rather as a resident. I know fighting that association will be a battle, and perhaps one which will never be won…
Needless to say, I’m relieved to be in my new home and to initiate the settling in process, all that it entails. As you can imagine, the last two weeks of farewell parties, hectic packing and moving haven’t been so conducive to reflection during this stage of great transition, of liminality. But indeed, here I am at this threshold. And it’s places like these that we grow. As hard as moving on from Manga was and is, I choose growth.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Latest photos from Newala and Goodbyes in Manga: