Africa – My Greatest Teacher

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I randomly booked a volunteer trip to Tanzania, which is one of Africa’s destinations that has a large number of activities for tourists Such as Mt Kilimanjaro, Serengeti National Park, Norongoro Crater and the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar and has generally remained untouched by the rivalries and political upheavals that other neighbors have.

I had no idea what would become of it, or me, once I got here. I just knew I had to come.

You may have read the quote about life not being about becoming anything but rather unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, and I don’t think I’ve ever understood that quote more than I do today.

Getting to travel with myself has been my greatest teacher for sure but this country has shown me so much of myself I didn’t know was there and taken away things that I hadn’t realized still existed.

It has deleted my fear of rejection – after having so many smiles unreturned. I can understand why some may be hesitant to smile back, and let’s face it, even at home sometimes smiles go unreturned. But when the smiles are returned they radiate from ear to ear and it definitely makes you forget that any weren’t returned.

It has deleted my fear of touch – I used to clam up at the idea of random people touching me. But the Tanzanian people are so friendly and will hold your hand or place their arm around you, some will ask permission first but others don’t.

I’ve learnt to just go with the flow, more than I did before. People who know me know I’m a go with the flow type of person. I can have a plan and feel good about having a plan but I’m not so rigid that if the plan has to change I lose the plot. Tanzanians are experts at going with the flow!

I’ve stopped assuming everyone is after something. Assumptions are the killer of experience, but I also know to trust my gut now more than ever so I know if something isn’t right I will feel it. I’ve also stopped someone if I felt they were too touchy for me personally and boy did that feel powerful for me.

My fear of judgement, gone. I’ve spent this time walking around being stared at and commented on being ‘white’ which is always a bit of a giggle because I’m not white back home. But it’s taught me, really taught me, how to not care what people are thinking or saying. You think you don’t care, until you realize that you have cared because you all of a sudden feel this immense sense of being judged. Oh and being called fat, it’s almost like saying someone has brown eyes here so it’s lucky I know that I can choose to be offended or not because otherwise I may not be interacting with anyone, and it’s been commented here that my choice to not be offended about certain comments is a rare one which I found interesting.

My fear of being seen, well, in a community where I’m almost the only Mzungu (white person, oh that’s one comment I should be offended by too because it separates me from them) it’s impossible to be invisible. Being able to go about my life, no matter what, in the community despite the stares, has been one of my biggest points of growth. I’ve always been able to go out and have fun without things like alcohol but this is next level uncomfortable. It’s funny having people ask to have photos with me, it makes me think, is this what it’s like to be a celebrity? Speaking of celebrity I even got to star in my own documentary haha Being stared at with no shame and being approached by people who mean you no harm day in and day out – If all of this is a celebrity’s life then I’m even more certain that life is not for me, especially after filming for an entire day… how do actors do that for months at a time?

I’ve learnt that things I thought I would never be able to do I actually can. Like travel 15 hours on a bus in Africa with dust coming through the windows because of course there is no air conditioning nor bathrooms on the bus. Washing my hair after those trips to watch the water drain brown. Blurck. I may not need first class travel but after that experience I certainly feel gratitude for our modes of transport in Australia, and even that I’ve experienced around the world. However I would not say no if someone wants to buy me a first class ticket somewhere 😉. Although in saying that I have loved travelling around town in DaraDaras and Bajajs and on BodaBodas.

I have had moments where all I’ve wanted to do was break down and cry. Maybe that’s the cultural shock. The biggest shock for me actually has been that so many seem to have 2 phones, and they are on them all the time. Anyone who knows me at home knows how much I dislike people being on their phones at meals or while having a conversation, so I think that’s almost my biggest adjustment to life here but I think I adjusted. It doesn’t help that some of my work here is done on my phone because I didn’t bring my laptop. But I do still know how to put it down and enjoy the scenery.

Oh also not knowing the language of Swahili has been frustrating. I feel so rude and look like a stunned mullet when someone says something to me. Probably the worst part about randomly last minute booking a trip but the people here are so friendly and willing to help you learn too!

All of this has been made possible by the amazing people I volunteered with. I was the first volunteer to come over from Australia with their organizations. FOHUSO is owned by Lio and Emmanuel, Two Tanzanian men. This is rare in Tanzania as most businesses are owned by foreigners and only employ Tanzanians. But it was Andrew from Musha Care Foundation in Zimbabwe who actually got the ball rolling. It was Andrew I communicated with and signed up for his program to come to Tanzania. FOHUSOs mission statement is all about making a difference in local communities and giving volunteers a feel at home or in Swahili ‘Jisike Nyumbani’ experience and I’m so glad they partnered with Andrew and Musha Care Foundation. All of their staff became my family and I will miss their smiles and their attitudes, even if they would stay in bed on rainy days and come late hehe I truly felt accepted with being able to meet the local government and have them thank us for the difference we are making in the community with the waste collection and recycling program, it made my heart feel full. Lio and the team have gone above and beyond what any other company has done for me and I am truly thankful for their support and willingness to listen and change if things needed to be changed.

Tanzanian Life – Wow! I got to carry water on my head and help prepare local food with the women of the house in their village, dressed in true Tanzanian women’s clothing. That was a day I will never forget and which gave me so much more admiration for the women here. Their strength is undeniable.

My personality is definitely different for the Tanzanians. They keep referring to me as cool, because I don’t speak much. I think they actually mean quiet. I keep trying to tell them it’s my personality I’m just a quiet person and I enjoy being on my own but they don’t seem to understand the concept, the joys of being a communal place in the world I guess haha

I’ve had so much time to go inwards and think about anything and everything here. My emotions come and go. It’s such a massive learning experience. I’ve had moments of wanting to give up and go home, that’s completely new for me too. It has nothing to do with the people and how they treat me either they have been amazing! Maybe that’s the cultural shock again but I have no idea.

Biggest of all – my fear of failure. I experienced what some may call failure. When I reached Rukoma village to go study chimpanzees I had a meltdown because I couldn’t shower or bathroom in private. This was a foreign concept to the Tanzanians. They thought I was joking.

Maybe it was my extreme tiredness from the 15 hour bus trip then another 8 hours packed into a van to get there. But my mental capacity just died and I cried.

In a village.

In front of people.

I cried.

But in a situation where I would normally ignore how I felt for fear of failing or disappointing someone else, I went inwards and knew that if it didn’t feel right to me then I shouldn’t go ahead.

For hours I wrestled with the choice. Asking for advice and trying to listen to those who said I would regret it if I left. But in the end I just could not do it so I used my voice and said so. That is such a huge step forward for me.

I wrote a commitment statement before I left as part of the Discover Your Worth program I participated in saying ‘I am a commitment to standing in my power and using my voice’ which is now a screensaver on my iPhone. So I had that commitment statement running through my mind during this experience.

And while it hurt and I struggled with disappointment, it also felt so good to know I said what I was really feeling. I was completely honest and vulnerable and my actions may just have changed the village according to my co-ordinator. I know it has changed the way they are going to run their program because knowing it made me uncomfortable gave them awareness that it may make others who come feel the same and they don’t want that to happen. Your comfortability in their country is truly what they care about.

Maybe it was naive of me to think I would have some semblance of privacy like I had in the other villages. But this was a true African village where we may not have even been able to have food some days. It was such a true village that when I asked if we could get a car out they had none, I mean zero cars, oh wait, they had a couple of broken ones. We were lucky to even get a bus out of there the next day.

When it comes to Africa be prepared for the different standards of living. There will be flys buzzing around your food, you may have to squat on the toilets instead of using a western one, the standards of cleanliness in your hotel room will differ from what you expect at home, sometimes you may have to have bucket showers with only cold water which on the hot African days that is actually refreshing; the cold ones not so much. The food will be a mixture of rice, meat (if you eat it) and beans and sometimes vegetables aren’t available but you definitely need to try the delicious local dishes. I feel like the first vegetarian to visit Mwanza – it was a foreign concept, not to mention in their eyes only poor people are vegetarian because it means you can’t afford meat. I couldn’t imagine being vegan and visiting! The accommodation is not 5 star but at least mosquito nets are provided for those of us who have those nasty mosquito borne diseases on the mind. If you want to spend extreme amounts of money and stay somewhere like the resort in Blended (yes please one day 😍) then it may differ but for me I think why bother coming if you just want to experience only the comforts of home? Oh also be prepared for ‘Africa time’, when people tell you a time to be ready be prepared for the fact they may not be there for at least another hour. I’m well prepared for the time thing as it seems common on islands and now Africa hehe

You need to weigh up the pros and cons if Africa is on your list because I definitely don’t think it is for everyone, even though I would love for everyone to experience it too. If you want to push your boundaries and learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible then I highly recommend Africa.

Africa – you have come the closest to breaking me that I’ve ever felt. I broke my boundaries and walls and you helped me to do that. For that I am grateful.

I have become an expert at pushing through what I know aren’t real feelings to get to the root of what is real. I know how to choose my feelings each day. I know my life is my choice.

No matter what.

I take responsibility for me and my feelings. I thought I felt that way before but I didn’t. I had to get real with myself being here because I hadn’t been doing that. Africa, Tanzania, Mwanza, the staff of FOHUSO and Andrew I have you to thank for that.

Solo travel is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Solo travel in Africa has been next level for me.

Now I’m off to be a real tourist on safari then relax on the beaches of Zanzibar.

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