Tanzania, Part 1: The Love
I first applied for a passport when I was 18 years old. It was the summer after my high school graduation, I had never left the country, and I was headed to Tanzania in a few weeks.
I applied for my two-week Tanzania service trip after months of feverish internet research on the best volunteer programs in Africa. I had settled on a well-reviewed company that catered mostly to young people from the US, Canada, and Europe and offered an opportunity to teach English and paint classrooms in Tanzanian primary schools. We would be given informal lessons in Swahili, the official language of TZ, and spend time with children at local orphanages. Of course, there would also be “fun” weekend trips: a safari in the local National Parks, hiking the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and rides to the town markets.
I would have given my left arm just to see elephants and lions on an authentic African safari, but that wasn’t the reason I decided on the trip. As I soberly told my parents, the program was important to me because “it focuses on meaningful volunteer work. It’s not a sightseeing trip.” This fact was crucial to me because, as a soon-to-be college freshman, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and how to get there. I would study journalism at the University of Miami, Florida and work my way into international social rights reporting. The timeline was murky but, after I had raised enough money and created enough contacts, I would start my own nonprofit, probably in Africa and probably one that was Nobel-Peace-Prize-worthy. I had an unshakeable conviction that “nonprofit” meant selfless and selfless meant making the world a better place and pulling people out of poverty in the most desperate countries in the world. My trip to Tanzania would not just be an introduction to this kind of work; it would be a confirmation that the career I wanted and the continent I felt most drawn to were really everything that I imagined them to be.
Picture an inspirational movie where a young American flies halfway across the world to confirm her destiny as a selfless volunteer for destitute children. This is more or less what I envisioned for my trip. I wanted these two weeks so incredibly badly and I craved that feeling of passion and solidity that comes from knowing you are walking the path you are meant to be on.
Just to be clear, the cost of the program, combined with plane tickets, travel insurance, and malaria medication, was so daunting that it was almost funny. Almost, but not quite. Convincing my parents that a trip to Africa would be a good idea was no easy task, but raising the thousands of dollars to make the trip a reality was an entirely different type of challenge. My parents certainly could not hand me the money and, while online donation sites are incredibly popular today, GoFundMe pages and the like were not even on my radar a few years ago. So, I went about asking for money the old-fashioned way: calling local restaurants to set up fundraisers and snail-mailing letters to everyone I could find in the family address book.
Despite my terrible phone skills, I did manage to wrangle enough money by the summer deadline. I received some very kind donations from family and friends to cover the program fees and I used inheritance money from my grandfather to cover the plane tickets. As the world’s worst salesman and someone who has always been afraid to ask for help in any capacity, it was a terrifying experience to request money from family and friends. It was also one of my first significant realizations of privilege. Yes, I had to raise the money and push myself out of my comfort zone. But the fact that I had family members able to contribute, parents willing to help in any way they could, and money from my grandparents to fall back on was the real reason why I was able to fly out to Tanzania in June of 2014.
Recognizing privilege is a tricky task and I’m constantly realizing my personal advantages and disadvantages as I study and travel throughout the world. But, that’s a lengthy and confusing post for another day. My experiences in Tanzania were shaped less by my financial privileges and more by my assumptions and self-identity.
In this first post (accurately titled “Part 1”), I want to share through images the beautiful and positive experiences I had in Tanzania. When I look back at pictures of my first trip overseas, I am still genuinely amazed at the places I got to see and the things I got to do. Here are a few:
Hiking the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro
Holding a large snake, apparently against my will
Learning first-hand about an important local source of income: coffee beans
That safari I was willing to but did not have to sacrifice my left arm for
Genuinely amazing and big-hearted people that I was lucky enough to share my 2 weeks with
I did in fact fall in love with the country and the continent. I fell in love with the dusty roads that we walked into town on and the beautiful children that we saw at school every day and the amazing people who led our program and showed us a glimpse of Tanzanian culture and identity. There are distinct moments from the trip that I am 100% certain I will remember for the rest of my life – times where I felt so overwhelmingly grateful for what was around me that I didn’t know what to do with myself.
But, among and between each ridiculously cool experience above, I felt and learned a lot that made me question what my trip was about and why I had wanted it so badly.
So, this is Part 1: the beautiful experiences and the excitement and the positivity of my first trip abroad. But, like any YA novel or any poorly made movie nowadays, there is also a Part 2.
**leaves cliffhanger to be intriguing but actually just annoys and frustrates readers**