June 3, 2007

Kwaheri, Tanzania

Saying goodbye came too quickly. With my family, it was sort of typical--Baba said goodbye to us on the phone because we never see him, and Mama drove Mara and I to our director's house to get a bus to the airport, and so when Mama and Mara and I were walking out the door Monika our maid started crying because she was about our best friend ever (I will miss her so much) and Aika started crying but that was because Mama was leaving for 5 minutes. Oh Aika, what a difficult child but also beautiful and fun and SO intelligent. I miss her. Goodbye in general was hard for me just because I didn't know, I think, how to have the right balance of attachment and detachment. First of all, traveling is so hard because it spreads me out and I love people in so many different places and want to be with all of them. I realized about a week before we left, also, that I have this tendency when I leave a place to try to detach myself too early. I start looking ahead, making distance between me and the place I'm in, thinking to the next thing and trying to convince myself I just want to get out of here and move on to the next. I did that before going to college, I do that almost every summer and every spring. It's easier to pretend I don't want to stay where I am. If I have to move on, might as well be ready. But I think this tendency prevents me from loving fully the place where I am and giving all I can. I think it falsely convinces me I'm detached when really I'm more attached than ever and will miss everyone and everything so much. I think it is a way of seeking in the new place what is missing because I'm leaving the old, or seeking in the new place what is simply always missing and has always been missing, the incompleteness of it because we are incomplete. But there is also joy. I realized, that incompleteness I found was part of my joy. In the last few weeks of Tanzania I thought about the way C.S. Lewis describes joy in "Surprised by Joy": as an expression not of completeness or happiness but instead of an awakening to beauty that leaves us more longing, more incomplete, but awakened and pointed in the right direction. That's how I feel about Tanzania, and that's beautiful. Tanzania has awakened me to many beautiful people, has loosened me up in terms of worrying and planning, starts to make me love and trust more, be more patient. But it is still sad to say goodbye. Nevertheless, the day I finally took off from Kilimanjaro airport after a safari with my godparents imitated that beauty and longing symbolically. We were facing north as we took off at 6pm, and Mt. Kilimanjaro was on our right and Mt. Meru on our left, and it was clear enough to see the snow-capped Kili and then on the left the sun was just directly behind the point of Meru, so that it wasn't setting yet but it was blocked from view by the mountain, and then they rays of it were all coming around the sides of the mountain, lighting up the coffee farms and banana trees on the green landscape. It was almost too perfect, like I'm just making it up to seem cliche and poetic. But it was a wonderful way to leave Tanzania, loving the beauty of it, and just wanting more, wanting to stay or come back someday.

Placing the blame

My last few weeks in Tanzania were beautiful, I'm realizing how much I love my host family. Mama is really an amazing woman. She started her own business and works so hard, and she really believes Africa has something to offer people, which is why she advocated so hard for Aika (her 3 year old niece) to stay at our house coming from Britain, to learn to speak Swahili and be African instead of spoiled Brit. And one day I came downstairs and Mama was crying because she was watching a TV special on homeless people in America, and she didn't realize there were so many poor people in America (though she lived there for4 years). She said why is America sending so much money to Africa when they can't even take care of their own people? And it was a good point. Not that we shouldn't try to help Africa, I think, but that sometimes Africa is a fad and we ignore our own slums and gross inequalities. And it was interesting, both Mama and a co-worker from Envirocare, Jane, said they think Tanzania has so many resources but the people are too lazy to take advantage of them, that's why they're so poor. So here are Mama and Jane, empowered women in Tanzania who see the men stopping work in the afternoon to go to a bar for a few hours, who also have worked hard and been successful themselves, blaming the tanzanians for not rising out of poverty. If we weren't so lazy, we'd reap the benefits of our own mines, our own tourism sector, our own companies--but instead it's foreigners who own everything. Meanwhile, me as the American coming in likes to blame myself and the West. Isn't that not ultimately the fault of Tanzanians but the Westerners who've exploited them? They would work harder if they'd been taught that their work would pay off, but it hasn't because they were colonized and they're colonized now. What needs to happen isn't just to empower the Tanzanians to work harder but to raise the awareness of Westerners in how they debilitate the working ability of Tanzanians. And so maybe ultimately both parts are true. Jane wants to work to empower the Tanzanians from within, to get them to work harder and care about their families and their country. And I want to get Americans to realize how their actions affect the whole world, how the systems they're involved in have far reaching ramifications and how doing nothing is being a parasite because those systems are already in place. Maybe we need to have people working on both sides. And maybe we also need to have organizations like Envirocare, the small grassroots Tanzanian NGO I worked with, which was such a wonderful experience and so hard to say goodbye. Because Envirocare is trying to empower farmers from the grassroots, to have a conversation with them instead of just teaching them, to work together to share farming methods that will be good both for the environment and for poverty alleviation. And meanwhile Envirocare is trying to put forth publications to spread awareness. It was so neat to see that while the organization was really limited in terms of resources and scope, in small ways it could help farmers. It's just that if people really want to address poverty, sanitation, health, hunger, inequality, all those issues we love to talk about, I think it will take a lot of work and the dedication of people's entire lives, and sacrifices.