Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fourth Day:

Seen as a contagious plague, an incurable disgust, an ugly appearance, and an object without a soul, lepers are perceived as the ridicule of society, both in biblical times, and today. People isolate them. People are afraid of them. People try not to stare at them. People feel awkward when around them. I felt the same as any other person when we walked into the leprosy center: afraid, worried, nervous, superior.

I was greeted by a man with no fingers. No fingers to carry on daily tasks which is a vital attribute in Tanzania considering all of the men farm for a living. I forced a smile and shook his hand, making sure to wipe my pant leg afterwards. As I walked inside the center, Sister Maria, the German nun in charge of the center, gave us a talk about the condition of lepers and about the sickness. She said, with overwhelming passion, that “these people are not different from me or you, they are just plagued. They are not contagious here at the center because we have treated them. Don’t be afraid. People of the world judge them because they look different, but in reality they are just people." Her words calmed me. I was still on edge, but calm. Calm because I realized they weren’t contagious and I was in the clear.

As we began to walk through the center, door by door people began to come outside. Soon enough, the whole center was crowed with lepers. I talked to them in Swahili with my limited vocabulary and noticed their smiles. Not fake like my own, but genuine. I asked one man to take a picture of him and he said “No. No.” so I simply started to walk away as he skipped into his room. A few seconds later though, I noticed him hurrying back to his previous position, with a hat in hands. The man had run back into his room to grab a nicer hat than the one he was wearing so I could photograph him looking his very best- and soon after, the posing began. I took pictures of the posed hat man and made my way down the line of the people waiting to talk to me. Another man asked my leader, Peter, for new eyes to read, which was his favorite thing to do before he became blind.

I was surprised. Surprised of their happiness. I felt like they were laughing more than I ever have in my entire life. At that moment, I realized they were the happiest people I have ever met. They had a disease, but after my realization, I didn’t see them for their missing limbs or contorted faces, but as regular people who love to laugh; people who aren’t plagued with leprosy, just unfortunate. All of the pictures I took at the leprosy center were of the people laughing, except for the posed hat man.

Leprosy: something that is seen as a desolate and lonesome disease. With camera in hand, and mind full of roaring thoughts, I walked out of the leprosy center with a new outlook on life and the people in it. People are all the same. People, no matter what race or circumstance, all have the same ability to feel. All people have something they want to say to the world, whether it’s a plea for new eyes, or simply a cry for attention. Everyone suffers, but not everyone allows that hardship to control them. Some people let laughter wash away their troubles.

Fifth Day:

There is something majestic about getting lost. Not knowing where to go and relying on the sun for guidance. I have found that whenever I get lost in Africa, I actually become the most found. Lost in Africa results in beauty. With the students from the special private school in Tanzania guiding us through shortcuts on our way back to our house, nerves began to flood through my body. The sun was setting and we were supposed to be back before dark, but judging from where we were, that was not going to happen. No one to help us. As we passed drunk shops, the sun continued to sink and the dangerous people began to emerge. I picked up my pace and held my camera to my chest as I walked on the heels of the person in front of me. Shortcuts. At first the scariest thing that has ever happened to me, but as I began to relax and get used to the yelling drunkards, I noticed the view around me. The fiery orange sun setting over the crest of two mountains kissing, resulting in a red streaked sky making bright shadows across the multitude of corn fields surrounding me. After I took a moment to realize what I was surrounded in, I began to appreciate the aspect of being lost. When you are lost, your emotions are at first all over the place, but after a while you begin to calm down and are surprised with the setting you find your self in. Another time that I was lost, I was walking with a student from the private school in Tanzania, Babou, and my friend, Jacob. We began to find ourselves on an endless dirt trail that was unfamiliar. We kept on walking and a few hours later realized that we didn’t know where we had wandered to. As we kept walking, my nerves kicked in. Like any other time I have been lost, I was afraid. Afraid that I would not make my way back home. But as we kept walking, I looked at my surroundings and saw a small village with red brick houses surrounded by massive mountains and numerous amounts of livestock. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed. I have found that, when in Africa, becoming lost is in fact a blessing in disguise that leads you to the most surprising places. 

Seventh Day:

Persistence, something that I thought I knew the definition of before I came on this trip; I was wrong. Persistence, something that has the power to drive a sane person crazy. Persistence, the annoyance of the world. If you think you know persistence, then you are wrong, unless you have been to the market in Arusha, Tanzania. Right as we entered the market area, we were bombarded with store owners making us follow them to their shop. My favorite move that some of the owners pulled was stepping out in front of us in the narrow walkways and blocking our paths, forcing us to enter their store, which looked the exact same as the other hundred stores (even though they all promised that their store was “special and unique”). I was shocked at how blunt these people were with making me buy something. They would put something in my hand and name a price, after the first few forced bracelets that I bought, I realized how to say no. I personally think I am an expert at rejecting people now. “Come see my store! It has everything for you!”. “No”. Who knew it was that easy? After having my personal space invaded several times by overly eager store owners, I began to feel like I needed to do something. And so the bargaining began, resulting in some extraordinary bargaining skills. In one situation, I was looking to buy one bracelet, and ended up buying three bracelets for the asking price of one. Another example, I was buying a bracelet and I refused to pay anything more than half of the asking price, so they raised my request by 1,000 shillings (about 1 dollar) and then threw in a free bracelet of my choice. Awesome, right? My Dad would be so proud. I felt bad for being rude, but sometimes that is the best option. Thank you Tanzanian market, you have taught me to be cheap and let people down by rejecting them. I feel like a completely new person.

Safari Days:

It’s weird. The closer you get to the sun, the more beautiful your perspective of the world becomes. Being on top of a mountain translates into seeing nature in a whole new way. Life is great...until you fall and sprain your ankle. Beginning our decent, I stepped off of the side of the mountain (there was grass camouflaging the edge). Although I was wearing my trusty hiking boots, gravity still won the battle. I guess this means I can add hopping on one foot down a mountain to my storybook. Even though I hurt myself, I’m still glad that I experienced the hike upwards. I would never imagine myself scaling a rock wall, rock climbing with no safety, and using only my strength to hold my body in the air as I walked in between two steep cave walls using only my legs stuck against a wall and my hands for support (I felt like spider woman, and also, we were being very safe...ha, sarcasm). The feeling of accomplishment after I maneuvered my way through the cave is indescribable. I never thought I was strong enough to hold myself up for long enough to safely get across walls by scaling them. Hiking is experiencing. Experiencing the world from a new perspective, a beautiful one.

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