Wednesday, June 16, 2010

There is something character revealing about a person that carries on a conversation running on merely 45 minutes of sleep throughout an entire 10 hour flight, eating only candy due to airplane food being inedible, attempting to lay down in seats that don’t recline, being interrupted every half hour with announcements in Dutch (which, in the right state of a grumpy mind, sounds like an villainous dictator yelling orders into my dreary ears), and frustrating airplane electronic games that don’t want to seem to cooperate. But, at the same time, there is something character revealing about a person that experiences a blue green, starry filled sky with planets starring you straight in the face, synchronizing a movie on both individual screens in order to share the laughter of a comedy (sorry people sitting around me and my buddy trying to sleep), watching the sunrise over the horizon with red and orange streaked clouds surrounding the perfect sphere that was the rising sun, and sharing in the interpretive dancing (and unfortunately singing) of classic tunes (once again, sorry neighbors). All in all, my plane partner was surprisingly wonderful. Without knowing the person who I would be spending the next half day with beforehand, a character was revealed, and to my happiness, was discovered. I am overjoyed in the fact that I have another companion to share the next three weeks with in Tanzania, and hopefully experience even more sunrises and starry night skies with.

As I sit here in the airport of Amsterdam, extremely tired and sleep deprived, I cannot help my overworked mind from thinking about the nerves that revolve around this trip. So many things to ponder, so many things to worry about, so many things that can go wrong. I am not worried about a lion trampling over me, but rather a Maasai Warrior sacrificing a goat for our group and not being able to control my emotions, and in return showing disrespect. I know the honor that comes with the goat being slaughtered, but in all honesty, I am not the type of person to stare at the innocent animal and not want to do something to keep it’s blood from spilling for me. Blood spilling for a person who does not want it to be spilled, for a person who might cry at the sound of the animal’s last cries, for a person who will have to force herself to eat the feast with a crooked smile, and for a person who will shed tears as the animal sheds blood. I might sound redundant, but the only thought running through my, once again exhausted mind, is the goat. The goat who doesn’t want to be killed, and the girl who has to watch, but will forever be plagued by the sight.

On a happier and more exciting note, the toilet paper in the Amsterdam airport is neon orange and scented as, I’d like to say, lilies or roses (same thing right?). This pleasant surprise provided entertainment to the group for quite a while. There is one problem though, all of the bathroom signs are in Dutch, which like I said before, is a dictator sounding language to the weary minded (and probably to the awake minded as well, but I wouldn’t know at this point). The result of this debacle was extreme confusion upon entering the bathroom because I didn’t really understand which entrance was women and which was men. I took my wildest guess judging on the look of the word (thank you Spanish classes?) and attempted to go with the direction that looked the most feminine, which to my excitement, was the right one. I said a quick thank you to God for allowing me to dodge the embarrassment of entering the wrong bathroom, and continued on with my discovery of the Cheez-It colored toilet paper in perfect peace and wonderful bliss.

First Day-
The result of an hour long walk to a desolate church surrounded by fields of sunflower seeds is one of amazement. With little children running up to our group and holding our hands as we made our long walk to and from the church, the culture of Tanzania was further revealed to me. The genuine attitude of the residents is astonishing. Astonishing because they attempt to carry a conversation with us even though there is a language barrier between English and the native language of Swahili. Although we have been taught simple phrases in Swahili to say as we pass people, the barrier is still large and inflicting. There is one way to converse with the kids of Tanzania where emotions are shared and there is no barrier that needs to be broken: soccer. With moving feet scrambling around the cow dung filled pasture, a soccer ball unites two opposite cultures. After a few hours of, in my eyes, unification, the barrier was nonexistent as our lack of words turned into an overflowing understanding of each other through simply a flying soccer ball.

The language of Swahili is, unfortunately, very complex and difficult to learn. Even though we have a native teacher in Swahili giving us lectures every day, I am finding that learning the language is not the hard part- when I am pressured to talk to a native my mind goes completely blank. One phrase I will never forget is: poa chacheezi cama indizi friti bariti, which means “I’m cooler than a banana in a fridge” (even though that makes no sense, I think it is popular with the children of the town because it rhymes).

The town that we are in is simply majestic. With donkeys drinking from lily ponds, baby chickens surrounded by their mother, or baby goats just learning how to walk, this town is going to drive me crazy. Crazy due to extreme fondness with the baby animals, which I can thank my sister for (baby animals are her weakness).

This morning, although tiresome, was a once in a lifetime experience. We walked for about an hour and a half through rolling hills and mobs of children yelling “Yambo!” (which means hello). Our long walk ended with a small church. A church with barely anyone in it when we arrived. As we sat down, gospels began to chime from the Tanzanian’s kindred hearts. Because I had no idea what they were singing, I just mouthed random things and hoped that they were right. One odd thing that happened was there was a speaker system and an electronic keyboard that a man kept randomly making beats on. Although hilarious, the beat maker was somewhat annoying. During prayer, all of the sudden we would hear “Dum Dun Bum DaDum”, which was ridiculous but entertaining nonetheless. He also added a few siren sounds into the songs and the prayers, which in my opinion was quite a nice touch. Another note about church is that I sang a solo in Swahili. Who knew that church choir in Houston would pay off? (the song was “Seed To Sow”, and I also know for a fact that we pronounced it completely wrong, courtesy of the blank stares I got in return)

Second Day-
Exertion. Toil. Elbow grease. Sweat. Slog. Putting one’s back into it. Drudgery. Putting one’s nose to the grindstone. Labor.
Whatever you choose to call it, it all means one thing. Work. An action that, in the right circumstances, is impossible. Work is work.
It is never appreciated when it is manual. Work is dreary and tiring. But, work also means satisfaction. The satisfaction after digging a ditch in the dirt from nine to five, from using a pick axe to break up rocks, swatting bugs away from your eyes, shoveling loose dirt away from the trench that had formed from simply a green pasture, attempting to dig for eight miles, the overwhelming feeling of appreciation when coming back from a lunch break only to see the natives digging with uncontainable passion, satisfaction.
Gratification. Fulfillment. Happiness. Contentment. Pleasure. Enjoyment. Pride. Smugness. Complacency. Merriment. Glee. Exuberance. Exhilaration. Jubilation.
Whatever you choose to call it, it all means one thing. Work. An action that, in the right circumstances, is wonderful. Work is work.

Bugs. Something that, back at home, make me cringe. Cringe in disgust and fear. Here, in Africa, something is different though. Something has changed. I wouldn’t say it is an extreme change of heart or of mind, but it is a change nonetheless. Bugs. Something that, here in Africa, make me simply turn away. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here though, I am nowhere near to the point of picking up a beetle and disposing of it, but hey, I am progressing. Baby tarantula crawling up my wall? No problem, hurl my shoe at it. Beetle hitting me in the face while brushing my teeth? Ouch, but, alright beetle I respect your efforts (I still won). Mosquitos buzzing in my ears through my net as I try and fall asleep at night? Annoying, but, solvable by simply burying my head into my sleeping bag. Big gecko chilling in one of our rooms? No big deal, let’s name it Alfredo. All of Alfredo’s mistresses also chilling in one of our rooms? High five Alfredo, let’s name them: Daisy, SugarBaby, Honey, and SweetHeart. I feel like a new person, one who can overcome any obstacle. Even if that obstacle is a maggot worm crawling up my hand while shoveling. Welcome maggot, now meet the merciless side of my shovel and prepare to die.

Third Day-
Nature. Sounds. Loud sounds. Not comforting. Not soothing. Not relaxing. Keep me up for hours types of sound. I’m not talking about the outside of my window at night, but instead my roommate's snoring. I have four roommates, and out of all of them, four snore. As I sit awake in bed at three in the morning, I can’t help but think of a plan to wake them up so I can get some sleep in before I have to drag myself out of bed at 6:00 to make everyone’s breakfast (my eggs are phenomenal beyond compare). I might be crazy from the lack of sleep, but I’m beginning to think that their snoring is in an actual harmony. Not a melodious harmony, but a harmony in synchronization. Each roommate at a different pitch. I actually think I could make out Beethoven’s 5th sympathy during long periods of uproar. Sorry if I shined my flashlight into your faces on my way to the bathroom roommates, I didn’t mean to wake you guys.

I met a man today. An old, wise man. A man who had a certain aura about him. He spoke English but was at the same time was a true native. As I said “Shikamoo Baba”, which means “Hello Father”, he stopped and told me something. Something that as I was hearing it, I thought to myself that I can never forget what he is saying. It was one of those moments that make you feel united. United in the world with each other. I opened my ears, and in a cliche way, my heart. I experienced one of the moments in life that can never be replaced. The man, as I began to talk to him more, said something simple, but at the same time, memorable. He said “Like God and Son are together, we are all together. Africa and America are one. We are one. Missionaries came to colonize, but you have come to Africa to just help. I can tell your heart is pure and you mean well. Come back because you are the difference that can change Tanzania. We are one.” As he spoke, I went over each word in my head numerous times to make sure I didn’t forget them. Right as I got to my room, I wrote down what he said. I will never forget that man. I didn’t catch his name, but when someone asks me if I have ever had a life changing moment, I will refer to him as “Rafiki”, meaning friend.

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