To Tanzania and Back

In the two months since I last posted, I have finished my first year of prep school, set foot on two more continents (even if all I saw of Europe was the Amsterdam airport, Amsterdamnit!), gotten back into the whole friendship bracelet-making habit, and returned to school as a counselor for a middle school summer program.

Chapter 1: The last month of school

It feels so long ago that my alarm beeped at 7:16 every morning, and every night ended with a chaotic dorm check-in, and I had to at least appear put-together for class throughout the day. In retrospect I find it hard to believe how much I stressed over crew and chemistry. The grind is over, and it’ll be over for just under two more months. Spring was beautiful, in the two or three weeks it was a thing, and I love seeing the campus so green.

I had a weekend at home before heading to the airport, which brings us to…

Chapter 2: Tanzania (This is long, but there’s a baby elephant at the end, so…)

On a typical weekday, we left the lodge around 9:00 in our cramped school “bus” (an ancient van with windows that only sometimes slid open, and two kids had to sit on top of our bags because there weren’t enough seats). The roads are hardly roads, more like paths, so it was always a bumpy ride up to Orkeeswa Secondary School (check ’em out at www.ieftz.org). It’s currently the dry season in Tanzania, but we did get enough rain one day for a terrifyingly muddy bus ride down the mountain. I was convinced we were going straight into trees multiple times, but our driver pulled through. The 25-30 minute drive was absolutely beautiful, with the plains stretching out on one side and mountains brushing the clouds on the other.

After shaking hands with all the Orkeeswa kids upon our arrival, we’d get into groups for Swahili exchange. I was with the same eighth grade girl the whole time, and she taught me all sorts of useful words and phrases. Tembo means elephant, punda means donkey, and in case you were wondering, kuna mayai kwenye dishi? translates to “is there egg in this dish?” Very useful.

Next we’d break for very sugary tea and white bread before getting to work, Groton, St. Mark’s, and Orkeeswa all together. Our service project this year was leveling out the small soccer pitch (I love saying that). We set up what we called the Bucket Brigade, a massive assembly line in which we passed buckets full of dirt across the field, poured them, and tossed them back empty. A handful of teachers and kids were taking pickaxes to the ground; they were the ones really working hard. The rest of us were helpful but not quite cracking a sweat. And speaking of sweat, it got really hot from around 11:30 to 5:00. Outside that window, it was super chilly.

Around 1:00 we ate rice and beans! Most of the group was incredibly sick of rice and beans by the second week, but I don’t mind eating the same thing day after day, so I was fine.

We spent the afternoons in different workshops. I did math games one day and beading another, things like that. The point of the trip was to get to know the Orkeeswa students, and though she was only there for one week, I fell in love with a seventh grader named Doreen, who sort of reminds me of a really cute duck. She was overenthusiastic in teaching me Swahili and quizzing me afterwards, and she’s incredibly kind and smiley and wonderful. These kids walk 90+ minutes to and from school every day, but it’s worth it because other schools don’t have books, or windows in good repair, or a strong community. We visited during their vacation, and they trekked all the way up to school to get to know us. 

The market was in town on Sundays and Thursdays. I got a few khangas, big pieces of cloth used as skirts, and I’m going to hang them up in my dorm. (This trip seriously helped my dorm decs.) I also bought a couple maxi skirts after discovering what the fuss is all about. Each cost about $7, and the local kids told us we were ripped off.

We weren’t really tourists, but we did spend one day on safari with Orkeeswa eighth graders, most of whom had never been. It was awesome. I got insane pictures of elephants and zebras, and there were some lions lyin’ by a watering hole, and impalas all over. The park itself was stunning.

We had a two-night homestay, and I was super lucky to stay with a mama who’s very into cooking. I did go not hungry. Fried cassava (which is apparently the same thing as yuca), mchuzi (a potato stew), japati (a tortilla-type thing). It was great. We cooked; we cleaned; we ate; we went to the forest for firewood; we slept early.

I learned a few things outside of what the trip leaders may have planned. For one thing, I felt so much better about myself without seeing my reflection in a full-length mirror every morning. And I thought I had a decent understanding of privilege, but a few completely clueless phrases slipped out of my mouth, reminding me to think before I speak. There were a couple days when I felt like a babbling idiot. 

Orkeeswa:

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Me and Doreen:

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The view from Orkeeswa:

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And a couple of my favorite safari pictures:

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Chapter 3: Now

I had a weekend at home before coming back to Groton for the Epiphany School summer program. I’m tutoring middle schoolers in math and teaching them how to make friendship bracelets, stuff like that. It’s been super fun, and it’s cool to be at school taking care of kids vs. being taken care of.

I’m thrilled to be here, and I’m excited for the rest of summer ’16: lots of reading, sleeping early, and biking.

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