Finally Reaching the Great, Wide Somewhere

As I’m writing, I’m curled up on the bed I share with Pamela at Tori’s house with my third cup of tea today, giddy for a few moments to myself to finally start writing some of my initial thoughts that I’ve barely begun to process. After devotions and chores this morning (scrubbing tarps to cover the trailer), I spent close to 5 hours taking inventory/making an excel sheet of all the medical supplies that we’re bringing to the bush. I’m no pharmacist, and after this I can assure you that it’s not a life calling of mine. I did become desensitized to seeing phrases like “malaria preventative,” and “tapeworms and hookworms”.

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Just feel free to keep praying for our health and safety.

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With so much to share and pictures being a dim reflection at best, you’ll have to bear with me.

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We arrived in Dar Es Salaam safely on Sunday, November 25th. Dar is the largest city in Tanzania, and it’s pretty impressive as far as African standards go: several movie theaters, fast food similar to McDonalds or Burger King’s called ‘Sally Brown’s’ and even aircon shopping malls with Apple stores inside. It’s the most bizarre juxtaposition in the world… one moment you’re standing in aircon, and except for seeing women occasionally in kitembe wraps, you could easily be in Singapore. . .or America for that matter.

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The next moment, you jump in the truck with Tori, drive a kilometer and suddenly and find yourself watching barefoot children dart to and fro in packed traffic, chickens gracing the side of the road with their presence and shanty dukas (stores) slouch in the background with chipped paint and worn signs. Dar was fascinating to me, especially because it was my first impression of Africa, but I definitely like Kigoma much more, proving once again that I’m no city girl, even when it’s a third world one.

If there’s one thing I can say about Africa it’s that aesthetically everything is just like you imagined it would be. After driving cross country, I’ve seen so much I never even thought could be real, and not all at once.

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Arid, chapped desert plains with little to no shrubbery to lush rain forests to mountains and hills, all featuring this red, earthy dirt that makes me think of the woods at the inbetween world in the Magician’s Nephew. We passed village after village, each boasting the traditional mud and stick huts, dirty, half-naked babies enthusiastically running after the truck shrilly piping, “Mzungu! Mzungu! Mzungu!” (meaning white person, which has become my name here) and dozens upon dozens of herds of livestock. Mbuzi (goats) and ng’yombe (cows) herded by young boys with sticks are the most common, but midway through in central Tanzania I noticed quite a few punda (donkeys) as well. Bizarrely thin kuku (chickens) flailing to and fro barely escaped the wheels of our tires, but made it across the road every time. . .except once (RIP little guy). Most remarkable of all, everyone in the village somehow knows whose goats/chickens/cows are whose and won’t touch livestock that doesn’t belong to them, even though the animals freely trapse wherever they feel like it.

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Weather here is just as bipolar as can be, raining one minute and sunny the next or both at once. Would you believe it though, the weather is a lovely 75 degrees with a breeze–at least here in Kigoma where we’re graced with Lake Tanganyika, which is the deepest lake in the world at a solid mile deep and 700 miles long. There’s no aircon here, but it doesn’t even matter. Although the midday heat is a bit uncomfortable, it passes quickly and it’s perfect again. The desert is different, be assured, but Kigoma is paradise to me.

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I can’t quite explain the all-encompassing scent that constantly finds it’s way into my nose, but it’s close to a homey marriage between bonfires and fried food from the fairgrounds. It’s everywhere, and it’s already grown on me. Food is fried, oily and salty. Between eating Tandoori and naan in Dar, and being spoiled by Tori’s mom with extravagant, American breakfasts and dinners, we haven’t had too much traditional African food, but enough to get an idea:

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(Street vendor meal for 65 cents USD: smoked fish, peas in sauce and rice)

Breakfast for Tanzanians consists of chicken soup, chapattis (like taco wraps, but thicker), rice cakes (literal cakes made of rice) or mandazi (fried bread). Chai (tea) is also served and it’s the sweetest, most delicious tea I’ve ever gotten to enjoy.

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All the other meals are mix and match: chicken, fish and beef are your choice of meats and they’re served with either wali (rice), ndizi (bananas) or chips (fries).

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We also had some delicious chips mayai today, which I referenced in an earlier post. Surprisingly, I like the food quite well, although I do foresee it getting a bit boring over a year. We have a water filter at Tori’s house AND a fridge, so we get cold, fresh water whenever we want, but when we’re out it’s soda, soda, soda (safer than water). I’ve enjoyed reliving sophmore year of high school, drinking orange Fanta like it’s going out of style and the fact that they all come in glass bottles makes me feel like I’m in ‘Never Been Kissed’ and this is my chance to be cooler than I was at fifteen (not a difficult task).

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Last but not least, the people. Oh, how I am loving just watching everyone here. Women are a strong as men, doing most of the work to sustain their families: washing, cleaning, cooking, gardening. It’s impossible to imagine how, but they carry up to 50 lbs or more on their heads without even using their hands to steady the load.

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The best part is when they have a chubby baby face peeking over the wrap on their backs, while simultaneously balancing all their belongings and using their hands to gesture and examine fruits in the market. I have never seen such strong women in all my life. Men typically can be seen, in villages or towns, either doing business of some kind, but more likely than not, just standing around in groups of six to twelve visiting and shooting the breeze. Tori says unemployment is up for them, so the women at home use the resources they already have to take care of the families and the men spend what money they have on drink. Babies (my name for children infant age to twelve) are everywhere.

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babies!

Africans pride themselves on large families and most have a minimum of seven children. They roam in packs of all ages (I honestly saw 10 four-year-olds sitting alone on the side of the road on our drive here) and can be disciplined by anyone at any time. They seem hungry for affection and attention directed solely at them from one particular mommy figure, but that could be my American interpretation of the situation. Children are raised by entire villages here seemingly, as opposed to their mothers pouring all of themselves into their children, atleast as far as their emotional growth goes. No one could accuse these incredible women of doing anything less than spending their entire lives to provide for their babies. It’s pretty common to see older siblings taking care of younger ones, whether they’re 12 with an infant tied on their backs just like they’ve seen their mothers do, or they’re 6 years old with a three year old in tow.

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They are curious, full of life and just laugh and laugh when I attempt even the most simple “Mambo?” (common greeting for children meaning what’s up?), but still respond shyly with the customary “Poa” (it’s all cool). I’m naturally just seizing with excitement the entire time, and the kids are very inquisitive about seeing a white person up close, so everyone wins during these interactions.

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(Keep in mind, these are all my young, I’ve-barely-ever-left-America, first impressions, so not all Tanzanians are like this, but these are some basic generalities that are safe assumptions more often than not.)

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As far as how I’m doing here, Africa has been good to me. I’ve finally gotten some meat on my bones (I gained 5 lbs back once training ended), the color has returned to my cheeks from being outside in the sun and I’m generally just stronger because I’m doing things all day besides sitting still in a classroom. I have a terrific sense of awe at this opportunity, marked with just as much awareness of the reality that it will not always be like this: there are tough days ahead. I’m encouraging myself that God is who He is and is able to be close with me, regardless of my location, my circumstance or the state of my digestive tract. Easy to say now on this side of things, so feel free to keep on praying for me.

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Some of the local missionaries also run a private beach here at Lake Tanganyika and I never in my entire life thought that I’d ever be able to take in something so beautiful with all my sense this side of heaven. I was made for open spaces, clear waters and liquid gold poured down from on high. . .this girl will never, ever belong in an office, a city or business casual–the passionate declaration of a barely twenty-something. Let me loose, let me free to be wild and climb and tear the tender skin off my palms as I propel myself to the top of rock formations to see the wide world on the other side. We’re made of such stuff. I am made of it and I forget it often.

We spent our first real day off in months snorkeling, swimming, climbing and laying out at this beach, while my spirit just soared. I’ve missed the sun, I’ve missed the beach and this one is even more amazing because I could open my eyes underwater without being stung by salt! Midday a storm rolled in, passing us by, but still getting close enough that we could feel it’s effects. I climbed a huge pile of rocks to wait it out.

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Sure enough, it disintegrated just in time for us to trek about half a kilometer away from the beach into the woods to Whitetip rock, where I went cliff jumping for the first time.

I have a fear of heights. 30 feet doesn’t sound like much, but when you get there and feel the wind swirling around your ankles and you look down realizing you have to launch yourself out a few feet, the height triples, I promise you. It took me a good 20 minutes to actual do it; the first several attempts to stand before I jumped ended with my legs shaking so badly I couldn’t extend them to stand up. I was the second of our merry band to jump though, excluding Tori and his brother Eirik who are used to making this jump, and the rush was insane. It was golden hour, the water was crystal clear and we stayed until each and every one of us lept out (including Pam and Gabe who couldn’t even swim!), and I scrambled up the rocks and lept a second time. Second time was easier, but the fear wasn’t gone. I feel like there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

——–

Everything has gone extremely well and according to plan (I keep telling everyone I have God’s favor, so that’s why this whole process of traveling, acquiring supplies, etc. has moved along so nicely), with the exception of our week-long hike to the bush being postponed until next week. We’ll be returning just a few days before Christmas and I will be, I expect, more grateful than ever for the comfort of family, good food and small gifts even an ocean away from my family. I was thinking about it though, and I’m actually just one ocean away now instead of the previous distance of two oceans and a continent while I was in Singapore. See, Mom? It isn’t so bad as it was.

From what I’ve learned about myself the past few months, my culture shock doesn’t actually register until about a month after being in a new environment. Perpetually curious and insatiably desirous for unknown people and lands, I thrive in a new environment for a time. I swear my body runs on pure adrenaline as I dance to and fro and attack situations with vigor as my mind struggles to process at the same speed in racing. I’m trained to live a semester-life; three to four months in one place, with the same people, guaranteed stability of routine and friendships at least for time. I’m a seasonal creature, expectantly gazing at the next adventure before I’ve even finished the one I’m in. It’s as though I’m forever straddling a chasm over the Grand Canyon. The rush is unparalleled, wind at my back and underneath me and sunlight dancing over my hair. I’m exuberant and excitable and ecstatic…until the reality hits that I’m still the same person I was wherever I was before. . .immobilized between the past and the present because I’ve romanticized the idea and not the reality of living.

Most people who know me with any degree of intimacy know my crippling phobia of committing to anything at all. I don’t like the actuality of vulnerability or being tied down in one place or being accountable to someone else. I hate leaving, but I’m more afraid of staying and being seen through my semester-life; people might find out I’m not so self-less, not so brave and not so fun when the chips are down. Such is human nature. My psyche is no mystery, but I like to pretend I’m some sort of anomaly, along with my entire aimlessly-cruising generation. This is being human, guys. I hate to pull the ‘you-aren’t-a-special-and-unique-snowflake’, Tyler Durden routine, but I think if I remembered I’m not the only one who hasn’t arrived at the fullness of who I am in Christ, instead of endlessly asserting that ‘No one will ever understand what it’s like to be like me’, I’d have a lot more rest at the core of who I am.

I’m glad to be committed to something for a change.
I’m glad to have to see something through to it’s end,
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health…

And for all intents and purposes, I’m now married to this land, my team, our purpose for the next year forsaking all others. By the grace of God (which is new each day, praise Him), a bit of courage and faithfulness has stirred in this selfish heart of mine and I’ve propelled myself across the chasm into the present, feet firmly planted on the ground.

For now.

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I bought this kitabu kwa watoto (children’s book) at the market for 7,000/= ($4.30) a few days after arriving in Kigoma after Gabe pointed it out to me.

“What is your twitter name mean again?”
“Alizeti means sunflower in Swahili. Why?”
“Cause it’s over here on a kids book.”

I bought it almost immediately because it just made me smile at how God brings things full circle when we don’t even realize He’s at work. It’s been a time and a half since I looked up the Swahili word for sunflower (my favorite flower on earth) out of curiosity and then ended up using it in an effort to have a somewhat unique name for my tumblr account. I’ve liked sunflowers for a while now, but not half as long as I’ve been wanting to go to Africa. I never imagined that just over a year later I would actually be in Africa, standing with my Eliza Thornberry hiking boots in the rich, red soil, listening to women call their children back to their stalls at the market and smelling that eternal, ubiquitous bonfire smell that permeates the air here.

Yet, there I stood, with a little piece of the promise that I didn’t realize God had put in my heart many months before.

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Just one more reminder to keep my eyes open.

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One thought on “Finally Reaching the Great, Wide Somewhere

  1. I’ve decided to just read one of these a day. I want to make sure I don’t miss any detail… And hopefully there’s room for some things in your life to last longer than just a “semester.”

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