It’s been a week since I left New York City and I’m finally starting to master some kiswahili greetings. During my first week, I’ve learned that Tanzania is really a country of greetings – people really take the time to say hello. The hurried American “hello-how are you” seems superficial in comparison. The hellos here are necessary but also an investment in the other person’s state – people hold hands, make eye contact and actually take a moment – it’s an extension of the warmth and kinship that is so characteristic to Tanzanian culture. Ever since I got on the small 20-person airplane from Nairobi, Kenya to Moshi, Tanzania, I’ve been hearing the word karibu (welcome) non-stop. Tanzanians are renowned for their hospitability and it’s really evident in almost every single interaction – from the courteousness of their Swahili to referring to elders as Mama and Baba. One of the professors at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College, where I’m taking classes, said something funny on the first day of class – “Swahili was born in the Congo, raised in Tanzania, got sick in Kenya and died in Uganda.” Apparently, a person’s nationality can be identified from their Swahili- with Tanzanians being the most courteous and polite. Though, to be fair, I’ve yet to hear the Kenyan or Ugandan perspective on this.
Though it’s been a long week of overcoming jetlag, squatty potties and accidentally kicking off my mosquito net, I can truly say that I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to live in Moshi for the next two months. I flew from JFK to Johannesburg and then to Nairobi, Kenya, where I had a seven hour layover. The airport in Nairobi was drastically smaller – with no air conditioning and a host of small duty free stores so I spent most of my time unintentionally eavesdropping on the surprisingly large number of Indian travelers who circulated through the seats around me. I finally reached Kilimanjaro Airport at around midnight and was off to a nearby hotel where a lizard on the bathroom floor welcomed me to Tanzania. The next day was well spent getting lost in downtown Moshi and meeting our host families. I’m living with Baba, Mama, their grand-daughter Jackie and Loveness – a house helper who Mama and Baba have pretty much adopted.
Moshi is a Tanzanian municipality located at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro– a dormant volcano which is also the highest peak in Africa. It’s been cloudy the entire week but I finally got my first view of the mountain today – it’s incredibly beautiful and almost shocking when you suddenly see it standing just there in the distance. You can’t help but gasp as if you’re witnessing a miraculous and lewd display of the awesomeness that is nature. I’m really enjoying the course I’m taking at KCMC. It’s fast paced but the students at KCMC are incredibly friendly. They showed us around the hospital, take us out to lunch and tell us how much we really should be paying for a mango from a street vendor.
There’s nothing as exhausting as getting acclimated to a new country. All five senses have been on alert for every waking hour. Though it’s only 10:30, I’ve been up since 6:00 and starting to doze off on my laptop.