It has been way too long since I sat down to write. I originally thought it would be easy to make time to record my adventures, but reality has proven otherwise. It seems that every day I stay on the go to the point of exhaustion. The nonstop action paired with the new environment, language barriers, and differences in cultural norms has finally gotten to me. In an attempt to process my thoughts and write this, I have isolated myself in a hotel room for the weekend.
This week was the last week of kiSwahili classes. Time passed so quickly but not without major improvements in my language skills. Each day local people are very amused by me and my classmates ability to speak kiSwahili. Tanzania sees many white tourists that know very little, if any, kiSwahili. Thus knowing the language separates us from the typical ‘mzungu wegeni’ (white visitor). People are appreciative of our effort to learn the local language as well as being very forgiving of our frequent speaking errors.
My internship at an orphanage will begin this Monday. Last week, I visited the facility to meet with the director. The duties of my position are very open-ended. The only specific task which has been requested of me is to teach English. I am not yet clear on the structure of this since the facility houses children of varying ages and language skills attending 3 different schools. I was scheduled to observe at the facility’s on-site school, but when I arrived I was informed that school had been cancelled for the day due to the teacher not being present. Unfortunately, most of the staff does not speak English so gaining a clear understanding of everything has been challenging. There is one male employee that speaks decent English so he will surely prove to be blessing. I admit I am nervous about starting. Training for a new job can be difficult in itself but operating with extremely limited resources and immense language barriers adds to the adventure.
Last weekend our group visited the island of Zanzibar. Each year the island hosts an international film festival. A classmate and I attended the opening day ceremony where several local and international artists performed. The most memorable moment for me was getting to meet ‘Mama C’. Charlotte O’Neil, fondly called Mama C, is a social revolutionary and Black Panther from the US. She and her husband fled the US over thirty years ago and have been living in Arusha, Tanzania since. One of the films presented at the festival was her life story.
Upon returning to the mainland from Zanzibar, I was pick-pocketed. I was carrying a small bag that held my passport, camera, and phone and lip balm. Somewhere between the bus station down-town and my house the bag went missing. Thefts are common and being white labels me as being rich so I am more likely to be targeted. I was not hurt and nothing irreplaceable was taken so there is no need in stressing out about it. I’ve had things stolen numerous times in the US, so I should not overreact to a theft abroad. Theft is just one of many products of poverty.
Corruption is also product of poverty. While entering Zanzibar, 3 of my classmates were held by immigration and told their visa were incorrect and forced them to pay to correct the visas. When I noticed the girls were in the immigration office I went to question the officers. All 6 people in our group have the same visa but only the 3 young girls were stopped. The officers failed to explain why they granted entry to me and the 2 male students but not all of us. After an hour of heated discussion, the 3 girls agreed to pay the money. I was prepared to call the US Embassy and fight it further but doing so would have cost the entire group a weekend of fun.
Another incident of corruption occurred when I went to the police station to report my stolen items. While sitting at a desk with the officer documenting the case, I was asked for money. The female officer stated she was writing the case number down for me. Instead, the paper she handed me read, “Can you give me some money?” Realizing that she wrote the request to prevent the nearby officer of hearing, I replied aloud asking “Why?” She starred at me with an awkward smirk before answering, “a coke”. Again, we starred at each other for several seconds. After a moment she chuckled to herself and turned away. Had I been the offender of a crime I would have expected an officer to offer me a bribe. But here, I was the victim, innocent, and had nothing to gain or lose by refusing to pay her.
I am now halfway through my summer program. I look forward to seeing what occurs within the next month. J