And finally, a little perspective

While making lunch today, I decided it was well past time to eat the watermelon I bought ages ago, and began to slice it up for salad. It really has been ages, in watermelon years. At least two weeks, maybe more. So predictably, it was a little grainy.

I took a taste. Not crisp. Not perfect. “Ugh,” was my first thought. “Waited too long. This has got to go.”

Wait. What? Before dumping the whole thing into the green bin, I stopped for a second to consider. I ate watermelons in worse condition than that while in Tanzania and was grateful for the fresh fruit. (Hell, I picket weevils out of my bread before putting it in the toaster, and never thought twice about it.) What was suddenly so wrong with it? Nothing – except my knowledge that there were plenty of fresher, tastier watermelons at any of the four supermarkets within a five-minute drive of my house.

the watermelon as a metaphor for my life

There is nothing wrong with this watermelon. Just like there is nothing wrong with me. This is as close as I get to writing in metaphors. (If you want poetry you've got the wrong blog.)

And in that instance, it occurred to me that I have now fully adjusted to being home.

Now really, in the scheme of things, I was not away that long. The adjustment should not have taken four weeks. But within my five days to “rest and relax” when I arrived, there were two people moving into and one person moving out of my home. And I was dealing with a jet lag from the seven-hour time difference. Then I was back to work, and among my usual job description, planning to host a national committee for a series of meetings, as well as a focus-group (of sorts) for my Masters research.

So I was busy. I was not reflecting*. I was completely incapable of intelligently answering any questions about the trip. I could spit out an “It was incredible” or an “I’m so glad I took the time to do that” when prompted, but all those probing questions: was it what you expected? what id you learn? what was the best/worst part? I was useless.

Until now. The meetings are over. The focus group a success. I am extremely pleased with my new house-mate and our living arrangements. I am no longer falling into bed at night utterly exhausted. I am able to think, to consider, to analyze.

What did I learn on my trip? A lot. Too much to cover in one blog post. But in summary, I learned what I can do. I overcame my fear of heights and my claustrophobia – even if only temporarily. I rediscovered my independence, suddenly living in a place where neither my husband nor my big sister were there to pick up after me.

Most of all, I regained a confidence in myself I hadn’t ever realized I had lost. Because I didn’t get sick. Not even a little. Everyone gets sick in Africa, at least once. Even the most well-travelled and hearty of my friends told me it was unavoidable. As someone with a rather traumatic health history**, and serious vulnerability to any of various stomach bugs I had been warned about, this was a fear that had paralyzed me for years. I wasn’t entirely convinced I had a right to take this risk. I dreaded the moment I would call my Dad, delirious, dehydrated, and desperate to get home. I really thought my body was going to defeat me on this one. But it did not. Not even when I ate the soft watermelon.

So what did I learn in Africa? Enough of the worrying. Stop wasting time and energy on things you can’t control that aren’t really problems anyway. Stop wasting food! Eat your damn watermelon. It’s good for you.

*As an Adult Education & Community Development Masters candidate, I read a lot about the importance of reflection. For the first 3.5 years of my program, I dismissed it as touchy-feely bullshit. I have recently discovered it is actually quite helpful.
**For the record – I am perfectly healthy. I have Crohn’s disease. I hasn’t bothered me in more than five years. But for a number of years it was… not good.

A mzungu acclimatizes

A strange thing happened the other day. We made a trip into Dar es Salaam to drop off Laura and Mari, who were returning to Finland (via Scotland) after five weeks of volunteering.

Traffic and a poorly timed flat tire made the one hour trip into a two-hour one, and anytime someone from the school goes to Dar, there are eight to twenty errands to run, so we were not making anything close to good time. Maristella, the headmistress was with us, so we were a vanload of six wazungu (foreigners/white people – mzungu is the singular) and one local, which always attracts attention.

Our list of things to do included buying phone credit, topping up our mobile internet account, picking up milk and a few other bits at the supermarket, taking Laura and Mari to their friend’s place, and the primary reason Maristella, Rachel, Gemma and I were there: a visit to the tailor.* On top of this was the time needed to change the tire, and an unplanned visit to two former teachers.

On the walk back from church, this truck stopped specifically to ask if the mzungo wanted a ride, ignoring all the locals, including my companions.

Welcome to Africa, where a trip is never from point A to B, but more like A to G or K, with all stops in between.

But back to my original point – the funny thing I noticed, or perhaps did not notice – Tanzania no longer seems so foreign. I After 20 days in the country, I have stopped mentally comparing everything I see to its equivalent at home. I am no longer gaping out the window at the passing scenery, marvelling at the strange architecture or run down shops. I still have a long way to go with learning the language, and visually I will always stand out. But my brain has reset its sense of normal, and this is it. Strange, and I like it.

After a few visits, the pub which once seemed a little sketchy, now is simply the pub.

I can only imagine that when I get home, my first hot shower, or glass of water from the tap will blow my mind.
Copying an idea from Laura, Mari and Marie (yes confusing, but one is pronounced with a German accent, the other a Finnish one – see the difference?) we have bought material at a local shop and are having skirts and dresses made by Maristella’s tailor. We want that African flavour, but there style here is much more bold and colourful than at home, so we are also trying to be careful to choose fabrics and patterns that we will wear back in Canada/England. I pick up my dress on Wednesday.