If you know me, you know that I always have something to say. I’m an extrovert, an external processor. I am never shy to share my opinions and again I have a lot of them. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, but it is also the part of myself that I love most. I don’t shy away from any conversation and with every experience I have a strong desire to understand and be understood.
In 2018 I spent six months traveling through Africa and Asia and I turned into an avid blogger. Experiencing so many new cultures and landscapes heightened my thirst for reflection and understanding; I wanted to curate my memories and how I interpreted them in writing, for my own consumption and for my friends and family.
But here I am, over two weeks into my time in Tanzania, and I am at a loss. I don’t know what to write.
So far I feel comfortable. Part of it is certainly because my partner Emma and I have been staying in nice hotels and Airbnbs, eating restaurant food for almost every meal, and we are shuttled around in private cars. Even the weather has been a moderate 75 degrees most days. On our journey from Singida to Dodoma (our current home base) I spent the drive observing the people and infrastructure of the villages en route to our destination, pondering what to blog about. It wasn’t until I tried to summarize my thoughts and extract some greater meaning that I got really frustrated by the whole situation. The window glass felt like much more than a physical barrier. It was like I was just watching a movie of Tanzania, I couldn’t touch it. This approach to travel was different from what I grew used to in the past and seemed to hold me back from everything.
This was the first time that I have felt like I was in a funk here. I forced myself to really probe at this feeling. I questioned every experience that lead me here. At this point I have traveled to more developing countries than developed countries. I thought maybe I am just used to witnessing cultural norms so different from my own or even the poverty that is so visible in Tanzania.
In just this short time Emma and I have found ourselves in situations that most Americans never will. We had an unexpected overnight visit with some Catholic nuns, attended an entrepreneurship summit and interviewed almost 30 of the most successful Solar Sister Entrepreneurs, we have gone into the field with Business Development Associates to observe training and recruitment, and have even been able to visit some of the most beautiful national parks in the world. Currently we are road tripping through the country with our translator Lumba and our driver Vitalis. It feels like a family trip, the four of us do pretty much everything together.
I eventually came to the realization that it’s not that I haven’t been connecting with local people or become jaded to the poverty. And I know that I am incredibly appreciative of this opportunity as well as the memories that I have in so many other countries. Rather with each new experience the world gets so much smaller. The differences between Africa, Asia, and the Western world feel less and less significant. Sure, globalization definitely contributes to this, but regardless we are so similar. We love and hurt in the same ways; we crave belonging, adventure, and stability and we fear being belittled, abused, and ignored. We all want to be viewed a complicated and important. We are all afraid of dying. As I have come to understand these truths more, I have also developed a greater confidence working, speaking, and being with people from backgrounds different from my own.
I came to Tanzania expecting so many moments to be met with discomfort and confusion. The ideas that Americans promote about “Africa” have certainly influenced how I imagined my role here. My entire life I have been exposed to images of Africans as being poor, helpless, and unsophisticated. The history of imperialism and development that has lead us to these ideas is not something I can get into in this post, but regardless these ideas are just untrue.
Fatma, the country manager of Solar Sister Tanzania and the mastermind behind the whole operation is one of the most busy, hardworking, and detail oriented people that I have met. The Solar Sister Entrepreneurs have some extremely innovative ideas and a perseverance that I see rarely in the US. Our translator Lumba is incredibly articulate and has the best sense of humor. I have learned time and time again that the single story of the over one billion people living in Africa’s 54 countries is so, so misguided. Learning from these amazing people hasn’t pushed me outside of my comfort zone, because they are so real to me, they make so much sense to me. With each day here I watch the world become more complicated but so simplified all at once. And I have such a view.