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Overseas and Off-Campus Programs Blog

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

  • Hike
    Hike
Author Name
Shoshana Rybeck
Author Program
East Africa
Program Semester and Year
Fall 2018

Mambo from Mambo View! We are high up in the gorgeous Usambara mountains more than a 10 hour drive east from our last location, Maji ya Chai. This week was a mix of homestays in nearby villages and classes at the Mambo View Lodge which rests on a cliff overlooking mountains, villages, farms, and even clouds.

This week has been a world-wind. From classes that evoked concepts that dug deeper than anything we confronted thus far, to our first homestays with welcoming families in the village, to feeling the physical ailments of traveling. All of these experiences have impacted us each in complex and different ways, so as you can imagine I cannot fully express what this week had brought for me, none the less speak for all of us on the trip. Instead, I would like to share a little about what this week has brought up for me, what the photos, videos, and overviews will not show. So, before you embark on this fairly long post feel free to close this page and reach out to your own friend/family member on this trip and ask them if they would like to share their thoughts they had this week.

Our first full day here we got to explore the forests on the mountain. Our guides took us through the man-made forests that hold the history of German colonization as well as the stunning natural growth forests that housed local medicinal plants, monkeys, streams, and waterfalls. This was the perfect introduction to the region’s topography and history and was followed by classes on Arab influence in the region and German colonization of East Africa.

Confronting colonialism and neocolonialism was no emotional cake walk. Following one of our dear teachers, Kailey’s, lecture on the atrocities of the Arab slave trade, one of our other amazing guides/teachers, Maggie, shared incredibly heartbreaking stories. She opened up to us about present day instances of sexual exploitation and slavery she has witnessed. Stories that really put the issues we were discussing in perspective, reminding us that colonialism is not over, as we are often taught. Digesting the atrocities committed in this region by foreigners, as a foreigner, has been difficult and undoubtedly a process that will continue for years and years.

I feel that the “honeymoon phase” of our trip is almost over. It has sunk in that we are not vacationing, but traveling and learning. I, as well as many others, have had a taste of illness, but also got to experience the love and support of such a wonderful group. We have had incredible, yet exhausting mornings and evenings spent at homestays, full days of classes, gardened and made soap with the women of the village, and reflected in ways we never had before. All of us becoming more raw in the best ways possible. Time and time again the events of this week have reminded me of the most basic question, why am I here? I did not think about much until we arrived in Tanzania or maybe even until we truly interacted with Tanzania.

I expect my answer to evolve as the trip does, but no matter the answer, simply asking myself the question makes every moment more meaningful. At the surface I am here to fully understand another part of the world, or at least to the fullest extent I can in 3.5 months. But, as our fantastic leader, Elizabeth, has prompted our “inner 3 year old” to ask, why would I want to do that?

When I was sitting the small kitchen at my homestay home filled with smoke and 14 other people, family members, visitors, and other mamas in the village, answering this knaggy inner three year old made the moment so much more powerful than a photo or video could show. I wanted to understand what life means and looks like for the family I was staying as a young adult creeping towards independence, I want to live a life full of warmth, uplifting practices, and conscience actions, not simply the way I was raised to by the societies I grew up in.

Yes, I want to keep much of the culture I grew up in as I go on in life, my family’s dedication to kindness, my friends’ commitment for caring for one another, my school’s awareness of social justice issues, but I also want to make an effort to leave the unhelpful actions I have decided to or been conditioned to practice in the circles I grew up in at the door.

The days truly run on Tanzanian time in the village, leaving space for connection and compassion. There are few walls here between families, togetherness, Ujamaa, is still a central aspect of Tanzanian communities. I think it is something that would bring a lot to my life, creating space in moments I am attuned to fill with action, ambition, craving, or planning. When I move back to the states in a few month I hope I can bring openness into the places I was taught to close into myself, sitting with uncomfort and using those moments to connect with myself and those around me. Seeing and experiencing what an uplifting and vibrant life looks life for others with different challenges, histories, norms, and social structures than I opens my eyes and mind to what life can be.

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