Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Everything's Comin' Up...

While things have been going very well this summer, there is a lot that goes unposted, as I’m sure you know. To say that everything is perfect with this internship and my experience in Tanzania thus far, or that there are no frustrations would be to gloss over quite a few of the things that have happened while we have been here.

For instance, the lack of political correctness is often incredibly irritating. Why people think that someone walking down the street has to have their (assumed) ethnicity yelled at them is beyond me. We don’t need people to speak seemingly Asian-sounding gibberish at our friends, and neither do we need them to touch or pull our hair or touch our skin. Of course, I think we can take the PC a little overboard in America, but I think that our struggle to be as correct and tolerant as possible perhaps makes our skin softer than it needs to be. While I am welcomed with open arms, even receiving special deals from taxis and markets for the color of my skin, I still feel anger and frustration on behalf of my teammates. To be constantly pointed out as being different is never fun.

We’ve taken to denouncing our American ties in whatever way we can. While we do have two international students in our team, the other three of us claim roots only from our parent’s countries. For the purposes of avoiding being cheated, I am from Cameroon; one of my teammates is from Sri Lanka, and the other Vietnam. It’s much more practical to live this way. While most people can’t comprehend Asian countries other than India, China, or Japan, I am welcomed with open arms as a fellow African. People often look to me to act as translator when the language barrier between them and my colleagues rises too high. Unfortunately, I usually can’t communicate much better than they can.

Even though most of our trainees speak English, we still find that sometimes the language barrier proves to be a challenge. Even more so than that, however, is the technology barrier. Many of the people we train have never used a computer before. While it is incredibly awesome to get to see someone going from absolutely nothing to something, and to get be involved in that journey, it’s can also be a pretty bumpy one. It’s so easy to take for granted the intricacies of electronics. While I find scrolling to be an entirely intuitive action, many of our trainees struggle with this aspect of using a computer the most. My patience is tested every time I have to explain that the up arrow is used to move the page up, that a drop down menu uses a different scroll bar than the main page, or the 15th time I have to remind a trainee the difference between the scrollbar and the up-down arrows. And each time my patience is tested it reinforces my sense of gratitude that I do have the privilege of knowing these things.

And latrine toilets. In particular, they type that don't flush. Nope. All of them.

I don’t think this will be like my experience last year in whichi always recount the bad things before mentioning any of the good ones, but it has certainly had its tough moments.  I’ve grown to prefer long skirts to pants, and while I didn’t feel comfortable enough to go swimming in Zanzibar, it provided some great conversation time along the beach. While wali nyama does get repetitive day after day, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the accompanying mangos, bananas, pineapple, soursop, mangosteen, rambutan—the list goes on. I’m not itching to be home as I thought I would be by the time I reached the 4-week mark. I’m very content. Of course we’re not occupied every moment of every day, or even the majority of everyday, sometimes. We never have Internet access on par with what we’re used to in the states, if we have it at all. But I appreciate the sun and screams of children and just having time to stop and smell the hibiscus. 

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