We all had something—my colleagues and I, that is. For me it was cloths, particularly khanga and vitenge, but eventually the beautifully printed Maasai cloths and a brief stint as a shadowbox-phile. For one of my other teammates it was scarves. For another Maasai knives of all shapes and sizes. Henna art for one, and Hakuna Matata t-shirts for another. We were willing to pay almost any price for these cultural trinkets that had caught our fancy. We understood the obsession that drove one another, though we could not understand the objects that the others longed for. Why buy a scarf when you could buy a cloth to make a dress out of? Or why buy a shirt when you could impress your friends with concealed weaponry?
Novelty. It’s all about the novelty. There’s still some novelty in visiting other countries, particularly ones in Africa. No matter how hard we try, it seems like a vacation. I suppose anytime you know you’ll be going home, it can’t seem like more than that. Even though we did a lot of work, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “But we’re going home.”
This summer was a test run. Last summer (10 weeks in rural Costa Rica) was hard, and that was kind of discouraging. I’ve always known I wanted to have a job that was health related and that was also international. I’ve always had dreams of traveling the world and learning languages and immersing myself in cultures, and I wanted to see just how real that dream was. Could I actually do the things I think I’ve always wanted to do? When the APHFTA opportunity sort of fell into my lap, it seemed like the perfect way to try again: summer abroad, working for an NGO, and it was health related and in Africa. Maybe it was meant to be.
Yes, there is novelty in Africa. But that doesn’t matter. I know that it is a continent on which I ought to spend more time. And I know that I will. For the first time, I finally feel like I have the ability to actually take ownership of my heritage. Yes, I could vacation in Africa, absolutely. But I now know that I could live there. I understand so much more about living abroad, I think. More about myself and what I want and what I can do.
I left Tanzania. Last Friday, actually. I’ve moved on to my next adventure in the land of tea and crumpets (England). We’ll see what happens from here.