Sitting here, still in Canada, I know very little about Mwanza, Tanzania. I know that it’s a city in northern Tanzania. I know that it’s on a lake. And from pictures I can tell it’s really beautiful. But I know a pitiful amount about this place that I am about to call home for three months. The other interns and I aren’t even sure where exactly we’ll be staying. Theoretically, and based on my schooling, I’m an advocate for knowing as much as one can about an area, its history, and its people before making judgements or prescribing what should be done. I’ve often been told that I do this too much, to the point where I conclude that no one can truly know all the layers of any given situation and the experiences that have led to it. I find that I end with more questions than answers. For some reason, I haven’t done this with Mwanza. I haven’t obsessed over its history (although I have tried to familiarize myself with more general East African history), nor have I even googled the political situation yet. I’m going in cold.
Normally this would terrify me, and a very significant part of me is pretty uncomfortable with this realization. I tend to criticize people that are doing exactly what I’m doing; I’m flying into an African country, fresh-faced and optimistic, thinking that I can do something to help but having no ideas of how exactly I can make a real impact. I know the goals of my project and of Western Heads East (goals that I am excited for and believe in), but I have no concrete plans how I’m going to implement them. Plainly, I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.
I understand this is problematic. But I also have a theory. I can equip myself, try and know everything, and land in Mwanza ready to tell people how I am going to do things and maybe even how they should do things. Or I can pack my things and go to Mwanza, Tanzania, ready to learn, build friendships, and also realizing that there is no way that I will understand anything about Mwanza until I go there and fall in love with it.
I’m choosing the latter. And I’m terrified, but hopeful.