Mosquito Nets, 1.5 Litre Water Bottles, and Realizing I’m in Over My Head: My Time in Mwanza So Far

Did I mention I’m in over my head? Maybe a few times.

It’s crazy how the smallest things can really make you realize how different home is. Things like the fan that’s mounted on my ceiling working overtime right now to make sure that I can maybe fall asleep tonight. Things like having to tuck my mosquito net in every single night before I can turn my light off and go to bed. Things like toting around 1.5 litre water bottles because I’m sweating buckets and don’t want to faint and be at the mercy of people that don’t speak my language.

Things like walking through streets and alleys, talking to a Tanzanian friend about government corruption and poverty lines (yes, Hunter, Canada has people that live under the poverty line, but the poverty line there is more than $1 a day). Things like people we don’t even know telling us not to go outside after dark, and to always keep our belongings close; people with very little learn to have fast hands. Things like children following us along the street with their hands outstretched, and knowing that you’ll have to ignore them because you can’t offer them any form of sustainable help despite what they may think when they see us Westerners.

There are also things like complete strangers having in depth conversations on the dala dala about family and language. Things like strangers calling out to a group of mzungus “karibuni!” and “mambo!”* (I still don’t know what to make of this, in all honesty). Things like people we just met texting us to make sure we are fine. Things like new friends and even strangers patiently repeating Swahili words and phrases when I know if I were them I would give up and grumble about people thinking they can get by without knowing the local language.

I still can’t sleep through the night in my new setting. I still haven’t gotten used to the food and am terrified for when we may soon have access to a kitchen and I’ll have to brave the market regularly. I still miss home and crave familiarity. I’m still scared that I have nothing to offer. That I will only take, and from people who have less than I.

Tanzania is so beautiful, welcoming, caring, and proud. It is everything that I want to experience, and yet I am so worried it will spit me out.

I sat down to write a post about my first week in Tanzania, and had resolved to make it light, a little cheeky, and mostly about what we’ve done this week. It’s turned into something a little different.

I have been in Mwanza for one week. I have met wonderful people, seen wonderful things, learned so much, and have come to understand that there is way too much to learn in a mere three months.

I knew I was crazy when I decided to pack my things and come to Mwanza for a three-month internship with a women’s rights organization. The first meeting with said organization was proof enough that I have little to offer and much to learn. I count myself blessed to be able to work with some amazing people that are overcoming hurdles and accomplishing many things that would seem silly and unfathomable in Canada. Empowering women through land and livestock. Educating women about climate change and how that can create movements to combat its negative effects. These initiatives are impacting many women in the Mwanza region; it’s something that my Canadian, Western, ‘educated’ brain would have never considered.

I have so much to learn. Maybe realizing that is the first step.

Let’s go, week two. Maybe I’ll be able to sleep better when you roll around.

Usiku mwema.


*karibuni means “welcome” in Swahili, and mambo is an informal Swahili greeting

One thought on “Mosquito Nets, 1.5 Litre Water Bottles, and Realizing I’m in Over My Head: My Time in Mwanza So Far

  1. Amara

    If it helps at all, if I was in your place I would be huddled on the bed, asking for my mother. You are doing amazing, just in going out to attack the new day.

    I thinks its a very interesting give and take, you went to help educate people in an academic manner and in doing so you are being educated in a cultural and social manner. I understand your worry but I think experiencing the culture and life will allow you to better target you education rather than going in with a set teaching schedule. You have much to offer and I know that the people of Mwanza will appreciate just how special you are.

    Even hearing about your straight experiences, although closer than anything else, I will never truly understand the poverty or the fear of malaria or not having water within my reach whenever I go into town. However just because I will never truly understand doesn’t mean this is not important, having education about what life is really like abroad, apart from assumptions and bias is incredibly useful widening my perspective and reducing ignorance.


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