My parents read my last post about me overreacting and, in turn, overreacted.
I don’t mean to bash them (sorry, mom and dad), but it’s hard when you wake up and are more upset by emails sent by your parents than by the actual events that caused those emails to be frantically written. I have discovered that a travel blog is a helpful medium for reflecting and it has forced me to be transparent and confront what I feel and why head on. It’s also a way to explain exactly what I’m experiencing and how I’m taking it to people back at home; going back to Canada having wrestled with so many things and having people ask how my internship was is going to be hard, so it might be nice to take the lazy way out and direct them to my blog, written in real time complete with all of my thoughts, feelings, musings, and rambles.
That being said, I wrote my last post when I was upset. I wrote it while I was trying to drink enough water to make up for the lack of water I had ingested throughout the day. I was tired and not looking forward to registering for courses that evening. I probably needed sleep. Things hadn’t gone the way I had wanted them to, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing but had definitely thrown me off. I should have written out my thoughts and then waited until I had slept and processed a little more before posting it. But I didn’t, and a part of me is glad I didn’t. If people want to know how my time in Mwanza is going, I want to be honest and upfront. And sometimes I have bad days and am paranoid and just want to lock myself in my room at the hostel for a while. Which is what I did. I blogged, reached out to my best friend who talked me through it all, and figured out what courses I’ll be taking in my last year of undergrad.
I’m better this morning, although I am frantically trying to make sure people back at home tell my parents that I’m going to be okay. I’m allowed to have off days, even in Mwanza.
It’s really hard to relay some things to people that have never seen what I’m seeing. It’s hard to explain to people that I’m not being a martyr or even just the stubbornly independent person that I am. I am not throwing safety to the wind and getting myself in situations that could otherwise be avoided. Either I get on a plane now and go back home, where I still experience safety concerns and have bad days, or I continue on as I have been, being smart and making sure that I always have support around me and people that know where I am. I’m doing all of that, I am being as safe as I can be. I’m taking precautions and not being an idiot. Things are just different here, and that is rooted in multifaceted, systemic issues that aren’t just characteristic to Mwanza or even Africa. Mindsets towards women, foreigners, and foreign women are problematic in many spaces; do me a quick favour and reflect on Native women in Canada and problems that this minority has faced by virtue of being the way they are. I’m not likening my plights to the very real abuse of Canadian First Nations women, nor am I seeking to devalue either my experiences or the experiences of North American minorities. I’m simply pointing out that in Canada, a “developed” country where I’m allowed to take public transit and walk by myself (this all has the parental sticker of approval), there are still problems with attitudes towards minorities. And this isn’t even taking into account that I represent the upper-hand in the historically-rooted power dynamic. There’s a whole set of feelings linked with irresponsible cultural interactions that are assigned to me, whether I want them to be or not.
Friends and family at home don’t see the scenes as I see them. They don’t see that for every guy that tries to grab my wrist (very few and far in between), there’s a woman that kindly asks me where I’m from on the dala dala. There’s a man that asks me “Sister, where are you going?” when I’m trying to figure out how to get to where I need to go. For every person that whistles at me or calls me a mzungu, there’s a street boy that smiles at me and a woman who sells scarves that looks out for us and watches our backs while we’re pile shopping. For every person that says something to me intending to be crude, I always have a fellow intern and friend that braves it all with me and offers support.
It’s hard to relay what I feel and see to people that don’t see and feel everything along with me. It’s hard to encounter a space that is so beautiful and strong and also so broken. It’s hard to convey the parallels I see with my own home and what differences I see. It’s hard to ask people to step into your shoes when you’re still a little unsteady in them yourself. I love Mwanza, and I love the people that I have met and encountered here. But there will always be people that make any space less safe or less comfortable. This will be the case whether I’m in Mwanza, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Dubai, Berlin, or London, Ontario.
I’m not being a martyr. I’m not being brave and trying to be tough. I’m not being a penny-pincher and trying to cut costs by using the public transit system. I’m not even trying to act like a local. I’m simply trying to do my best in a country that is not my own. I’m going to run into issues, just like I do at home. But I am safe and well and am devastated that I made people worry about me.
I don’t know if this is helping, but contrary to what is apparently popular opinion, I’m safe. My safety has nothing to do with whether or not I take a taxi all the way to Buswelu every single time I want to meet with Maimuna to get some work done. It has everything to do with the fact that I’m a foreigner trying to live in a poor country. I’ll always have people yelling at me and wanting to talk to me and there will always be people that aren’t necessarily happy with my presence. But that hasn’t stopped me yet, and it’s not going to stop me now.
Sorry to have worried anyone.