Before he left, Bob called us – the other interns and I – Team Awesome. The four of us make up the largest group of WHE interns in East Africa this summer, and luckily we all hit it off early on and have been going strong ever since. I love these girls. They really are awesome.
We’ve settled into our projects, into routine, and into looking out for each other. Samira took Iris to the hospital last Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday) because she had been feeling feverish off and on for a week and a half. Turns out she has malaria and typhoid. I repeat, malaria AND typhoid. We were floored, and proceeded to usher her back to bed, give her our blankets when she needed them, pick up food for her, and stay close to home in case she needed us. It was the least we could do, the poor girl. She’s feeling much better now, now that the medication’s been in her system for a bit. And, being the introvert that I am, I didn’t really mind getting the chance to get a bit of work and a lot of reading done at home this weekend. It was nice to stick around home, chat with the girls, and occasionally venture out to get food.
I was asked this weekend in an email who I had supporting me. I had reached out to a phenomenal woman who lives in South Africa and has spent a lot of time in various African countries. Naturally, I have some questions for her. So when she asked me that question in return, I got ready to type out a solid answer and move on. But I couldn’t. Not because I don’t have support, or because I don’t feel supported. I couldn’t answer because I didn’t even know where to start.
I have an incredible support system in the other interns. They are so caring and attentive and kind. I am so blessed to have them. Every single one of them is engaging and gifted, and we all have different, incredible strengths that we all appreciate and encourage. I will come home from Tanzania having found three new sisters. I have a lot of support in Team Awesome.
Bob and Danielle, the WHE director and coordinator respectively, have also turned out to be better supports than even I anticipated. I thought I’d be contacting them every other day asking questions and asking them why the heck they’d gotten me into this in the first place. I can honestly say that has not been the case; I didn’t contact them regularly for the first month. Then I had a very long conversation with Bob over the phone one night a couple of weeks ago. We discussed safety, my blog, my feelings, and my project. He had a lot of good advice for my project, and even better advice about my emotional state. Turns out I’m too hard on myself. Since then, I’ve CC’d Bob and Danielle in many emails sent back and forth to Maimuna, have asked them their thoughts on various things, and have done my best to be reflexive and responsible with my time here. They’ve been more than happy to be involved and help with whatever they can. Turns out I can ask for help, what a revolutionary idea.
Tanzanians in general are supportive. I count myself so blessed to be in a space where hospitality and generosity run rampant. Nuri and I were walking down the street today, and a mumbled “Shikamoo” to a lady that we passed by (she was walking slowly) turned into an entire conversation about how it’s good that we’re trying to learn and speak Swahili. A guy we met at the food truck close by (home of the bestest burgers out there) saw us walking yesterday, stopped his car, and asked if his “Canadian friends” needed a ride. Ex-pats and locals alike will invite us to parties, dinners, hang-outs, and events even if we’ve only just met them. The guards at the gate marking the entrance of the hostel’s grounds habitually ask us if we want some of their food, if they happen to be eating when we come home. The staff at our hostel are so kind and patient with us, even though we butcher their language and ask for seconds at breakfast. Tanzania is a beautiful country, and the most beautiful thing about it is its people.
I have found support in our community partners. From Professor Spillane at SAUT telling us we can bring laundry to the laundress at his parish every Wednesday if we want, to Maimuna looking out for us and connecting us with people in our area, to the Vice-Chancellor at SAUT promising to give us a hand whenever we have need of one, to Bernard always lending his smile and wisdom.
I also have so much support from home. I’m getting a little teary-eyed thinking of it now. My family, both immediate and extended, have always supported me no matter what I decide to do, and I’ve always appreciated that more than I’ve ever expressed. I am incredibly blessed to have the family that I have, they’re all incredible. I have friends that are both in Canada and elsewhere in the world doing their own amazing things, who are always happy to reserve some time if I need to chat. I am so thankful for the undying enthusiasm and encouragement I always get, whether I reach out for it or not. I don’t know what I did to deserve such incredible people in my life, but it must have been pretty awesome. My greater spiritual family is also a source of stability and love, and I appreciate their prayers, encouragement, comments, emails, and thoughts more than I can say. It is both humbling and empowering, the knowledge that you are being prayed for.
Individuals with similar experiences have also come out of the woodwork ever since my internship was an abstract, distant idea. Family friends, mentors, and family all lent their knowledge and wisdom gained from being elsewhere in the world. I haven’t stopped tapping into the brains of these people, and I doubt I’ll ever stop. I’m realizing the value of similar experience, it’s important to talk with people that have seen what you see.
What seems like forever ago, when I was filling out my online application for a Western Heads East internship, I was asked how I coped with a difficult time in my life. Being a white, lower-middle-class, Canadian girl with a loving, supportive, whole family and a steady job at the time, I had a bit of trouble figuring out when I’ve had a difficult time, let alone how I coped during that period. My mind then turned to the most difficult decision I have ever made: a year before, I had called off an engagement. I then wrote down that, during this time, I discovered the power of having a strong support system. Once I understood that I was surrounded by friends and family that were committed to ensuring my well-being and backing me no matter what, I not only became stronger but I also began to embrace my weaknesses and learn from myself and those that were around me. The thing with support systems is that they transcend distance. I can be sitting in my room in Mwanza, Tanzania, and still feel the love and strength of my “team” as forcefully as if I was back at home. All I have to do is press into my people, and I know that I will feel loved and validated and guided. It’s a really powerful thing.
Thanks, team. Don’t know where I’d be withoutcha.