The Process

I could be remembering wrong, but yesterday likely started out similar to today. At least I’m hoping it did. I’m trying to find silver linings, and when you’re in the thick of things it’s hard to find the good amongst everything when things go wrong.

Yesterday we started interviews. Maimuna has ten women who have been helped by Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization and/or MikonoYetu; we’re interviewing them and then I’m going to write case studies based on those interviews and hopefully make short videos based of these women’s stories (fingers crossed that the video footage is semi-decent). After several developments and bumps along the way, I managed to find a SAUT student willing to conduct interviews in Swahili while recording what is said in English so that I can take these interviews and make a book of case studies for MikonoYetu. Eli, my interviewer, is fantastic and I’m incredibly excited to be working with her.

She was almost an hour late yesterday, though. I told her it was fine, our first interviewee was half an hour late and I already know her so it wasn’t terribly awkward. My stomach was a knot that entire morning, nonetheless. I fretted about timing, about the interview schedule, about background noise, and about whether or not the video footage and audio I was taking would be of any use (that’s still tbd). Looking back, however, yesterday couldn’t have gone better. We contacted many of the women and asked them when they could come. All of the interviews are being held at the hostel I’m staying at in favour of having a controlled and (somewhat) quiet setting. We ended up interviewing five women yesterday, which was fantastic. Eli’s a superstar and genuinely cared about each of the women that were interviewed. She was a lifesaver when it came to calling all of them and sorting out when they should come. It felt so good to get through half of the interviews in one day. At the end of it, I was exhausted but elated.

I woke up today hoping for a similar day today. Eli just texted me saying that instead of class until 10:00 am, she now has class until 3:00. And she can’t come tomorrow, like we had expected. My productive, good day came to a screeching halt. I asked her to call the woman that we had scheduled for 11:00 and cancel until further notice; luckily that was the only interview we had scheduled for sure today. Eli called, I’ve texted Maimuna, and now I’m sitting on my bed thinking how I should proceed. I’m not too worried, but my day has been thrown off a bit.

But then again, my day being thrown off has become standard. I should be used to things going awry by now, and should also be used to things working out by now. They always do.

So, upon reevaluating all of this, has this morning been so terrible? Not really, I suppose. I asked at reception if I could again use the meeting room that we used yesterday, but was informed that the sister was here today and wouldn’t be happy that I was using it unless I payed. It was going to be tsh 60,000 per day, which I suppose is doable but I hadn’t budgeted for it. Julie, a wonderful woman who works at the hostel and has practically adopted us despite our horrible attempts at her language, told me that they would call the sister and ask if she could give me a discount. I wasn’t given a discount, but I was told that I could use two rooms on the fourth floor for free. Turns out the fourth floor is much quieter, which is (once again) better than I could have expected.

It’s a good thing I was given a room for free, considering I may not actually need it today and I won’t be needing it tomorrow. Blessings in disguise are everywhere, if you take a minute to see them.

So here I sit. I might read today for a bit, even though I should be looking through the interview notes and videos. I should start writing the case studies. We’ll see how today ends up going, if any interviews happen, and if I’m at all productive. We’ll see when Eli is free and can come give me a hand. Time will tell, I’m no fortune teller so I have to wait just like the rest of the world. Life happens, and you work with it. It’s just funny that I had to come all the way to Mwanza, Tanzania to truly realize and embrace this. I’m still learning how to embrace it. Turns out I can’t control much, but I can be flexible with both my time and expectations.

It’s just hard when I’m sitting here interviewer-less.

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Team

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.

Use

I’m currently trying to figure out how to write a real proposal. Nobody tell Bernard, or anyone at EBLI. Thanks.

Nuri and I went to Education for Better Living (EBLI) today, so that she could talk with Bernard about her plans for evaluating the three programs that EBLI executes. Bernard goes off on tangents sometimes, we’re learning, so we ended up chatting about FKT and if we knew anyone that would be able to write a proposal for funding. At this rate the FKT centre is going to have to shut down next year if they don’t get some serious funding. Which really sucks.

I said I could. Bernard thought I was saying I knew someone that could write proposals. I said yeah, the person I knew was me. If it was in English, I could do it. Can’t be that hard, I like to write and the internet is a wealth of knowledge. So Bernard put some documents on my USB drive for me to look at and directed me to the FKT website (http://foundationkaributz.weebly.com/) so that I actually would know what I was talking about. I asked how in-depth he was looking for, and we worked out that I would write a concept note that had all the relevant information in it and would in turn be used for various proposal formats. While I’m not working for EBLI and nobody from WHE is working for FKT, I can definitely pull my eyes away from the MikonoYetu work and the endless YouTube videos that I’ve been watching (woops) and familiarize myself enough with FKT to write something that will hopefully help keep them open for a while longer. I am more than happy to do everything that I can to help any organization that comes across my path that helps alleviate systemic issues; FKT keeps coming across my path.

Foundation Karibu Tanzania rehabilitates abused children while simultaneously counselling their parents and families. The aim is to get the kids back home to healthier environments and prevent future instances of domestic violence. They employ nurses that give 24-hour care as the admitted children recover, social workers to work with both the kids and the families, and teachers that invest in the children. When I first heard about it I was floored; this organization is both working with rehabilitating victims of terrible abuse and taking preventative measures at the same time, on a level that is rarely tackled. It’s investing in families.

So of course I’m going to Google how to write a concept note/proposal/any templates that may help me out. If it means contributing to a phenomenal organization in any way, I’m in. So here I go, proposal writing.

Thinking a little deeper, while sitting in that office I felt for the first time that I would be back. People ask us all the time if we’ll come back to Mwanza, from our community partners to the guy we met at the food truck near our place (sidenote: I had to come all the way to Mwanza for the best burger I’ve ever tasted, courtesy of this blessed food truck). Iris usually says maybe. Samira explains that she will be back, her mother’s from Tanzania. Nuri always says that she can definitely see herself coming back, but doesn’t know what will end up bringing her back or when. I tend to offer a smile and a vague answer like “I wouldn’t mind coming back, if an opportunity arose.” I love Mwanza, and have known for a while now that the chances of me living my whole life in Canada are probably slim. But the last month and a half have been filled with me wondering why I ever thought that was a good idea, followed by me frantically trying to tell myself that, while my time in Tanzania will be awesome and I’ll learn lots, maybe in the future I’ll end up somewhere else though. Maybe the Middle East or South America or the moon will like me better.

Now I realize that I was wrong. Mwanza treats me just fine. But even as I started to see that, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about coming back. The world is a big place, and I wasn’t sure what I can offer Mwanza (I’m still not really sure tbh). I reasoned that I’d probably be more useful somewhere else. Not that after this “aha” moment this morning I think that I can turn Mwanza on its side and contribute buckets and buckets of stuff to this amazing space. I’m going to do what I can for our WHE partners this summer and contribute as much as I can, and then I’ll see where the road takes me. I’m content doing that. But it was a really cool feeling this morning when I could actually see myself here again.

I’ll probably say “see ya later” to Mwanza when I leave in August. I really like that thought.

P.S. Click on the link. Learn about FKT, it’s an organization that deserves a lot more recognition and attention, in my opinion. I just wrote an entire post so that I could include that link somewhere in my blog, I’m not kidding.

Chipsi

I know what Iris is going to say when her and Samira come home from their meeting at SAUT. She’ll ask us what Nuri and I got for lunch, and then she’ll say “chipsi mayai, again?!” It may or may not be what we’ve gotten for lunch the past three days (or maybe more…I can’t remember).

We’re settling into routines and getting things done with our projects. I’ve learned to tell Maimuna to let me know if there is anything that I can do, it makes her happy and makes me feel useful. I’ve looked at proposals, written things for events, and am working towards getting things solidified for the event. Slowly but surely. I’ve written a proposal for the interviews that Maimuna wants me to do, have compiled questions, and am currently working out who should be conducting said interviews.

In other words, things are going really well.

I didn’t do much this weekend other than burn through a novel and text the other girls asking when they want to go out and grab some food. We’ve all settled into our own things, have figured out who needs space and who doesn’t and when, and have found that we all get along pretty well. These girls, the other interns, are really special girls. I’m happy to be spending my summer with them. They’re all caring, supportive, and fun. Iris makes us all laugh on a regular basis. We know we can talk to Nuri about anything. We’ve started calling Samira “mom” sometimes. It’s been really neat getting to know them.

I’m settling into a routine. Time is flying by, and I’m starting to have a lot of mixed feelings about that.

I want to go home. I’m missing big things that are happening in my brothers’ lives. I’m missing long conversations with my parents. I’m missing deep talks with good friends. I’m missing in-person obsessions over course registration and summer jobs. I’m missing watching the kids of my friends grow. I’m going to be missing visits with extended family, something that doesn’t happen enough as it is. A whole summer is happening back at home, and I’m not a part of it at all. I miss that, and after three months I’ll be happy to return and become part of everything again.

I no longer feel that three months won’t be enough time for us. Even if we stuck around for longer, there’s no guarantee that we’ll see the results that we’d want, whatever those expected results were. We’ll do our best in three months, learn from it all, love and care as much as possible, and it will be good. We’ll experience things and learn how to make it in a different context.

I read a novel this weekend that I would’ve normally read back home. The other girls and I have regular movie nights. We’ve decided on the foods that we like and don’t like, and have figured out where to get cheap food and where to splurge on good food. My diet is by no means balanced (chipsi mayai is just an omelette with fries in it) but I’m eating good food and have managed to only get a little sick once (knock on wood…I haven’t been feeling great today). I’ve assumed a new normal in Mwanza, Tanzania, and it’s really not that different from life back home.

Even as I count how many days until I’ll be landing in Pearson Airport, imagining myself seeing my parents again and asking them to stop to pick up some long-missed food (right now the first food item that I’ll want when I get back is a toss-up between a cinnamon bun and a whole bag of baby carrots), I know I’ll miss Mwanza. I know I’ll miss its beauty, its people, its pride, its liveliness, and more specifically everyone that I’ve had the chance to meet here. Mwanza is such a special place, and while there are differences and ups and downs, I am so happy to be here. I’m happy to have gotten to know the other interns, I’m so blessed to have so many people supporting us and willing to give us all a helping hand, and I’m happy to have the chance to grow and learn in this space.

I have times when I’m stressed out. I have times when I don’t want to leave my room, or times when I’m sick of seeing the inside of my room. I have times when I don’t know how I can be of help. I have times when I’m really hard on myself, and (more recently) times when I realize that I can’t be so hard on myself.

I have learned so much about myself it’s ridiculous. I have learned that I don’t like to have to depend on people, but that it’s okay to depend on people. Sometimes you have no choice. I’ve learned that I can’t hold myself to impossible standards or I’ll always lose. I’m still working on a lot of things, but half the battle is realizing and learning. This sounds so fluffy and kind of silly (i.e. Andrea came to Africa and found herself), but it’s true. You take yourself out of your regular routine and familiar context, and this stuff happens. You learn from how you cope, adjust, and work. This isn’t a new concept, but I suppose it’s new to me. I knew I’d come back “changed” (whatever that means), but I had no idea what Mwanza would do to me.

I’m working hard, allowing myself down time and fun time, being social but knowing when I need space, and am finally seeing some progress. Not in the time that I want, and not the progress that I envisioned. But whatever I envisioned was incompatible with reality anyways.

Fruit for dinner tonight, and maybe I’ll have some chapatti. As good as chipsi mayai is, it kind of hangs out in your stomach for a while.

The Problem with Perspective

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.

Today was a day

Thoughts are pretty much drowning my brain right now, I’m not really sure why I’ve been so assaulted by dilemmas and realizations today. They’re all across the map, so again I have to ask you all to bear with me. And unlike I promised in my last post, this one isn’t going to be super cheery and colloquial either. It’s going to be disjointed, answerless, unsure, and today it will be a little paranoid. Here we go.

Nuri and I went to MikonoYetu today. Mlola picked us up (he’s back at work after having two close family members pass away and being sick, so it was good to see him) and we went to pick up a contract before walking to the dala dala stand. Hemal said he’d have our contract for the venue for our August event at his shop. He didn’t, but it was five minutes away. About forty minutes later, I had the contract on my USB drive thinking that I should’ve just asked Hemal to email it to me. I was late for a meeting. The one time I had to be at MikonoYetu at a specific time, I was going to be an hour late. The meeting where I was introduced to our partners that would be helping with the event was scheduled for 10:00 this morning. He got to the dala dala stand at 10:04 (yes I remember this). I was cheesed, inconvenienced, and kept going from brushing it off to African “pole pole” thinking to being upset with my time management skills and knowing our lateness was my fault. I was already anxious about this meeting. I’m pretty anxious whenever we go to MikonoYetu in the first place. I’m also usually anxious, for no real reason. But I was more anxious than usual, so I was on edge this morning.

I realized something this morning that I’ve never clued into before, here in Mwanza or even back at home in Canada. While I was stressing about time and the contract being late and being late for the meeting and having to go to the meeting in the first place, I realized that nobody else around me cared. No one. They didn’t care. Everyone was going about their days as usual while I worried myself into a little knot. Why was I the only one caring?

Apparently I was the only one caring because there was nothing to be worried about. Maimuna didn’t even respond to the text I sent her saying we’d be late, and when we got there nobody was at the centre except for Maimuna and a gentleman who was going to paint murals in Kahamulo village. I ended up listening in while they finished up their meeting for another hour. What happened to our meeting at 10:00?

Answer: meetings in Mwanza are different from meetings in Canada. We were visited by three women that trickled in throughout the afternoon. Each of them are friends of Maimuna or have been connected to her through MikonoYetu or Kivulini. We showed two of them what I’d come up with in terms of various letters for the event, then we brainstormed things to call the annual festival that we’re hoping will come out of the upcoming event in August. We looked at logo options. So much for my stressful meeting this morning.

Afterwards, Maimuna wanted me to show her the interview questionnaire that I had put together. I had loosely translated all of my questions (thanks, Google Translate), so there would be a question in English and then the same question in Swahili typed out right underneath. I had almost a page of questions, nicely typed out. I had already sent this document to Maimuna, but she hadn’t looked at it yet. We spent the next hour or so retranslating my questions. Maimuna assured me afterwards that the questions were good (at least in English). Maimuna dictated, and I asked for the spelling of basically every single word. She didn’t seem to mind, but my incompetence wore on everyone else and I think she was feeling pretty tired by the end of it. Halfway through, Nuri whispered to me that I should just give my laptop to Maimuna so she could type everything out instead of tediously spelling every single thing she said, sometimes twice. For some reason I felt like I had to do it that way though. Not that I really understood every word that was used (actually most of them I didn’t understand and still don’t), but seeing how things were spelt I think will help me with pronunciation, and I hope I retain at least a little bit of the vocabulary and knowledge of sentence structure. Regardless, it was tedious and I was struck with how silly it was for me to be doing this. I am lending organization and writing skills to this internship. I have already realized that, and I do believe that these are valuable assets for MikonoYetu this summer. I’m a hard worker and even if I haven’t managed to impress Maimuna, I’m pretty sure she still likes me. But these people could have been doing so much more with their afternoons than watching me write down every letter of a bunch of words that mean nothing to me. It would have been done more efficiently if someone else translated. I was being a stubborn time-waster this afternoon, and felt really silly.

I also had my first major word mix-up, which I’ve been waiting to have for ages. It was bound to happen, and I doubt this will be the last time I do it. I wrote down “kusubu” instead of “kusuhu.” “Kusuhu” is the Swahili verb meaning to tell. “Kusubu,” on the other hand, means to kiss. Everyone got a good laugh out of that one.

I didn’t drink enough water at MikonoYetu, and I’m always pretty tired after spending time there in the first place. After accomplishing a few more things, Nuri and I decided to head back to town. We said goodbye after chatting with Maimuna about how these last couple of days have been cooler than most (not that I’ve been able to tell) and walked to the main road. We caught the next dala dala that passed by. After a while, it broke down. Luckily one of the boys that was sitting near us spoke a bit of English, so when everyone else got off he kindly told us that we had to switch buses. The next dala dala was larger but also fuller, so Nuri and I had to stand for most of the ride. Standing in the aisle of this dala dala holding onto the pole overhead for dear life while being driven over unpaved roads made me vow to never complain about London transit ever again.

The guy taking our dala dala money understood that I was paying for both Nuri and I (she gave me 500 shillings, which would have served as my change for 1000 shillings anyways). I successfully proclaimed “wambili, asante” like I’d been told to say if I was paying for more than myself (shout-out to Miraji, who taught me that last week). He seemed happy that I kind of knew what I was doing, and then proceeded to say some more things to me. I had a headache and have resolved to not kid myself when I don’t understand other people, and after trying to decipher what he was saying for a second I smiled and said regretfully, “sifahamu, pole” (I don’t understand, sorry). He didn’t seem super pleased with that. I don’t know what he said, but he said something about this mzungu to someone at the front of the dala dala. I ignored it, and waited until we arrived at the market, where our stop is. To be perfectly honest, this happens all the time, but for some reason this encounter had me on edge. The dala dala arrived at the stand without further incident, and Nuri and I got off along with everyone else. When I got off, the man working on the dala dala was talking with the group of boys that was on the first dala dala with us (the one that broke down). I heard “mzungu” a couple of times, and as I was walking away from the dala dala this man yelled something at me. I don’t know what he said, but this was the first time I was genuinely worried for my safety during my stay in Mwanza. I was worried that Nuri and I would be followed and harassed further. I was quiet and walked pretty quickly the entire walk back to our area of town.

I am fine. Nobody followed me, Nuri and I were both as safe as can be, and after reflecting I’ve concluded that the chances of anything happening were pretty low. It was the middle of the afternoon in the busiest part of town. Nuri and I were together. We knew where we were going, and can deal with people yelling things at us.

But this all got me thinking, while walking back home. Now that I’m more comfortable in my surroundings, I’m noticing things more and more that actually make me uncomfortable. I’m no longer going cross-eyed taking everything in and am no longer solely focused on making sure I’m still with the other interns and am going in the right direction. This is a good thing, but now I actually have the brainpower to split my focus and notice things that I genuinely don’t like, and not just because it’s different.

Like the guy making kissing noises at Nuri and I while we were walking down the street, almost home. Like nobody ever sticking up for us on the dala dala when we get not-so-fine gentlemen yelling at us, making crude remarks, or touching our hands, hair, and arms. No one says anything, not even the people that we know. Things like the pssst noise some men make when they want my attention; I can handle a shout or even a whistle, but the pssst noise really unnerves me for some reason.

I am different, foreign, a novelty, and usually have no idea what is being said around me. I am fine with being called out, and am able to laugh off whatever is said about me or to me, whether I understand it or not. A part of me is bothered whenever friends back home tell me how brave I am for going through all of this and trying to sympathize. This is the new normal. And a part of me knows that to a certain extent, the citizens of Mwanza, Tanzania are allowed to be wary of foreigners and malcontent with my presence.

People don’t have to be rude, though. People don’t have to scare me. I wouldn’t do it to them if I was in their shoes.

I just realized how scared I was today. And how frustrated I felt, and how out-of-place I felt. None of these are pleasant feelings. I didn’t have pleasant feelings towards Mwanza today. Not all of it was bad, but friendly faces were few. I found myself longing for home, when at least I can consciously choose not to respond to people when they say things to me that I don’t like. Here I don’t have that luxury.

I am fine. I’m not about to hop on the next plane to Anywhere-But-Here. I know tomorrow will probably be better. But today was a rollercoaster, and it’s not even over yet. I still have course registration to get through in t minus three hours.

What the heck have we been doing?

The wifi’s not working (again), and I’m trying to do work on a Saturday morning because I was tired yesterday so I neglected doing all the things I should’ve been doing. So I’m a little cranky.

That being said, I’m also (probably self-righteously) upset with my society. Nothing really new here, I know. One of my favourite pass-times is complaining about the problems in my society and then doing very minimal things to change the system, if I do anything at all. I try to have a sustainable, ethical outlook and be aware of the effects I have on the world. But I am a millennial that loves comfort and doesn’t really like it when things change. So I guess I can be a huge hypocrite half of the time.

So this is going to be a self-righteous post that’s allowing me to stall (yet again) when it comes to doing the work I should be doing for MikonoYetu, and is probably flowing out of me more because of my current headache than any real ideas.

I’m reading the MikonoYetu Center for Creativity and Innovation organization profile. I want to include a page about MikonoYetu in the information package that I’m slowly putting together for the fundraising event in August. Since MikonoYetu doesn’t have a website or anything written about them on their Facebook page, I asked Maimuna if I could have the written profile for a bit. Reading through it, I’ve learned a lot about the organization (that I’ve technically worked for for an entire month already), and have a whole new respect for this organization and the organizations and people that partner with, are affiliated with, and are influenced by organizations like MikonoYetu.

It’s about economic empowerment for women. But it’s about so much more.

MikonoYetu branched out from Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization and became a registered, women-led non-profit organization in 2011. Kivulini focuses on curbing domestic and sexual violence; Maimuna and a few other current MikonoYetu staff members used to work at Kivulini. An evidence-based study discovered that when women are economically empowered they have options; they can step out of the vicious cycle of violence, realize their rights, become leaders in their communities, support other women in similar situations, and they can also send their children to school and invest in their children’s development. I asked Maimuna yesterday at our meeting why she created a whole new organization to promote economic empowerment; why didn’t Kivulini just form a new program to run under their already-established umbrella? Maimuna told me that Kivulini is focused on domestic violence, and it would split that focus if they began to also address economic empowerment. So Maimuna branched out and created MikonoYetu. Which is a brilliant organization.

In Tanzania, women don’t receive the same opportunities as men. Poverty statistics are worse for women, violence against women rates are sky high, and Nuri has discovered in her research that Tanzania has one of the highest teenage pregnancy ratings in the world; one in three 18-year-old girls will get pregnant (I don’t have the source, but believe this information was in the 2011 UNICEF study that Nuri found).  I’ve also found from reading MikonoYetu’s profile that less than ten percent of Tanzania’s population have formal certificates of their farmland ownership. While this works out fine for an informal economy, especially agriculture based majorly in rural areas and villages, this makes it very easy for those who operate in the formal economic sector (mainly international investors and East Africans that are of higher economic classes) to exploit these people and take their land with no compensation. What the profile doesn’t detail are the specific repercussions of this: whole communities losing their livelihood and becoming displaced, families breaking down, family members leaving to look for work, abuse and violence in the home and in the community, heightened poverty, lack of literacy and education for children, crime, and I’m sure I could go on.

MikonoYetu’s four programs include land rights education, equal rights advocacy, economic empowerment, and natural resource management. They inform the masses on how to seek legal action and give assistance on how to acquire title deeds and lawfully sell land. Women and girls specifically are educated on their equal rights to own land under the Constitution of Tanzania and similar legislation. Advocacy on equal rights between men and women in other areas is also a part of the organization. Economic empowerment projects include promoting fair trade, high value, nutritious agricultural practices; livestock breeding for milk and yogurt production, meat, and leather; taking advantage of Mwanza becoming an emerging touristic city and seeking to provide opportunities for women’s involvement in cultural tourism; and forest management that motivates communities to grow trees. Women are also trained to be entrepreneurs through training programs as well as mentorship programs. MikonoYetu has even helped establish community banks and linked farmers to microfinance institutions and programs. Farmers now use waste and cow manure to fertilize soil. Communities have planted trees to combat climate change and promote biodiversity. Individuals have been supported to own property.

I realize this is a profile written by the MikonoYetu staff. It doesn’t give the roadblocks or the gaps in the programs. But in only a few years (I’m not positive when this profile was written) MikonoYetu had brought rabbit-keeping programs in two village primary schools. They had increased the income of more than fifty women and young people. They had supported more than fifty women, girls, and young people to own property and land. They had mobilized rural women, young people, poor men, and children to plant 7,000 trees to combat global warming. They had established food banks and had strengthened communities.

This is a really cool organization.

So while I have been sitting in school with my iPhone, overstimulating my brain and trying to figure out what I’m going to eat next on campus, there have been organizations that are combatting climate change, resource inequality, and gendered poverty. And they’ve been successful and will continue to be successful. They are partnering with local governments and are building strong communities that see the fruits of their labour. They are alleviating systemic violence by targeting full communities and making individuals realize that these issues are community issues. They are planting trees and composting to combat the very desertification that will hit Sub-Saharan Africa hard, even though under-industrialized nations have little to do with the bulk of the pollution that is causing it.

I don’t mean this to be self-loathing or overly critical of how North Americans spend their time. We live in a different context and address our own societal issues (poverty still being one of them). I’ll still use my iPhone and when I go back home I doubt I’ll spend all of my time planting trees to promote biodiversity and fight climate change.

I’m just struck by how they’ve gotten it so right, when there are still people in Canada that don’t even think climate change and resource scarcity is a thing. Tanzanians are investing in solar energy, yet Canada released a statement a few years ago that because it’s so cold in our country, we can’t reduce our emissions like we promised in the Kyoto Protocol (two side-notes: 1. Canada’s emissions actually increased after they promised to take action to lower them and 2. most European countries significantly lowered their green-house gas emissions, which basically means that our country being cold is a silly excuse).

Why am I so whiny lately? I’m tired and a little stressed and if I’m honest with myself I’m a little homesick. But I’m also kind of upset. About a lot of things. I’m a lower-middle class Canadian girl that has packed her bags and made the trip to Mwanza, Tanzania for three months because I wanted to help out with a Western initiative that I have a lot of faith in. I also wanted to gain more practical knowledge and open my eyes to how it really is in the world, or at least in this little corner of the world. I encountered a vibrant space that is breeding systemic inequality. I encountered street kids, abused women and children, uneducated masses, and people that know I have more than them by virtue of my skin colour. It’s been a lot to take in.

Yet they’re getting it so right in some aspects. I’ve always admired African movements that address sustainability, resource management, agriculture, and environmental issues. In a world where the solutions to poverty and “underdevelopment” are loans, structural adjustment programs, aggressive industrialization, and economic decentralization (thanks, capitalism), many nations and communities have rejected these approaches and turned to grassroots microfinance, local business, and sustainable farming. These communities still have to fight against exploitation and calls for stronger top-down approaches. They still face poverty and issues associated with small economies. There will still be exploitation from industries and businesses that refuse to leave poor people alone.

But, reading this profile and trying to figure out how I can put all that MikonoYetu does in a couple of short paragraphs (and also trying to figure out how I can blame the lack of wifi to stall some more), I am dumbfounded that they can do what environmental activists are still trying to get through to us back home. I’m sure there are dozens of theories that seek to explain this (I’ve studied a few of them). My overarching point in all of this is not that I believe Canada should be more advanced in every aspect including environmental responsibility. We have our problems too, and the last thing I want to do is enforce any views of African nations as perpetually behind. My point is that our views of “underdeveloped” countries and regions stunts these very spaces. They are focused on community initiatives right now. But why shouldn’t Tanzanians become more of a voice in the climate change dialogue? Why shouldn’t they become leaders in the environmental sustainability movement? Because it’s not just MikonoYetu that values these sustainable approaches; I’ve noticed that it’s a big topic here. It’s a very real topic. Renewable energy is being widely used (particularly solar energy).

I think we’re too comfortable to really do anything in the West. So maybe countries that can’t afford to be comfortable yet need to start shaking things up and pointing fingers.

This has turned out to be another dry post. My apologies. I promise to be cheery and colloquial and uplifting next time.

[Note: this post was originally written on Saturday, June 18th. The wifi hasn’t been working this weekend (as I mentioned at the beginning of this post) so I decided to write down my thoughts and worry about posting later. Reading this a couple of days after writing it I realize that I sound really cranky, but I’m not going to change that because I want this travel blog to be as true-to-life as possible. And sometimes I’m cranky]