Writing from 3.387° S, 36.683° E
All my life, I’ve heard stories about myself as a kid. I was strong-willed, competitive, and Type A to the extreme. I argued like a lawyer, cried when I lost at anything, and was constantly stressed about schoolwork and extracurriculars. I am infamous in my family for the story of my Aunt Angie walking in on a 4-year-old Lauren scaling a bookshelf like a monkey. When she asked me if I was allowed to be doing that, I boldly replied: “I can do anything I want in this house except smoke and cook.”
In a slightly less famous story that still described my childhood personality just as well, a 5-year-old me cried and demanded to be taken home after my expectations of what tee-ball would be like proved to be extremely wrong.
Confident? Yes. Laid-back? Absolutely not.
Most people who know me now are well aware that I’ve chilled out a lot since those days, but even more impressive is how much more easy-going I’ve gotten in just these last six weeks. Honestly, I’ve had no other choice. I’ve talked often about the importance of flexibility and “going with the flow” in my other posts, and I know now that to be anything other than flexible here is to add unnecessary stress to the mix.
Many have asked me what a “normal day” is like here in Tanzania, but I’ve come to realize that there’s no simple answer to that question. As with many jobs and locations, each day is different, but unlike many other jobs and locations, no one here seems to care.
Things change, issues arise, and everyone seems to have a predetermined agreement not to give a shit.
Most plans do not remain intact, and days that seem “normal” are anything but. While my schedule (if you can even call it that) varies, most days include at least some version of the following:
I’m really, really, REALLY glad I brought good shoes to Tanzania. We walk everywhere, and even when we “don’t walk” and take public transport, there’s usually still some walking to the final location. My project, Pippi House Foundation, is located on the opposite side of Arusha from where I live. Each day, we walk, then take a dala dala, then walk again, then take a dala dala again, then walk again. It takes an hour each way, and we average about 5 miles of walking daily. My shoes are being put to great use — thanks for the graduation present, mom!
Like with everything else, the work I do depends on the day. When I go to Pippi House, I usually spend a lot of time playing with the kids or helping out around the house. We also help the women make jewelry to sell in markets on the weekends, and teach English or computer skills to those who ask for lessons. Sometimes, I go to a cafe with WiFi to work on the Pippi House website and marketing materials.
If there are other projects that need assistance, we help them out on our days off. For instance, we’ve volunteered for World Rabies Day and helped administer free vaccinations to dogs and cats around the city, as well as helping to paint a school for Venance Care Foundation.
No matter how busy my day is, I always find time to sit on my balcony and relax. It’s my favorite spot in the whole house, and luckily enough it’s right outside my bedroom. This part of my day usually features guest stars such as my other volunteer friends (who come from all around the world), our dogs (Bella and Takwa), countless cups of tea, many good books, and several episodes of Game of Thrones.
It’s a very lucky thing that I walk as much as I do, because I eat a lot here. We have amazing meals every night in our hostel (courtesy of Mama Denis), and the local food at street stands or in restaurants is often cheap and always tasty. I keep myself on a very tight budget, and I’m still able to eat out for as little as 3000 Tsh ($1.34).
When I studied abroad in Budapest, I kept a blog called Lauren Gets Hungary, but made the mistake of not journaling. The smaller events and stories that didn’t make it into a blog post have now disappeared from my (extremely subpar) memory. I’m doing my best to journal at least every few days here to hang onto the little things that are shaping this experience. Thankfully I love writing, so this is an easy one.
Every day is different. Sometimes, external forces require me to be flexible and change my plan. Other times, the forces are internal: for example, I’ve stayed home from work seven out of the last ten weekdays with a brutal sore throat, accomplishing nothing but this blog and bingeing four seasons of Game of Thrones. The old me would’ve been frustrated by the lack of routine and “normal” days here, but the new me didn’t come to Tanzania to have “normal” days.
The African version of Lauren is less Type A, more laid-back, less stressed, and very happy. Still strong-willed, though. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Up next: No idea. I’m going to stop trying to predict what will happen in my life. Stay tuned!