Writing from 3.387° S, 36.683°
“I have no expectations” is a lie of a statement. Before starting something new or going to a new place, it’s possible that we may have conflicting expectations or difficulty choosing a specific prediction, but it is physically impossible to expect nothing.
We’re all guilty of saying it. Before I left for Tanzania, I lied about it countless times. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time — aren’t we supposed to be calm, cool, collected, and expectation-free when we travel?
In retrospect, I should’ve just been honest. I didn’t fully know what to expect because I had heard such conflicting descriptions of what Tanzania would be like. So, I expected a lot of things.
I expected kind and hospitable people. I was told about the amazing range of cultures wrapped up in that one country. I expected to be in awe of the Tanzanian wild, both wildlife and landscapes alike. I was ready to enjoy the slower lifestyle and to be disconnected from the current craziness of our world.
I was also told to expect to be objectified constantly as a woman. I expected to stand out and receive unwanted attention on a daily basis. I expected to be pick-pocketed, to stay inside at night, and to have to just “suck it up” sometimes. I stocked up on any medicine or toiletry item I thought I could need, because I expected to have very limited access to shopping options.
Many of my expectations proved true, and many others ended up being way off. There were absolutely incredible parts of my time in TZ, and there were daily challenges that tested my dedication and made me consider going back home.
I met some of the most caring and generous people in the world. I was welcomed into their homes and their families, and regardless of how much they had, they gave endlessly to their guests. I witnessed a population encompassing more than 120 distinct ethnic groups and tribes, along with expatriates from all over the world. I explored the incredible nature and enjoyed safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire National Park — all once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I worked with several NGOs run by talented and generous people just trying to improve their community, and I was thrilled to be even a small part of their mission. I made lifelong friends and permanent connections to TZ through long-term business partnerships and my new position as an executive board member of Widows Encouragement & HIV/AIDS Foundation.
I was also pushed to my limit time and time again from the constant unwanted attention and harassment. I came to understand that inequality for women — while obviously still a problem back in the US — is so, so much more intense here. I consistently felt the way I was being treated meant that some men believed they had a right to do or say whatever they wanted to me. I was robbed (but recovered my stuff), never walked outside after dark, “sucked it up” sometimes, and defended myself when necessary.
I came to appreciate the importance of being the minority at some point in one’s life, as the perspective gained is invaluable.
Before I left for Tanzania, my best friend Whitney said, “I hope you discover more about the world, yourself, and what you love on this amazing journey you’re about to begin.” Well Whit, you called it. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:
- While TZ is the 25th poorest country in the world (with a GDP per capita of $2,054), it’s the richest I’ve encountered in many ways. People are generally happy, whether they have everything or nothing at all. On top of that, the country is loaded with remarkable landscapes and wildlife — more than any other I’ve seen thus far.
- It’s possible for a place to move at a snail’s pace and still be chaotic at the same time. The “pole pole” mindset clashes with the African mayhem on a daily basis.
- You truly don’t need ANYTHING to be happy. I met countless people in TZ whose worldly possessions amounted to almost zero, yet they were happy as could be, thankful for what they did have, and more generous than most.
About the world:
- At the end of the day, we are all the same. I continue to be amazed by our similarities across the globe. We live in very different places but the core issues we all face — with growing up, loved ones, finding our purpose, and more — seem to be consistent for everyone.
- Needs and wants are not the same. The divide between rich and poor is huge in many places, and it’s clear that those who are “without” understand this idea even more than most.
- It’s cliche, but “don’t judge a book by its cover” is more relevant than ever when talking about places you’ve never been. No matter what you’re expecting (and you know you have expectations), you’ll be at least partially wrong.
- Nothing is insurmountable. I had countless days in the last months where I thought it was all becoming too much, but I found a method to keep myself sane: FaceTime my family, have some alone time, yoga, meditation, and sleep. As my mom says, problems always feel smaller in the morning.
- Taking care of myself — mind, body, and soul — is so important while traveling. My immune system, my sanity, and my overall wellbeing can go down the drain very quickly if I’m not careful.
- I’m going to change a lot in my 20s. This was only stop #1 on an extended string of temporary homes, and it completely transformed the way I see (as Whitney said) the world, myself, and what I love. In the next year alone I hope to spend time on 4 – 5 continents and in 10+ countries, so I can only imagine who I’ll be at the end of 2018.
So, one final note to Tanzania. You challenged me daily and brought me so much joy. I met some of my favorite people and we explored your cities, terrains, and beaches together. I acclimated to a culture far different from my own, and I was welcomed by your locals with love (and food). You started off my post-grad travels with a bang, and I’ll never forget the 156 days I spent with you.
Asante sana, TZ. Nitakupenda siku zote!