Running . . . Tanzania

When I was in 9th grade, I wrote a short story entitled “Running.” In the story, I unknowingly set wheels in motion that I am only now even beginning to understand. In the story, the narrator is on a bus in Uganda. She notices a small girl running alongside the road and is immediately intrigued. Why was the little girl running? I still see this little girl vividly in my mind, and she represents a crucial part of my life.

Here I sit, nearly a year after I set off for the greatest adventure of my life thus far – a four-week volunteer experience in Moshi, Tanzania with Cross-Cultural Solutions. When I remember my trip – which is a daily occurrence – the magnitude of the lessons I learned in Tanzania still take my breath away. I still feel a connection to that little girl from my story. Aren’t we all running – to, from, or away? Though I have wanted to volunteer in Africa since I can remember, my trip with CCS was my first adventure on African soil.

To give you a little background of my experience, I taught English at Akili Daycare and helped at the Tuleeni Orphanage for 4 weeks this past June. I taught English (I use the term “taught” very loosely, as I felt I needed a better understanding of Swahili and about three more years with the kids to fully “teach”) to approximately twenty-five 3-6 year olds. Many of them learned best through activities and singing. I was more than happy to oblige. My inner child was completely enthralled with “Ring around the Rosie” and “The Hokie Pokie.” A lot has changed since my time in Tanzania, but I believe I learned the most from hearing peoples’ stories.

Tonight, I sit on my families’ sofa, anxiously awaiting a beautiful Easter Dinner on Sunday. And yet, my heart yearns for that Kilimanjaro soil. I remember one of the most important stories I heard while in Tanzania – one that reminded me of true sacrifice and one that makes me rethink the importance of an elegant dining room and beautiful china for Easter.

A man once came to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. He met Baba (father) on the streets of Moshi and asked that he be his guide up the mountain. Baba excitedly agreed, and the two soon fell into friendly conversation. When the visitor heard of Baba’s heart – that he was taking in any child who needed a home, but had no adequate place to house them all – the man stopped suddenly. He looked at Baba and said simply: “I am here to climb Kilimanjaro. But now, I am not going to climb Kilimanjaro. Those stones will not remember me…that mountain will not remember me. You need a house, so I will fly home and you will get your house.” I remember that man, who built the orphanage I visited rather than conquer the world’s highest freestanding mountain, and I am in awe. He conquered a much bigger mountain, I believe. He and Baba are the catalysts of change, and both an inspiration to me, though I never even met the visitor.

Another story in my mind now is my own memory: I am hugging a small girl. My four weeks is over, and the dread is settling around my heart. As the little girls started to cry, I feel the desire to run. I need to leave. The little girl doesn’t know that my heart is set on returning, and I believe it is this knowledge that still haunts me to this day - even as I sit on my families’ sofa. I should have told her that I would be back to spend time with her, to teach her, and to love her. Instead, I fled toward the van, knowing that if I stayed any longer, I would not be able to leave. So, like so many times before, I ran. I got into the van and I looked back. I saw her standing in the doorway of the orphanage, and I know that the image is seared into my brain forever. Even now, I know that words will never be adequate enough for the kids, orphanages, or culture I love.

The final paragraph of my 9th-grade story still feels relevant. ” Like a slow motion clip, I continued to watch her run. It seemed probable that she was running to the next village over to get food for her family of nine or ten. Maybe she was running for help… But maybe, just maybe, she was running to get away from it all. The child in her (for she had to grow up a long time ago) somehow believing – hoping – that if she ran fast enough she would run right into a new life. Out of her old rugged dress and into something beautiful and wonderful. Something she’d only seen in her dreams. Maybe she ran because when she did, she was flying free and nothing else mattered…”

I plan on returning to Moshi as soon as possible, and will be traveling with CCS to as many locations as I can. I am grateful that I now recognize “sustainable change” as critical to international and domestic progress. Asante sana, Tanzania. Asante sana, CCS. Nakupenda, Africa.

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