Volunteering turned out to be the very best way we could have started our marriage.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the Husband and I returned from Tanzania/Istanbul safe and sound and are now in the process of adjusting to ‘normal’ life.  It’s awful (the adjustment, that is).  The trip was absolutely perfect.  Well, except for the flight home from Paris… Delta received a scathing email from me today.  But moving on to the more positive things, it was most-definitely the second best vacation of my life (after my wedding week) – and for once I’m not exaggerating or being overly dramatic!

Our first week of the trip we spent volunteering in a town near Arusha, Tanzania.  It’s hard to tell people about the experience because it really is one of those things that a person has to experience to understand.

I’ll leave you with a not-so-brief summary of our time volunteering:

We stayed in a volunteer house with 15 or so other volunteers.  The volunteers were young and liberal and free-spirited and lovely and we had a good time getting to know them.  I even went boxing with a few of them at a local gym that was probably 30 ft by 15 ft.  We ate ciapatta and chai every day. We snacked on pineapple 3 meals a day.  The pineapple was the sweetest and juiciest fruit I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  We commuted to the orphanage an hour each way on a crowded van.  The rides cost 300 tsh each and we paid the conductor with coins.  The vans (dala dala) were packed with people and the smell of sweat and bodies was super overpowering.  More people fit in those vans than I would have thought possible.  The back seats were the best because if you sat near a door more people would crowd in and stand in front of where you were sitting or squeeze on your bench.  The language was Swahili and we loved learning it.  We arrived at the orphanage around 9am and we taught classes in English.  The students were mainly 6-10 years old, but there were some older and some younger.

Joy,

Joy.

There were openings and bars instead of glass in the windows.  There wasn’t enough chalk and no one had pencils or notebooks.  We taught simple words and grammar and a lot of math.  We taught English words for the parts of the body and learned that corn cobs are used for hygiene in Tanzania.  Recess sometimes lasted 1 hour and sometimes lasted 3 hours, depending on if the teachers wanted to teach that day.  It was so hot in the sun, but the students wore sweaters anyway.  Every day the children wore the same outfits, no matter what the temperature or weather.  The Husband taught them ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ and they loved the song (but didn’t understand the game).  The students loved our skin and fingernails and quickly found that they could see our veins through our whiteness.  White people (or really foreigners in general) are referred to as ‘mzungu’ but the students usually called us ‘teacher’.  Goats and cows came to graze in the school yard in the afternoon.  The boy who was in charge of grazing the animals was around 6 years old.  The students brought water bottles to class, but sometimes they didn’t have water from home.  The poverty was incredible, but seemed almost normal in our surroundings.

Break time was not such a break for volunteers!

Break time was not such a break for volunteers!

I firmly believe that every person should spend time volunteering internationally.  In my opinion, it’s the only way to truly learn about another culture, as well as our own.  The perspective I’ve gained about my own life through volunteering in Central America/Africa is priceless – and I was only able to do it in short stints.

Plus, (and trust me on this) if I can manage to survive without cheese and hot showers and western toilets and air conditioning and all other things we take for granted in the USA but are not common in other countries, you can too!

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