My Future Home

I’m finally back at my home-stay after a week of traveling. This will probably be a longer post as a lot happened this week, so for those of you who just want the highlights and don’t want to read the whole thing, here they are:

  • I stayed for most of the week with a volunteer named Lark who is an amazing volunteer. We ate amazing food, I observed her in her village, and she let me come watch her HURU event at a local secondary school, which provides girls with reusable sanitary pads as well as gives them some sex-ed and life skills information.
  • I explored Makambako, my future banking town.
  • I visited my site in Mambegu and saw my house and got a tour of the primary school that I live near. My village is interested in having me help with a dairy project, which I am so excited to talk more about, as that is something I had hoped to do. I also have a really mountainous view. I took pictures but unfortunately had my iphone stolen so I lost those and will have to take more next month after installation.
  • I explored and kind of fell in love with Iringa!

 

So if you’d like more details:

My Week With Lark:

I was originally supposed to stay with another volunteer who ended up not being able to take me in due to unforeseen circumstances. This ended up being fine, though, because I felt really inspired by my week with Lark. She lives near a school and seems to have a really good relationship with her neighbors, the children, and the teachers. She also conducted a HURU event with her counterpart at the local secondary school. Because of my limited Swahili, I couldn’t understand a lot of it, but she tried to help me out where necessary. If you’d like to learn more about HURU, you can visit here.

Lark let her counterpart conduct pretty much all of the meeting so that it is sustainable after she is gone. Knowing she only has one more year in country, if she conducted all of the meeting, the information would disappear with her, but her counterpart, who is Tanzanian and lives in her village, will be the main resource for these girls, and can continue to educate others about conducting HURU sessions as well. Sustainability is so important in all of our Peace Corps projects, so this was really important. The village executive officer also came to address the girls. He spoke to them about the importance of staying in school, and not selling themselves for food, which Lark had just learned is a huge problem among girls who are hungry. This made me so sad, but happy that there was support in school from local role models to talk to the girls about these issues.

In short, I learned a lot from Lark about what makes a good volunteer, and I was also motivated by how good her Swahili is. Hongera, Lark 🙂

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The girls practicing putting on the HURU pads.
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Lark’s counterpart addressing the girls.

Makambako

Makambako is my “banking town” which means that’s where I’ll go to get my stipend as well as where I’ll use the post office. I really loved Mak. It has a nice safi duka (nice store) which even has ice cream, some American foods, and these amazing chocolate chunk cookies from the UK which are my newest not-so-guilty pleasure. They have a milk bar, which is literally a place where you stand at the bar and can get milk, yogurt, and cheese. They have a huge market where you can get spices, fruits and veggies, fish, and they also have a street filled with beautiful kitenges, kangas, fabrics, and dresses. There is also amazing street food at night. I ate sambusas filled with ground beef and onion, as well as chipsi mayai, which are like french fries in an egg omelette. They were amazing. Even though I wasn’t feeling so hot the next day. There is a nice view of the mountains as well. It is small and dusty, but it has everything I need, and I look forward to spending time there over the next couple of years. Again, I lost the pictures because my iphone got stolen, but I will take more once I go back.

Mambegu

Since I will be living here for two years, I won’t go into great detail now, but I did get to visit my future home. It doesn’t have any furniture or anything yet, but I’m sure it won’t take me long to make it into my home, and I’m so excited. I have a bedroom, an indoor bathroom!!! (practically unheard of here), a living room, and a kitchen in the main house. There is an enclosed courtyard outside, with an outdoor room for cooking, another bathroom, and a couple extra rooms for storage or they can become guest rooms. I also have a water spigot in my courtyard so I won’t need to collect water on most days, which is huge, and most volunteers do not get this luxury. I am right in the middle of the Southern Highlands, and I have a great view of the mountains. I also live in a sunflower field, and have banana trees!

It is too early to be thinking about projects, as I haven’t spoken to many people in my community yet, but there are some organized Peace Corps Tanzania projects I am really interested in doing. One is Zinduka, which uses soccer to teach youth about HIV/AIDS. I love being active, I love soccer, and I will be living in a region with one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Tanzania, so this project could potentially be a good fit. Also, there is a newer project called “Maua Mazuri” which means Beautiful flowers, and it utilizes art to encourage empowerment, self expression, and teach about HIV/AIDS. I think art is so important, powerful, and healing, and would love to see something like this take shape in my village. Of course, these are just ideas and thoughts, and the projects I actually end up doing will be dependent on what my community requests of me, and what they see as most important for am. After all, I am here to serve the Tanzanian people, and specifically the people of Mambegu.

My site visit was great, but I only stayed for a couple of hours, and to be honest it was my first panicked moment in Peace Corps. I have been getting emails and letters from people who knew about my experience in the Dominican Republic, asking if I am just putting on a show of happiness or if I really am happy here. I am so happy here! Of course I miss my friends and family at home, but I haven’t had any moments that were so difficult that I felt unhappy to the point of wondering if I can do this. But upon seeing my house, I did feel the nervousness of knowing how real this is becoming, and that I’m really going to be alone in that house for two years. It was an intense feeling, and I know I have difficult nights ahead. That being said, the fear made me reflect on why I’m here and why I want to do Peace Corps, and I can confidently say, there is no doubt in my mind that I’m where I need to be and that I am so happy and proud of the life I’ve chosen to lead. I also fully appreciate the love and support behind me at home, especially from my family, boyfriend, and friends. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel this support, and I love you all so much. You are all amazing! In the car on the way back from visiting my site, Lark told me I seem really well prepared to start my life at site. I don’t think she knew how much it meant to me to hear that coming from a current volunteer. I’m so ready for this journey.

Iringa

Minus getting pick pocketed here, which is actually a common occurrence, I totally fell in love with this city. It is beautiful, it has a lot of really cool shops and neat finds (ghost busters wife beaters for example), cheap pile shopping, “Masai Alley” which has traditional Masai crafts and jewelry, and AMAZING food. Ok so I fell in love with it because of the food. It just felt really good not to eat rice and beans. I want to say I had an out-of-body experience as I sucked down a cold coffee milkshake with REAL frozen ice cream. Practically unheard of in this country. I also enjoyed some delicious yogurt and fresh fruit salads, and great italian food. I was a glutton for a day, I’ll admit. The pictures speak for themselves…

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Home Again

After all this traveling, I didn’t expect to miss my host family in Dodoma as much as I did. But I missed them so much!!! I came home to a big welcome. I even got a hug from one of my sisters, which is pretty rare in Tanzanian culture! My mamas and bibi (grandma) continued to say “karibu” which means welcome, and that they were happy I was home. Even the dog, pregnant as could be, couldn’t stop shaking her tail. Neither could I. I had planted a bag garden before I left and was so happy to come home to sprouted greens and watermelons. I sat down to do my laundry and then relax, and my family fed me a delicious meal of pilau (spiced rice) and my favorite cabbage. It feels good to be home!

Happy Easter, everyone. Thanks for reading, as always ❤

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Mzungu Mikaela Goes to Mambegu!

site announcementYesterday was one of the most memorable and exciting days of my life. The anticipation has been building throughout my Pre-Service Training to find out where my site is. This past week seemed so long as every day I counted down until Wednesday, March 16, the day I would finally find out which village would be my home for two years. On Wednesday morning, I was in such a great mood. I couldn’t wait to find out! It was consuming my thoughts. I was hoping to be placed in the Tanga or Kilimanjaro regions, but I didn’t want to say that out loud because there was a small chance I would get placed there.

After a long buildup, all of the trainees were finally led outside, where we set up our chairs in front of a huge board covered by a kanga. Under that kanga was a map which had all of our faces on our regions. I could barely sit still as I waited for the announcements to begin, which was of course prolonged. Special gifts started to appear: sodas, samosas, snickers bars, and then I nearly fell out of my seat when they brought out apples (This is only the second apple I have come in contact with since I was in the US). As these goodies were brought out, I heard faint drumming growing louder. Looking down the dirt road, I saw that there was a group of mamas marching towards us playing traditional drums and singing. My excitement level became SKY HIGH. I hadn’t felt the heartbeat of East Africa so clearly since I was in Burundi. Surrounded by all of my PCT friends, some current volunteers, and all of our language teachers and Peace Corps staff, I was one hundred percent on cloud 9.

 

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My love for this apple is so real…

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Then it happened. Our friend Dennis got to choose which region to uncover first because it was his birthday! (Happy birthday, Dennis!) He uncovered Denyse, who was the only person placed in Dodoma, where we’re currently training. She then decided to uncover the Njombe region. She uncovered Dennis’s face, so he went back up. As I sat back to wait, Dennis called my name! That was it. A wave of many different emotions hit me. I felt disappointed for a split second, because I didn’t think I would get placed in Njombe, even though the majority of volunteers are placed there. As I stood up, I became so excited. I grabbed my manila envelope from Vicky, my APCD, who then began talking about my new home, Mambegu. Here you can see my emotions changing from happiness:

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Then I found out that my site is new, meaning this village has never had a volunteer before, and I will totally be breaking this site in, so I need to set the precedence and show them what Peace Corps is all about. So then I panicked:

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But then she told me I was neighbors with Dennis, who is such a great friend! And then I decided, this was going to be a great region. Then I went to uncover the next person, my amazing friend, Taylor.

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I will be living in this region with many volunteers, which makes me happy knowing that I’ll have a support system not too far away. One of my closest friends, Cori, is also in my region, and so when her name was called I felt even more excited than when my own was called.

The projects that I might be involved in are very broad, and I really could go in any direction. I live near a primary school, so involvement with education is highly likely. I love working with kids, and I see education, agriculture, and health as three interdependent sectors, and would be happy to work on projects which bridge all three. I hope especially to be involved in nutrition projects, as nutrition and food security are topics I’m extremely passionate about. And I was so excited to find out that it is possible I can start a ZINDUKA group, which utilizes soccer to teach students about HIV/AIDS!

Njombe has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in all of Tanzania, so my work will inevitably be connected to this issue in some way. And of course, there is always room for agriculture, whether it’s as simple as planting my own garden, or working with farmers in my community. And you can’t have good nutrition without agriculture, so I’m happy to focus on the two together.

I also learned that I am near a lake, and a new beach just opened close to my site! I also am not far from Lake Nyasa, which borders Malawi. My region is extremely mountainous and cool. This is perfect for me, as I’m not doing so well with my morning runs in the dusty heat of Dodoma, and I absolutely love hiking, camping, and stunning mountainous views. From what I hear, Njombe is extremely beautiful, nestled right in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. We also have a national park which protects a certain type of wildflower, as well as beautiful hidden waterfalls that are very worth the trek. I cannot wait to begin exploring, and I cannot wait to see my new house and meet my village. For sure, March 16, 2016 is a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and the heightened emotions I felt are unlike any other I’ve ever felt in my life.

Site announcement made my Peace Corps service seem so real. It’s all hitting me now. I’ve been dreaming about Peace Corps for so long, about what it could look like, what my village will look like, but never had a clear image because it is so variable. Now I finally have an idea of how my two years will look! On Saturday I will travel to my site and shadow a volunteer living nearby. I will see my house, meet my community, and plan what I will need to live there for the next two years. I will stay for a week and then return to Dodoma for the rest of my training. I am so excited, and will be blogging again from site to show where I’ll be living! Stay tuned!

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The Njombe Crew!

Chapati Cha Bliss & Awesomeness

Today marks one month since I left for Tanzania. I can’t believe it’s been a month! I have learned so much since coming. Training has been a blur so far, with more ups than downs. For that I’m grateful, because I know the downs will come. That being said, my time in Tanzania has naturally presented me with many challenges, some of which I expected and some of which are totally unexpected. Through the process of responding and reacting to these challenges, I’ve learned a lot about myself. So what is an example of a challenge I’m currently dealing with, you might ask.

As most of my friends know, from August 2015-January 2016 I made huge progress with most of my goals regarding fitness and nutrition. I dropped below 18% body fat for the first time in my life, maintained an all-time low weight, and became faster, stronger, and had more endurance than I ever had before. I also ran my first Spartan and accomplished many smaller goals, such as being able to do rope climbs, pull ups, and handstands. I knew coming into TZ that my diet and exercise would drastically change. I told myself I was prepared for this, but I was actually totally unprepared for how my drastic change in diet would affect my all-around daily performance, ability to learn, and how I feel about myself.

Where I once started my day with eggs, beef, and vegetables, followed by a day full of protein shakes, plenty of animal-sourced protein, fruits, and veggies, I now eat starches on my starches. Staples of the Tanzanian diet include ugali, rice, maandazi (literally an old-fashioned donut of Heaven), potatoes, white bread, and….CHAPATI!!! I’m going to whine a bit more about the starches and then get to the fun stuff…how to make chapati so that every person back home in good ol’ Marekani can experience the amazingness that is chapati. It’s so simple and amazing, try it, and comment about how it came out. I want to know! I have so many chapati ideas…well, we’ll get to those later.

So to stay somewhat healthy in TZ, I’ve been trying to ease up on the starches and take large servings of veggies, fruits, and since meat is scarce and expensive, beans and lentils for my protein. My host family is a bit apprehensive about eating raw vegetables, and it seems that most Tanzanians boil all the possible nutrients right out of veggies, but I did hit a milestone by preparing for them guacamole full of tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and lime juice. Surprisingly it was a big hit! So, baby steps…we’ll try banana egg pancakes soon. It’s not that Tanzanians want to be or are unhealthy, it’s that food security is a real issue here. In fact, according to a recent reading we were assigned in training, 44% of Tanzanians are food insecure, and malnutrition is a huge issue here. Because of poor soil quality, drought caused by climate change, and many other factors, this is the reality of Tanzanian life, and inevitably my life. This has also contributed to a love of starchy carbohydrates here, and it’s hard to convince people to change their behavior or habits. Anyone who works in the realm of fitness, nutrition, or health and medicine can attest to that. Finally, starches are cheap. An egg here is roughly 40 cents per egg, whereas rice can be bought for half the price for a much larger quantity. So, something I’m really interested in here is how to build on the Tanzanian staples so that families have access to nutritious foods that they still like to prepare and eat. But I do have to say, my family does a great job in eating vegetables and fruits at every meal! So I’m very grateful for that.

Anyways, chapati has been the one delicious amazing starch that I have no willpower over, and which I will happily add in as my own staple during my training. No shame. It’s all about nutrient timing…right? Right…So here it is!

P1040108 Chapati, hot off the pan, in all its glory. Just…oh my yes. It is flaky, oily, heavenly.You have to try this in your home kitchen. So what do you need?

  • Flour (preferably whole wheat, or you can play around with almond/coconut and let me know how it goes!)
  • Water
  • Oil

That’s it! Ready to get started?

  1. Add a small amount of oil and enough water to the flour until it creates a dough. The dough consistency will be similar to that of crescents. We eyeball it here in TZ but I’m sure you can google exact measurements if you’re so inclined. As you’re preparing the dough, heat up a frying pan (cast iron would be best I think) with a small amount of hot oil, just enough to coat the pan so that the dough doesn’t stick.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out smaller balls of the dough until it is thin and circular. Add a small amount of oil all over the top.

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3. After rolled out, cut one slice from the center of the dough to the edge. You’ll then pick up the corner and roll it inwards, until it’s rolled into a cone, or something like a rose bud. Here’s me after rolling my first chapati dough!

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4) Tuck the edge of the roll into the center of the top of the “cone.” Then smoosh it all down into a flat roll. It will look like a crescent pinwheel. Set aside.

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5) Once all your chapatis are rolled, flour the surface again, and roll out flat. Add a small amount of oil to the top of each dough after rolling out.

6) Add your chapati to the pan! This will happen fast on a hot pan. The chapati will want to bubble. Use a spoon to smooth out bubbles, and flip often (about every 10-30 seconds). You’ll flip the chapati several times before it’s done. Before flipping, always spread a thin layer of oil over the top of the dough. Once it’s brown and looking delicious on both sides, it’s done!

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So what could you do with chapati if you were in America and had access to every food on the planet ever? ADD CHEESE. Always add cheese. I would make a chapati bruschetta, a chapati pizza, a chapati quesadilla, chapati burritos, chapati with nutella, peanut butter, and banana, or chapati with baked apple and cinnamon topped with ice cream, to name a few ideas. What will you do with your chapati? Give it a shot! I will be eating plain chapati in the mean time, and loving every second of it. Until next time! Asante kwa kusoma. ❤

 

 

Choo-ing with Cockroaches

IMG_9911Night 1:

It was an 8 hour bus ride from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, where our 9 week Peace Corps training would be held. As we left the lush green fields and endless, towering mountains behind us, we rolled into dusty Dodoma city. Already heavy with fatigue from the previous week, I could barely lift my eyelids to take in what would be my home for the next 9 weeks. Soon enough, nerves started to wake me; in only a matter of hours, I would be sitting alone with a completely new family, with only a few Kiswahili phrases to pass the time.

 

Would they like me? How many family members would there be? What if I forget to properly greet the elders and they think I’m disrespectful? What if they try to feed me something I don’t like? What if it’s awkward? It’s going to be awkward…How do I shower? Wash laundry? Do I help cook dinner?

 

All of a sudden I found myself separated from my American friends, walking down a dusty dirt path with only a suitcase and a backpack. There was only one mama to greet me. She showed me to my room and then went outside. I didn’t know what to do. I went outside and greeted an elderly woman, who is my bibi (grandmother). Then I sat in silence with these two women.

 

I tried to get comfortable in this silence. There were two teenage girls cooking on a charcoal stove who were too shy to greet me. Children stared at the new mzungu (white person) who was sitting outside their house. There was a baby who cried when my mama told him to shikamoo (greeting of respect) me. He bawled his eyes out. He was scared of my whiteness. I can’t blame him…sometimes I am too.

 

We ate dinner in silence; it was long and awkward. After, I was brought out to the shower, which is an outdoor tin roofed stall. I was handed one bucket of warm water. As I stood there naked, running a small cup of water over my body, I had flashbacks of my daily long, hot showers in Vermont. What have I done? Can I really do this for two years? I don’t know if I can. Why did I want to do this again? I thought way too much about the fun stuff and didn’t understand how difficult daily life would be. I wonder what my friends and family are doing in America right now? What would I be doing? Probably taking a long hot shower…I just don’t know why I signed up for this.

 

I know that these feelings are normal and that this will likely be one of the hardest nights of my service. They prepped us for this in training. I know I can do it. I know I’ll be ok. I just have to make it to morning.

 

Night 2:

I can feel the homesickness setting in. After 9 hours of intensive Kiswahili classes, I feel the loneliness crush me like a thousand bricks on my chest. I know I’m going to cry. I know I have nothing but time before bed to think about my homesickness. There is nothing to distract me. I have no way of getting in touch with home. No phone, no internet, not even a post office. I stare up at the late afternoon sun and know it is hovering over my home in the US. I let myself go in my room and cry. After five minutes, I get up off my bed, and push myself to go sit under a mango tree with Bibi. Soon, my dada Joy (sister) hands me a hoe and we begin to weed the entire compound together in silence. I’m happy for the distraction, but totally exhausted. I try to pet my Mbuzi (baby goat) but even he doesn’t want to play. I go nap instead.

 

Feeling a little refreshed, I decide to bathe.

 

Stepping into the dark, damp wash stall, I hang my kanga (piece of fabric we wrap around our waists/bodies while in the house) in the doorway and spot a cream-colored lizard on the wall. Without thinking, I whip my kanga at it, causing it to scurry over the wall. Again, I daydream about a time in America when my showers didn’t include peeping lizards. Not wanting to lose myself in a cloud of negativity in focusing on what luxuries I left at home, I turn my attention towards the black African rainclouds rolling in across the mountains. Individual lightning bolts electrify each cloud in bright flashes. I’m happy to watch the storm approach.

 

After, I help my sisters with dinner. They are reluctant to let me help, either because I’m a guest in their home or they think I’m incapable because Americans are really bad at using charcoal stoves and doing all of the practical things of daily Tanzanian life. Eventually they hand me a bowl of tomatoes, onions, and peppers to chop. My sisters have their teenage friends over. Everyone has a working cell phone. I can’t stop thinking about calling home. The more I think about the feeling of isolation, the more I feel tears brimming on top of my lower lashes. I bite it back.

 

I remind myself that growth hurts when you’re in the middle of it, and that this pain and discomfort is temporary. Soon, I will be a much stronger person.

 

Before bed, I walk out into the darkness to use the toilet (choo) one last time. As I open the door, a cockroach scuttles across the foot placements and towards the hole of the choo. Disgust ripples down my spine. I take a cupful of water and flush the cockroach down the hole. As I turn and squat over the hole, I feel watched. I raise my head to find three more cockroaches staring back at me, their feelers twitching on their heads. I do nothing except the inevitable- choo with cockroaches.

 

Night 3:

I meet my host kaka’s (brother’s) wife and her little toddler, Emmy.

“Nipe Tano, Emmy!” (Give me 5!) I try.

Emmy giggles and pounds my fist, repeating “nipe tano!” She then invites me to sit next to her at the dinner table. As we both use our right hands to shovel ugali, beans, and cooked greens into our mouths, I am struck by what a child I am in this situation. I am literally relearning everything. I don’t even yet know how to eat properly without silverware, but this amazing family has taken me in for 9 weeks and offered to teach me everything. I’m feeling so grateful (and a little messy).

 

After, the family gathers to look at my photo album. It is passed around many times, and I use it as a chance to practice my Kiswahili. My dadas (sisters) think my brother is so cute, and my bibi and mama are very pleased with all of the pictures of my boyfriend. The whole family is blown away by how beautiful my mom is, the pictures of cows and horses, and they all absolutely love a picture of some alpacas I brought along.  After a great night of bonding, I crawl under my mosquito net into bed where I peacefully fall asleep so the sound of rain on the tin roof above me.

 

During the night, I awake to loud screeching noises. I lay silent, not even breathing, adrenaline coursing through my body. There are laughing-like utterances. I realize hyenas are outside my compound. I drift back to sleep, thinking that it feels the same as coyotes in America. As my American life drifts farther behind me, I am coming to find that everything is different, yet everything is the same. I am at peace.

 

Night 4:

I sit outside watching my dada shave fresh coconut. My mama is sharing blue grapes with me and we are lighting the charcoal stove. They are patient as I practice my Swahili and give them blank stares when I don’t understand them. I watch as Emmy’s father, my kaka, drives up on his motorcycle.

 

“Baba!!!” She screams, and runs towards him. He greets her with kisses, popcorn, and chocolate. As she runs to me to share her chocolate, he greets his wife and mother lovingly, and shakes my hand. I am surrounded by love. I am a part of this family. Everything is ok.

 

Kuwa huru. Be free.

I’m Moving to Africa

I thought about packing today. I really did. I was just giving a presentation to some high school students about my experiences in South Africa and got so pumped up about traveling in Africa again that I decided “Today is the day, Mikaela! Today, you will pack!” And then I made a cup of coffee and decided to blog instead. With only 19 days to go, I’m a chronic procrastinator. How do you fit everything you need for two years into two bags that weigh under 100 pounds? It’s hitting me that I’m moving to Africa.

In May 2015 I sat on my bed in Moorpark, California (where I was farming at the time) and finished what was my second PeaceCorps application. I had initially applied in 2014 while I was still at Middlebury College. After graduating, I moved to the Dominican Republic to serve with the Mariposa Foundation. My contract was from September-June. The PeaceCorps had asked me to serve in the health sector in Mozambique in April 2015, but because of my commitment to Mariposa (which ended up falling through unfortunately) I said no. So there I was again, filling out more PeaceCorps applications. I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to do PeaceCorps anymore because I had experienced the volunteer life abroad already, and it was the most challenging experience of my life. After, I was living outside of Los Angeles in a cushy American life. Moving to a remote, dusty village far from home seemed less than ideal. But in my heart, I have known since high school that PeaceCorps is for me. And on July 27th, I was invited to serve as an agriculture volunteer in Tanzania, the perfect placement. It took me less than 24 hours to accept my decision and turn down another job offer in Northern California…I’m moving to Africa.

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My Flight Route: Burlington>Philadelphia>NYC>Johannesburg>Dar Es Salaam

I love that line. “I’m moving to Africa.” I’ve tested it out in almost every situation imaginable and I love the different reactions I get. Every now and then, I encounter someone who knows their African geography and is able to ask “where?” This makes my heart sing. But the majority of the time, I get a wide-eyed, gaping mouthed stare, followed by a question, which can range from intrigued, to humorous, to downright offensive. This is my favorite part. One of PeaceCorps’ missions is to educate fellow Americans about other cultures. I had no idea my job would start as soon as I accepted my invitation. So in response to all of these questions…here’s what I think about “moving to Africa.”

I first and foremost want to remind everyone that Africa is a continent. In fact, it is the second largest continent in the world! It is extremely diverse. There are thousands of languages, cultures, ethnicities, and religions. Remember the images in your mind that you got when you had to read “The Heart of Darkness” in high school? Throw those out the window! Africa is not one big dark jungle full of savages. It is a continent full of varied climates, including savannah, desert, snow, and yes, most of the countries in Africa have urban landscapes! Cities just like we know them in the US! I know it is hard to redefine your image of “Africa,” but the reality is that most countries are more “modern” and “developed” than the average American expects them to be. Just to show how large Africa actually is…

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Yes, it’s huge. So now that we have that covered…

Another common response I get when I say “I’m moving to Africa” is “Don’t get Ebola!” I cringe when I hear this because I know this is a direct response from Western media, who usually only focuses on the bad things that happen in Africa and ignores all of the amazing things that are happening across the continent. The Ebola epidemic occurred in 2014 and was a very serious outbreak; however, this occurred in West Africa, almost 5,000 miles from where I’ll be. In fact, those in Spain are closer to where the outbreak occurred than where I’ll be. I don’t anticipate encountering Ebola while there, or any other deadly diseases, in fact. I am more likely to encounter a typical flu virus or get food poisoning than I am of contracting a deadly disease.

“I’m moving to Africa.” “Oh, will you have to eat dog/chimpanzee/bugs/snake/etc. etc.?!” Probably not. I have never traveled to Tanzania, but I have been in South Africa, Burundi, and Morocco, and I have never had an African friend or host family let me leave their house without enjoying at least some tea or a very delicious meal. In Morocco I enjoyed couscous Fridays with roasted vegetables and chicken, in South Africa I was often treated to braai which featured amazing sausages and chakalaka (my favorite!), and in Burundi I was constantly treated with fresh fruits, fried plantains, delicious chicken, and amazing vegetables, topped off with beer at every meal. I know that I will be living on a volunteer stipend in Tanzania and will not be eating gourmet meals for my two year stay, but I also know that the food will probably be delicious.

“I’m moving to Africa.” “Are you scared of ISIS/Al-Shabab/Terrorists/Getting raped/Crime?” No. I’m not scared. In terms of ISIS, I feel safer going to Tanzania than I would if I was moving to a major American city. Bad things can happen anywhere in the world. Life can be taken from us at any instant. It is fragile. I am following my dream, and would rather know that than stay in the Northeast Kingdom out of fear of all the bad things occurring in the world. As a PeaceCorps volunteer, I know that my safety is a priority. I will work hard to be integrated into my community so that I will be even safer. Life is too short to worry about stuff like that. So what do I worry about? How many lizards I’ll be sharing my house with, what I will do if I get food poisoning and can’t make it to my outdoor pit latrine, if my clothes will be nice enough for the PeaceCorps dress code, whether my host family will like me, if I’ll still remember my Spanish after learning Swahili, if I’ll even pick up Swahili fast enough…the petty stuff. And I know in a couple months I’ll be laughing at these worries, and I’ll have different worries.

So…I’m moving to Africa! A place of sunshine, laughter, and love. I cannot wait. I am a bundle of mixed emotions, but I am certain this will be one of the best experiences of my life. I have never been so mentally or emotionally prepared for something. If only I was actually prepared…which reminds me, I should get packing. Karibu (welcome) to my blog. If you care to learn more about Tanzania, follow along. Asante Sana.

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With love, Mzungu Mikaela ❤