First of all, I’d like to say I’m sorry for dropping off of the face of the earth. I thought about blogging almost every day since leaving the village, and life just got away from me. I used to roll my eyes when I was in Tanzania and Americans said that, yet here I am.
As you might have guessed, I left Mambegu and completed my service. My last week was incredible, but also exhausting and stressful. I was replaced by a male volunteer named Steve who is just an amazing human being. I introduced him to people, he was my paparazzi at my going away parties, he kept asking me if I needed to cry and strangely I didn’t, and we had the world’s weirdest 3 person dance party with my 60 year old neighbor. Then I boarded a bus with two bags and headed to Dar Es Salaam to close out my service. I had three days of medical and dental examinations as well as administrative things to take care of, and it was nothing short of exciting: I acquired an amoeba during the last year of my service!
So that little guy was living with me for a while, and I actually took him on my trip with me through Europe and back home since Peace Corps couldn’t offer me the medication I needed. I got attached of course, but eventually it was time for him to go.
So here I am, back in Vermont. I traveled through the Balkans and Eastern Europe for three weeks before coming home, and have been home now for about a month and a half and let me tell you…it is WEIRD. Coming back to the US has been the second hardest part of Peace Corps for me, preceded only by the first three months at site in 2016. It is a bit difficult for me to even understand, but it has been challenging to process the ways in which those back home have moved on. It definitely felt like there was no longer room for me in the lives of those I cared the most about, because their lives had changed so much, they had developed new relationships while I was away, and their daily lives look different. Because of this, my idea that my life would look exactly the same as soon as I moved back home was shattered, and I found myself just as lonely as I had in Tanzania. Luckily Peace Corps taught me to be good at being lonely. I also had to recognize that as much as I want to be, I am not the same person I was before I left for Tanzania. I have grown in many ways, my interests are different, and how I perceive the world around me has drastically changed. Another challenge has been with cultural differences and false realities that I am still holding onto. For example, I still get nervous when I am alone with a man that I don’t know, such as in a grocery store aisle or if I see a man coming toward me on the sidewalk. I have trouble making eye contact with men I don’t know, and I’m hyper aware of this and trying to change my behavior. I also still continue to curtsy when I shake someone’s hand, and I definitely still quickly raise my eyebrows to answer someone affirmatively rather than just saying “yes.” I am socially awkward, I maybe come off as an unhappy snob to those who don’t know what I’m going through, but I am trying to work through these things, and laugh at myself in the mean time.
Before signing off completely from this blog, I want to answer the questions you all asked me back in March.
“Have you come across any of the stone circles I read about?”- Trevor P
No, I didn’t. I unfortunately didn’t get to explore Tanzania as much as I had hoped, due to the work I was doing in the village and also finances.
“Will you ever go back to visit, and can I come with???”- Neal P
Oh hey, Dad! I would love to go back to visit. When I look at pictures I get emotional, and I miss my village much more than I expected to. I would like to go back before my swahili completely disappears, and if life works that way, yes you can come with me 🙂
“What’s the short term future look like?”- Ali W
Tomorrow I begin the season at Shelburne Farms working as a farm based educator. I did this four years ago and loved it so much, so figured it was the perfect post-PC job. Following that, I will be moving to a permanent position as Assistant Farm Director with Wardensville Garden Market, an incredible nonprofit serving Appalachian youth in West Virginia. I am beyond excited and feel great about where life is taking me, even though WV wasn’t necessarily in the plan.
“What are the biggest pieces of village life/Tanzania life that you hope to take with you?”- Rebekah P
Conversation, connection, and kindness. I learned to love sitting with someone and talking to them for hours, and I now constantly crave that connection. Most Americans can’t indulge me, but for the few that can, I also want to be a strong, kind, and attentive communicator for them. We need human connection, and no one does it better than Tanzanians. So if anyone wants to sit and chat with me for hours on end, hit me up.
“What were your biggest challenges with the culture and which food were the easiest to get used to?” -Noni M
My biggest challenge with the culture was sexism. It infiltrated every aspect of life in Tanzania, and really affected my personal experience. There were simple things, like not being able to wear pants in the village and having to wrap myself in a kanga every time I went for a run or left my house, to more complex things, like harassment, sexual assaults, and men telling me to my face that I can’t do certain agricultural work because I’m female. Sometimes men wouldn’t even look at me or have a conversation with me. People in my village would call my male friends doctors (they definitely are not doctors) yet question whether I could be teaching about reproductive health. So, gender issues and sexism were a very real and prominent part of my experience. But, it led me to do the majority of my work with women and girls, which are the memories I value the most from my experience. I also served on the USAWA gender committee so that I could be involved with creating programs and trainings that addressed these issues and taught volunteers how to engage with these issues in their villages.
As far as food goes, Tanzanian cuisine is bland. I ate more rice and beans than I ever imagined possible, and the main meal eaten, sometimes three times per day, is ugali (stiff corn porridge, similar to thick grits you can eat with your hands) and beans or greens. The most difficult part of Tanzanian food for me was lack of diversity. I would always crave something different but had no access to it. We are incredibly lucky in the US to have so many cuisines to choose from.
I want to thank you all so much for all of the support over the past two and a half years. It kept me going and meant more to me than you will ever know. It has been a wild ride, and I can’t believe it’s over. I’m going to head to the gym, because I can do that now, and I’ll take a hot shower after, because I can do that now, too. Don’t take this life for granted, friends.
Sending you all so much love.