A very short post on my part tonight. I usually don’t particularly enjoy running for such extended periods of time, but I do enjoy being a part of the fight against HIV/AIDS. So I will run, jog, or get a co-worker to roll me in the fetal position past the finish line of this 5K. If you can find it in your heart or your wallet, give a few bucks for women living and fighting HIV/AIDS here. Give for women living and fighting HIV/AIDS in a society that uses the virus as another false reason to blame them for their own disempowerment.
Finally made it to Tanzania after three flights. I currently only possess what I have in my carry-on at the moment which luckily included my camera and laptop. My luggage, dildos and all, didn’t make it on the TINY plane I took from Ethiopia for my last leg of the trip. And of course, it didn’t make it to the airport luggage claim until late my second night. Yesterday was a public holiday and today is Sunday, so the office has been closed. I bought a few things to wear and wash with, but be thankful, Tumblrs are not scratch and sniff—because I’m wearing the same pair of jeans I left Los Angeles in for about the sixth straight day in the row—which ordinarily wouldn’t be so bad had I not been out driving through the rural areas yesterday. Let me just say, wind, dust, and sweat leave a little bit of an impression.
That situation aside, I loved visiting the village yesterday. I crashed a meeting for the second volunteer program of the summer that’s being held in a ward called Bwawani. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves for the most part, but I will belabor the obvious and say that the volunteers seem so close and enthusiastic to get started with their teachings. The NGO I work for sends these volunteers into rural areas to host HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.
I’ll be coordinating a group of volunteers like these ones in the next coming weeks in the Kikwe ward. I’m excited and nervous. I love watching all manner of relationships form and this position is going to be an opportunity to live in the muck of it. I don’t just mean relationships between different people (even though those are some of the best ones), but even the changing relationships that people have to their perceived places in the world, their pasts, the circumstances they’re coming from. I know I’m finding myself in a constant flux—a perpetual negotiation of who I am within my changing relationships. I’ll be sure to update you more when the time comes.
I’ve been on a perpetual quest to not pack today, so I figure I should take a moment to sit down and write a bit and at least let the moments be somewhat productive. I don’t know the quality nor quantity of my internet connections to come, so my posts here may be fewer and farther in between—so I’ll try to at least make this one entertaining because as of right now, I have no trajectory for a life lesson.
The days are finally numbered—I’m leaving for Tanzania tomorrow out of Los Angeles to Frankfurt through Ethiopia and finally into TZ via Kilimanjaro. Am I ready for the travel? Probably not—I’m packing at a glacial pace. But I bragged (more like lied) to a friend last night (with much bravado), that all I really need is my passport and a couple bucks, and I suppose that’s really true. However I’m actually bringing two nearly-fifty-pound pieces of luggage filled to capacity with all sorts of things like a solar charger, packets of low-sodium ramen, 4 pounds of snack size chocolate bars, and then ten dildos my in country staff asked me to bring over. They are for condom demonstrations. Let’s remember I work for an HIV/AIDS focused NGO, not in the porn industry. Dildos aside, I am still a TSA worker’s dream; and with all this baggage, I am an embarrassment of a back packer.
But I’m smiling because I also have some really good baggage. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I had good baggage before or if you’re even supposed to, but I feel like I have the kind that intrigues me so much so that I don’t mind carrying it around with me for the next few months. This past Saturday, my family hosted a graduation/bon voyage party for me. More family and friends came than I could’ve hoped for. I ate too much, cracked jokes, sang overly dramatic karaoke, and probably mixed stronger mojitos for my party guests and myself than I should’ve. I kept thinking the whole time “I’m always in such good company.” That bit is making it hard to leave, but also a whole lot easier to. I have good people on my team who have my back whenever and wherever. I guess it always happens like this, but right as I’m preparing to leave, I’ve started talking to some new people and seeing some old people in new ways. And I think it’d be fun if these conversations lasted just a little longer—even (or especially)—over the distance.
I was recently hired to work for an HIV/AIDS focused NGO that operates in Tanzania. My position is U.S. based and I’m in charge of overseeing the recruitment and preparation of volunteers from U.S., U.K., and some Australian universities. These volunteers will host HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in rural TZ over the summer. The position is stipend only but after three years of unpaid interning, at least it pays at all, and I’m just glad to still be involved. I volunteered with this organization last summer and was even hired to go back this summer as a volunteer coordinator.
Strangely, this second position has sort of been a source of worry for me. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve actually been fearing my return back to Arusha this summer. Do not get things twisted. I fell in love with Tanzania and with the community I worked with last year. I met friends I didn’t get to spend enough time with and I had a beautiful home stay mother with the biggest heart and the bombest dance moves I’d ever seen. I am so grateful to be able to go back and do this work. I can’t even call it work.
But have you ever been scared of coming undone? I had a bit of a rough go my last semester with a series of life shaping events that I’ll maybe go into detail of when I’m more brave, care less about what people think about me, or when more time has passed. But today I’m alright. I finished college, completed an honors thesis, got into a grad program, have a job(ish), recently discovered really true relationships, and I really like the length of my hair right now.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that after my Waterloo[s] I finally feel like I’m in a better or even good place, or at least I’m getting there. I have a new skin and I’m getting comfortable in it. And while I know this might sound hypocritical since this blog is about being uprooted, I’m scared that leaving this place right now for Tanzania might undo me a little bit.
Looking at the calendar last night made my stomach drop. I’m leaving in a little over a week and I’m nervous that I’m not all here to be all there mentally and spiritually. To shut myself up, I decided to craft a little for my volunteers that I recruited from Berkeley. The process of making something and getting my fingers dirty was a silent and calming therapy; and painting with the colors of the Tanzanian flag and writing our organization’s motto, “TUKO PAMOJA” (We are together), reminded me why I decided to go back in the first place. I’m going to learn so many things from the people I’m going to meet and from all our different lived experiences. What I love about the NGO I work for is that much of the work done by volunteers is in engaging in conversations about HIV/AIDS—it’s less about the inevitable rhetoric of helping “them” or “serving/empowering others” and more about sharing and being shared with—being an other to an other and mutually benefitting from it. What’s getting me through my anxieties is what I know going there will do for me. It’s going to really challenge this sense of security and comfort that I’ve cultivated. It’ll take hard emotional work, which I’m hoping will ultimately result in an even stronger sense of self.
Wish me luck. Nevermind, I don’t need it.
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