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.