I open my eyes to bright sunlight beaming in through the barred windows of my dorm room. The sun rises at about 6:30 every single morning, and by 7 it’s bright enough to wake me up. I climb out of my mosquito net, and grab my water bottle and toothbrush and take two steps across the hall to our “laundry room.” It is a room of about five big sinks where we hand wash our clothes. This is also where I brush my teeth because I find these sinks a little cleaner than the sinks in our community bathroom. Or maybe I just can’t see the dirt because these sinks aren’t white like the ones in the bathroom. I try not to think about it too much. I brush my teeth using the filtered water from my water bottle- the tap water isn’t safe to drink or even brush your teeth with, so I have to be careful that I always have enough clean water in my bottle to brush my teeth, take my medicine, and of course, to drink.
I, then, fill up our electric tea kettle with water and boil it to make myself some black instant coffee. It’s not bad, but coming from West Michigan where you can get a lavender honey double shot oat milk latte almost anywhere… I can’t quite call it good, either. With the hot water, I also make some oatmeal and sprinkle some Moringa powder into it; Tanzanians aren’t big into “greens” or salads by any means, and it’s rare to find a place that serves raw vegetables that we can consider “safe,” (as they may have been washed in unfiltered water) so I’m trying to find creative ways to still get the greens my body needs! I sit on my bed and take some time to read my Bible, to journal about all I’m experiencing, and to listen to worship music in my headphones. It’d be easy to go through the motions and let this semester fly by without reflecting on it. But, I’m trying hard to be intentional with my time with God, and to keep seeking out what He wants to do in and through me here.
By 8:25 am, Ellie and I leave our room for the five- minute walk to our academic building, and it’s time for class! My first class is public health, and only three of us in my program are in the class. It’s taught by a Tanzanian professor who is very down to earth and open to discussion, and it’s focused on public health specifically in Tanzania, which I find fascinating, important, and sometimes heartbreaking to learn about. My eyes are being opened to some of the “why’s” behind certain health issues Tanzania, and Africa as a whole, faces. This has been waking me up and stirring new passions inside of me, as well as raising questions for my future: clinical social work, or public health? United States, or Africa, or somewhere else? A well known, large and stable organization or a small, grass roots NGO? I don’t have much time to ponder this though before class is over, and I’m on to homework time! After this is my history class, which I don’t find as fascinating as public health, but still have a good time with because our professor is really funny and we have a lot of inside jokes as a class. Then, it’s time for research! A class taught by our program director, Justin. In this class, we’re doing research on a topic of our choice and writing an elaborate research proposal; my research question is: What are barriers toward access to and retention of healthcare for chronic diseases with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS in the elderly population in rural Tanzania? It’s a long story as to why I chose this topic, but I’m learning so much and gaining so much empathy for the struggles the elderly face in underdeveloped nations.
Finally… it’s lunchtime! We head down the street from our campus to our favorite lunchtime spot, Clocktower, a little café. The staff here consider us regulars by now and we call them by name. I, normally, order veggie curry which is white rice, curry sauce, some cooked greens, and beans. If I feel like treating myself, I’ll also order vitumbua which is somewhat like a donut made with rice flour and coconut- the gluten free praises go up! Lunch is a nice break for us to decompress and laugh with one another, outside of class.
After lunch is our final class of the day, and also the bane of my existence: Swahili. I thought learning Swahili would be easy because I didn’t have a hard time learning Spanish, but I was wrong. Swahili is a language unlike any other and I just don’t get it yet, but I’m trying because I know how important it is for my experience here. Sometimes, I’ll accidentally throw Spanish words into my Swahili sentences- honestly, it’s a hot mess. Our professor, Paulo, is also our Tanzanian program coordinator and is patient with us and jokes around with us, so I never have to feel like a goon for messing up. Progress, not perfection.
Finally, it’s 3 p.m., and school’s out! On Wednesdays, some of us play rugby with some European expats in the area (talk about another hot mess..ha!) and we’ve started gathering people for Ultimate Frisbee on Thursdays! These sports remind me that there was a reason I ran in high school instead of playing sports where you have to run AND throw things to other people…yikes! But, when in Tanzania! Other days, we might go for walks or runs down sandy roads, go to the market, and work on homework. One of our groups’ favorite spots to work on homework and to eat is Neema café. It is fully staffed by Tanzanians with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are especially marginalized in East African society so I love what this organization does, and love supporting them. I normally order an avocado, pineapple, banana smoothie because, again, greens! Evenings are a fun time to “create your own adventure,” whether that means convincing the boys to let us, girls, pluck their eyebrows, watching movies, or seeing how many random items we can bargain for at the market for a friend’s birthday.
The end of the day sometimes ends with a bucket shower. To take a bucket shower, I heat up three boiling kettles of water, dump them in a bucket, then fill the rest of the bucket with cold water (there is no hot running water) to make the water lukewarm. Then, I head to the shower and use a small cup to dump this water on myself and make it as quick as possible because showers get pretty cold without a steady stream of water. The first time I took a bucket shower, “I could’ve been in Paris right now” was all that was repeating through my mind… however, with time and practice, these have gotten better and have become relaxing- afterwards I always feel grateful to be clean and that I’m saving water!
At the end of the day, I climb in bed with my kindle that I have resurrected from high school and read some books I have downloaded. Tanzanians don’t really read for fun, and I have yet to find a bookstore, so it’s nice to be able to download books that I want. It’s also nice to have time to read for fun here at the end of the day, since I’m not attending meetings or events until late like I would be at Hope! I cover myself up with my mosquito net, and laugh at how this is my new normal. It’s anything but normal compared to the U.S., but this new routine filled with quirky new normals is what I have adapted to, and am now comfortable with. A day in the life.