Kobayashi Maru

2012.07.24 by Josh Erb; 1197 words.

I have returned home from Tanzania. In fact, I returned approximately one month ago.

First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone who helped me take this trip with their generous donations. I assure you that your personalized thank you cards will be in the mail shortly.

If you're interested in getting right to the pictures, you can find them at the end of this post (click to enlarge, of course). For those of you interested in the type of emotional toll a two-week trip to one of the most impoverished nations on the face of this Earth takes on a person, kindly read on.

This short trip has caused me to suffer from a sort of ambivalence. I loved it. I hated it. I passionately tried to understand it. I don't think I'll ever fully understand it. There is only one certainty that I posses after an experience such as this: one does not visit Sub-Saharan Africa without being changed. I'm not entirely sure how to explain this. In fact, I'm convinced that no matter how hard I try to convey even a small fraction of what the Sub-Saharan experience entails, I will assuredly fail to describe with any accuracy the paradox of it all. The murky turmoil that an experience such as this one creates within my inner psyche. It's been almost a month and I'm still struggling with some of the things I've seen. It's one thing to know about the state of affairs over there, it's something else completely to understand the implications this has for everyone involved.

I won't delve too much into the specific details of my trip. Those things are best left to personal conversations (or maybe my future memoirs?). But there are some specific moments I would like to share with you. The drive to our construction/camp site, for example. We flew into Nairobi and proceeded to board a bus for six hours until we arrived a small village school about a forty-five minutes outside of Moshi's city limits. You see, Moshi is one of Tanzania's larger cities, and it's also the capital of the Kilimanjaro region.

Anyway, it's not the destination I want to share with you, but the voyage. Since a good portion of the drive was between the two major cities, there was a significant stretch of smooth, paved highway. Once we had passed Moshi, however, and headed toward the village, the reality of Africa began to set it. The roads slowly eroded the longer we continued. Little by little, potholes began to multiply, bumps became more jolting, until we eventually came to a series of unpaved road. Now, it is important for you to realize that when I use the word "unpaved," the average North American reader has no point of reference. There is no equivalent to this type of road stateside. Nothing even comes close. In fact, to call it a road is a grave understatement. Every inch of that path was jarring and uneven. The bus we were in was definitely not suited for off-road travel. With every shake and prattle, the group cringed with the realization that at any moment a vital part of the engine might drop off the vehicle.

It was during this drive that I began to realize one of the biggest schisms between my world and the world of Africa. Security. Of course, I've been in prior situations that have lacked any feeling of security. I've traveled to developing countries before. But the security I was missing was so much more than a simple sense uneasiness. What this security is or was, I'm still not sure. Part of me has concluded that I must have taken basic infrastructure for granted my whole life, and the sudden loss of it created this feeling. Another part of is convinced that it's the insecurity that that can only from visiting communities that don't seem to posses the means to preserve their own human dignity. A fact made even more unpleasant when you realize that your mere presence creates the stark contrast necessary for this indignity to become tangible.

Once we arrived at the site, we were greeted with brilliant smiles and open arms by swarms of school children. That's something else about Tanzania. The desire to learn. The school our team worked on was experiencing low attendance before our renovations. Not because the children thought that school was dull or boring. But because parents feared that their children would become sick if they were forced to study in such unsanitary conditions.

A word of caution to any who might wish to take a trip similar to the one I've just taken: no matter who you are or how much you do, at the end of your toil you will not feel that you've made a difference. That's Sub-Saharan Africa, though, there is always more work that needs to be done. I spent a total of 7 days on the work site. Seven days: one complete week. A very short time, I am aware. After each day of work, I would take time to sit and think about the day. Almost every single day that I pondered over the group's collective labors, I realized that we had hardly done anything to improve the lives of those in the community. My initial reaction was to assure myself that this was simply because of the time constraints of our itinerary. But over the course of that week I slowly began to realize that I could spend 10 years with that community, work until my muscles ached and my bones were bruised, and I would still go to bed with that feeling of shortcoming.

I fear that I've begun to ramble. As you can tell, there are parts of this trip that have left a long-lingering bitter taste in my mouth. Tanzania, and Sub-Saharan Africa in general, are difficult places to visit, and I would not be so brash as to recommend them to everyone I meet. However, despite the filth and poverty, and overwhelming sense of guilt and helplessness that inherently comes from traveling to such places, the people are vibrant and outgoing, and so much more worthy of the things we take for granted than we ourselves are at times.

It is probably best that I end on that note. For those of you have been patiently waiting for pictures, here they are:

A pre-renovation classroom.

The main school building that our group worked to renovate.

Our campsite.

A nice view from our campsite.

All the local villagers had to walk to the school for their water, our campsite was en route.

We worked with these local workers to help start construction on a new kitchen for the school.

I periodically tried my hand at artsy photography.

My contribution to our group's finished classroom

Oh, did I mention we went on a safari before we left?

Once again, thanks for taking the time.

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