The Struggles of Storytelling
It has been just over three months since I came back from Tanzania, hard to believe! I’ve FINALLY started posting pictures on Facebook to share with friends and family who haven’t seen them yet, so they can gain some insight, apart from the few stories I have told, into my experience. As people often say, a picture can speak a thousand words.
But here’s where I’m having some trouble conveying this experience. It should come to no surprise to some that I love telling stories, whether it be through the written word or verbally. I love sharing stories with people, telling stories, just being able to connect with people through something such as storytelling, where you are able to weave strands of different events and people and instances and moments and things you have seen, witnessed, experienced, all together and form this beautiful story that rolls off the tip of your tongue. I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel to many places around the world and once I’ve returned, I’ve eagerly shared my stories with friends. As a child, you could find my head buried in a book, enthralled by the story at hand and being taken on an incredible journey.
For me, storytelling played a huge role in my ability to connect with other people while I was in Tanzania. Unlike here, where things are fast and we’re very much on the go, go, go, moving through life like the speed of sound, as if we do not have enough time and are at times, very comfortable with being on our own, time moves ever so slowly in Tanzania and, from my past experience in Cape Town, in Africa generally, sometimes too slow (leading sometimes to impatience or frustration especially when trying to get things done haha), things are laidback and community, friendships and connecting with people is a very important part of life in Tanzania. Due to the fact that many people cannot afford simple entertainment that we oftentimes I think take for granted, such as movies, Tanzanian and I think generally African people, in a sense, find their own entertainment through getting together with one another, being together, and engaging in conversation.
I am not saying that it’s not that way here, I just think that more and more, while we engage with others, while we are connected, we are also very much disconnected due to technology. Connected yet disconnected. Together yet apart. We have this need to be connected with the world, to know what is going on every minute, every second (Facebook and Twitter are perfect examples of this), yet this leads us to becoming disconnected with those around us. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you called someone on the phone instead of texting or messaging them?? There are many benefits to connecting this way, I am not discounting that, but I think in some ways, our physical connection with people is growing weaker and weaker.
Sidenote: I have always had an appreciation of relationships, whether it be friendships or romantic relationships, as well as the concept of family which I’d spoken about in one of my previous entries. Family can defy all traditional definitions of family. Your friends are your family, your coworkers, whoever you choose to be your family and those who are there for you, will be.
I found the simplicity of just being with one another so gratifying. Our homestay family was so generous and welcoming to anyone who came by their home and would often invite friends and family over. Nicole and I spent some of our evenings talking with our homestay mama Lilian and baba Jimmy about life, Tanzania, Canada and even the most random things. Some nights, Nicole and I would play karata (cards) with our kaka (brother), Cliff, who loved the game Go Fish. Our younger dadas (sisters), Mima and Viva kept us busy with their dancing and giggling. Even our conversations with mzungus (foreigners) who we’d meet on the street and those we befriended were so comforting and enlightening. A walk through Arushatown meant that you’d often hear ‘Mambo’, a common Swahili greeting and respond in return with, ‘Poa’ or ‘Safi’. At first it took me by surprise, to know that a complete stranger was saying hello to me and at times, annoying (you can only hear the word mzungu so many times), but it was fun replying back in Swahili and realizing that this complete stranger had done something as simple as acknowledge you, whether it be a simple hello or to acknowledge that yes, you are a mzungu!
I loved hearing stories from the students at The Umoja Centre. Whether it was about their life in Tanzania, their family and friends, music, or their experiences at the community events we worked on them, it was so enlightening talking with these students. Through conversations, I was able to learn their hopes, dreams and their love to learn in order to reach their full potential. These conversations, the stories that were told were priceless.
My lovely friend, fellow YCI volunteer and roomie, Nicole and I talked a lot to each other a lot about our friends and family back home, what we thought of our experiences so far in Arusha and TZ, our work with YCI, even the little things. While that may seem obvious considering that we spent 24/7 together, literally from the moment we woke up to the moment we went to sleep, it helped so much to get to know her as a person and understand why she’d decided to volunteer with YCI. We were able to relate to one another quite well and be there for each other through the ups and downs and ultimately became good friends. I am so glad to have met her and love that we made a fantastic team! We both agreed upon that, that we were well matched for our YCI placement considering the kind of people we are.
I arrived back in Canada at the end of November. The holiday season was soon approaching and I knew friends would be busy with things like Christmas shopping and family get togethers. What I didn’t anticipate was the fact that I haven’t been able to share as much of my experience in Tanzania as I would have liked.
Obviously, there are a number of reasons for this. For one, December was most definitely a busy time (exam time for some people, anticipating holidays from work, Christmas shopping) and while I did not go through much reverse culture shock, having been through it before, I felt like I had so much I wanted to share, but of course, would question every now and then what people in my life would find interesting about my experience. Secondly, while I did see friends, I could never really find an opportunity to work stories into conversation and the times I tried, well, it sort of worked. Emphasis on sort of. And another thing, I don’t want to make things about me, I am simply not that kind of person who wants to have all attention focused on me and take away from whatever it is that we’re together for, if that makes sense.
Youth Challenge International was so helpful in sending a guide upon our return about such things as reintegrating back, reverse culture shock and of course, relating your experience with those around you. I read through it and took careful note of suggestions and have been trying to keep all of those in mind. You don’t want to suddenly blurt out about ‘this one time at that place’ when it seemingly has no relevance to the conversation taking place. At the same time, you don’t want to hold back. You deserve to tell your story and be heard.
And you know, another reason is that while I’ve been away, people have gone on with their lives and have continued to. And I think getting back into that has been interesting. While I am lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to travel and volunteer overseas (not to save the world or just see the world as some may think- there’s more to it, it’s about gaining experience and knowledge), I feel like I’m not as close with some friends as I used to be and they in turn have grown closer with one another. It’s something I think that is inevitable, but can be hard at times.
It’s easy to feel like people don’t care or understand, but I think it comes down to the fact that they don’t know how. And that is totally understandable. For some people, they just can’t relate to it and I get that. But I think at times, it’s felt as if my friends are not interested or truly engaged in what it is I have to share. And you can’t just push people to listen to you and expect that they want to hear whatever it is you have, want or need to say. I think though that some of these people in my life were so supportive of my experience and I just wanted to say thank you by showing them how much their support helped me.
I’ve remained in touch with my fellow YCIers and have reached out to a few at times to share this struggle of mine with them. It helps to know that there are seven other people out there who have been through what I’ve been through, who are there for me and can understand where it is that I’m coming from. I am sure when we meet up again, it’ll be like when the group of us were together in Tanzania. We’ll talk about funny moments during orientation, Zanzibar and post-project events and reminisce on our time in Tanzania and where it’s taken us now.
Seeing as it has only been three months since I was in Tanzania, I think this is something that I will continue to think about from time to time. This entry was actually sparked by a conversation I had with my mum where I shared how I was feeling about all of this, and I want to thank her for listening to me intently, understanding and giving me some great advice. I don’t know why I’m feeling like it’s a struggle, though I am determined to use my ability tell stories like I do here in Canada so effortlessly to share with people what this experience in Tanzania was all about.