Giraffes at Arusha National Park. Arusha, Tanzania.

Giraffes at Arusha National Park. Arusha, Tanzania.

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.

xoxo Avishka

Nungwi Beach. Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Nungwi Beach. Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Arusha park (by danispirittanzania)

My friend Danielle made this fun video of our safari in Arusha National Park. She’s been making videos in her spare time of her adventures in Arusha so far and I’ve gotta say, she’s definitely a pro. Check it out!

Do Something That Matters: My Safari Njema to Tanzania

Who knew that this Youth Challenge International card would change my life and set me off on a whole new adventure?? It was April of last year and, having heard my last rejection for grad school, I was feeling pretty down and at a loss for what I was going to do next. I had a clear plan for 2011 which included starting my postgrad studies in either international development or communication studies in September. Coming from a B.A. Honours in English and Minor in History, I knew it was going to be more difficult getting into the international development field, especially at the graduate level, but I didn’t anticipate that I wouldn’t get in at all. Kind of felt like my world was crashing down.

After some tears, moments of looking up at the sky and being like, ‘WHY??’ and consoling from my mum and friends, I regrouped and made a new grand kickass plan for 2012. Part of this plan involved a visit to McMaster University’s Career Office to seek guidance from a career advisor on my next steps, programs I should apply to, internships and other fields to consider, like communications. As I sat in the office waiting to meet with the advisor, I noticed a pile of cards sitting on the table with the YCI logo and the words 'DO SOMETHING THAT MATTERS' printed boldly on them. Naturally, out of curiousity, I picked one up and it definitely caught my interest. At the time, I was on the hunt for both local and international internships, knowing that gaining more experience would not only be beneficial and a fantastic learninge xpoerience, but also boost my chances of getting into grad school. A lot of emphasis is based on practical experience and despite getting my toes wet last year in Cape Town, I knew I had to find something to build upon that experience.

So I took said card, put it in my bag and during my meeting, excitedly took it out after the advisor mentioned YCI! She had heard nothing but great things and encouraged me to look into it. After that, I admittedly never did get around to checking out YCI until May, when I remembered the card and made my way onto the website to learn more and peruse. Things were a bit up in the air and I was still trying to decide what kind of internship I was for sure looking for. I am so glad I read about YCI because I loved the sound of the mission, the work and the different projects. I applied not knowing what to expect and I’d heard it was pretty competitive so I filled out my application in June and sent it in, hoping for the best. A week later, I had my phone interview (an intense half hour!) and a week or so after that…well the rest, as they say, is history.

I told this same story to Cheryl Turner, our Country Manager, Brian Cox, the Executive Director of YCI and Steve Brown, the Chairman of the YCI Board when they visited Arusha at the end of October. They were impressed at the impression the card had made and my willingness to learn more based on the information on this card. It was eye catching and basically told me everything I needed to know.

This card followed me to Tanzania and back. I kept it in my journal and looked at it a few times, reminded of the reason I was on this journey to do something that mattered. And let me tell you, it was definitely a safari njema (good journey) :)

xoxo Avi

For more about my journey, read my last entry which reflects on my time in Tanzania two weeks after arriving back in Canada:

Kwaheri for Now, Tanzania

Mambo from Canada, friends! It’s been just over two weeks since I left Tanzania and since then, I’ve been catching up with friends and family, settling back in at home, adjusting to things here and keeping up with the adventures of Ben, Duncan, Julie and Adriana as they climbed Mount Kili and went on a safari as part of their post-project adventures. Hard to believe it’s already been two weeks.

I never did write a blog entry before I left to sum up my experience in Tanzania, something which I usually like to do wherever I go. Amidst preparing final lesson plans, packing, travelling to Morogoro, final reporting, and then debrief in Dar, I just didn’t have a chance to sit down and write properly. Okay, I think also because I secretly wanted to enjoy my last week in Tanzania, soaking up the culture and hanging out with my YCI friends, knowing I might get emotional from writing a reflection piece while still in TZ (trust me, there would’ve been waterworks). I’m glad I saved the entry for now though.

These past two months have been INCREDIBLE in so many different ways.  I’m so proud to have been able to represent Canada as a Youth Ambassador with Youth Challenge International and travel back to Africa, to Tanzania for this project. It was the perfect opportunity to gain experience in development and there were a lot of ‘firsts’ for me, from travelling to Eastern Africa for this venture, meeting with local NGOs in Arusha to collaborate and build new partnerships, to planning events (I’d only learned about and created communications plans for special events for school), to gaining insight into a country’s needs, the attitudes of the people, most importantly the youth, about themselves and their country.

The Tanzanian national flag

I really enjoyed teaching the students at the Umoja Centre. They were such a fun group and there were moments in class where they would crack jokes, in Swahili of course, which would result in delayed laughter from Nicole and I after translation into English. One thing I took away from working with these students is that it is the small things that can make all the difference. That may sound so cliche and I think that’s a question that comes up as people embark overseas for volunteering, ”Will I really be able to make an impact?” And the truth is, YES, you will. It’s just that sometimes a lot of the results aren’t visible or apparent right away and the smallest impact you have may be working towards something bigger and more long-term.

The Umoja Students

YCI’s programming is aimed at achieving results in the long-term so the work that the eight of us have done work that has built upon past activities and projects by the group before us and has set a foundation for the next group. When I spoke with students in my CV/interview class, they all raved about the material they were learning and were so excited to be learning topics like putting together a CV, prepping for an interview and even the elevator speech which they loved. And hearing their thoughts on the community events, about working together as group and having cooperation and learning how they can be leaders in their community, it was neat. These 35 students have all got such great aspirations and bright futures ahead of them!

On a personal level, staying with a homestay family was such a rewarding experience. From getting a sense of what everyday life is like. I’m reminded of the conversations Nicole and I would have with Jimmy and Lillian about life in Canada and aspects of life in Tanzania, spending time with Mima and Viva who are so much fun and bring such joy to life, playing karata (cards) with Cliff (putting our own twist by challenging ourselves to count in Swahili) and even the little moments with our dada, Dada Masa who we would hear belting her little heart out to gospel music at various times of the morning and who would always greet us with a big smile in the mornings when we would ask for maji moto (hot water) or let us know when dinner was ready with ‘Chakula? Karibu!’ Even thinking back on the friends Nicole and I made in Arusha, fellow mzungus and the conversations we had, the things we did. It definitely helped us to have a ‘sense’ of home.

My Tanzania family

And let’s not forget my fellow YCI volunteers! I love how close the eight of us have become. I love how we were able to plan that amazing weekend in Zanzibar, it all worked out so well! Such a blast. It’s been interesting hearing from everyone what this experience has been like for them and the kind of work they’ve done and everyone’s plans for post-project. We all came into this experience with for different reasons, with different goals in mind, but we’ve all been able to relate in the fact that we want to learn and grow and gain experience. And just getting to know everyone! I miss Ben and Nicole’s outgoing personalities, Julie and Adriana’s quick wit, Duncan’s sense of humour and fun and his tendency to fall asleep pretty much everywhere haha, Christine’s cool and chill demeanour and Tasha’s introspective comments and of course our dance parties in Dar. Ben, Duncan, Julie, Tasha, Nicole, Christine and Adriana, I’m missing you all a lot right now, but am so excited for our reunion!  

The T11-8D team! Duncan, me, Christine, Adriana, Nicole, Tasha, Ben and Julie

I also want to give a special shoutout to my dear rafiki and fellow YCI Arusha volunteer, Nicole Fassina. We had the chance to meet up beforehand which worked out so well since we had recently found out we’d both been placed in Arusha! As international volunteers, Nicole and I worked together on YCI’s programs in Arusha, from lesson planning to event planning, and spent pretty much 24/7 together, from the moment we woke up (bunk beds!) to the moment we went to sleep. She’s been such an amazing support not only at work, but also personally and I think we were able to keep each other sane during stressful moments. I had a blast with her, from meeting up beforehand, to our journey to TZ and that 12 hour bus ride to Arusha, working with her and exploring Arusha, flying to Zanzibar (on the teeny tiny plane, in style!), our short(er), crazy bumpy bus ride to Morogoro and the journey back here to Canada. I miss your peanut butter cravings, your laugh, smile, positive energy, the nights we’d have a dance parties and get ready to go out (ViaVia!), the walks in town to and from work, our indecisiveness, many things. Miss you roomie!

This experience has also taught me to have further gratititude. A friend of mine, Jay Perry, recently posted this on Facebook and I wanted to share an excerpt of it here:

Today, be grateful. Be grateful for your favorite music, for movies that make you feel good, for your phone that connects you with people, for your computer, and for the electricity that lights up your life.

Be grateful for air travel that flies you everywhere. Be grateful for the roads and traffic lights that keep the traffic in order. Be grateful to those who built our bridges.

Be grateful for your loved ones, for your child, for your pet, for your eyes that enable you to read this. Be grateful for your imagination. Be grateful that you can think. Be grateful that you can speak. Be grateful that you can laugh and smile. Be grateful that you can breathe. Be grateful that you are alive!

Be grateful that you are You!!!!

Be grateful that these are two words that can change your life, and say them over and over again.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!

It’s amazing how much we take for granted. There would be times when the electricity would cut out and we didn’t have running water, or we wouldn’t have hot water to take a bath. Walking through our area to work was definitely eye opening. There were an array of houses, including houses made of mud with tin roofs or made out of wood planks with a small opening as a door. We visited some homes as part of an initiative by a local NGO, Initiative for Youth, and went into a few homes like this. We were lucky to be staying in a house made of cement, furnished with running water and electricity, with a TV and DVD player and have two meals, breakfast and dinner, every day. During our layover in Amsterdam, it was a bit overwhelming walking through the airport filled with nice shops and products and thinking about the materialism of it all, how easy it is to get caught up in it, versus the simplicity of things in Tanzania. These are things that will stay with me, these and also the little moments over the past two months that truly made me realize and appreciate having this experience.

Like my friend and fellow volunteer, Ben (click to check out his blog), this experience has also made me consider the capacity I would want to work in the international development field if that is where I end up. There is no question though that I will continue to find opportunities to do the same kind of work in my own community, whether or not I work in development, or work in communications and PR. Either way, I want to be able to help people and make a difference. And with that, let me end with a quote that Ben, shared with us before we left for TZ and included on his blog:

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." - Gandhi

Asante sana (thank you very much) to the YCI staff here in Toronto and the YCI Arusha team (Linda, our program manager and Elvis and Magreth, our local volunteers), to my fellow YCI volunteers who are all amazing individuals, to the friends I made along the way (shoutout to Danielle and Alison, miss you guys!).

The YCI Arusha team. Linda, Nicole, me, Magreth and Elvis at International Men’s Day

Me, Nicole, Dani and Alison

And of course, to everyone back here in Canada for your support, encouragement and excitement over these past few months! I couldn’t have done this without you. I’ll continue to blog here and there as I settle in back home and let you know what I’m up to next :)

xoxo Avi

Haba na haba hujaza kibaba
This is a Swahili proverb meaning “small things, when combined together, make big things.”

It’s All Kiswahili To Me!

While I attempted to learn Swahili before coming here, I arrived in Tanzania knowing maybe one or two words, asante being one of them because a) it means thank you and b) it was one of the easier words to learn. Beyond that, the language was very much foreign to me. The last time I’d learned another language was back in high school when I studied French and Latin. Needless to say, I was both excited and nervous at the prospect of learning another language and being able to converse with others in Swahili.
According to my trusted source Wikipedia, Swahili or Kiswahili (known in Swahili itself as Kiswahili) is a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Mozambique Channel oastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoro Islands. It is also spoken by ethnic minority groups in Somalia. Although only five million people speak Swahili as their mother tongue, it is used as a lingua franca in much of East Africa, meaning the total number of speakers exceeds 60 million. Swahili serves as a national, or official language, of five nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Comoros and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Over the past month or so, thanks to my homestay family, our local volunteers Elvis and Magreth and new marafiki (friends), I have slowly but surely been expanding my vocabulary of Swahili words. What I have most enjoyed is being able to learn the basics and build upon that foundation. The basic words become so engrained in your everyday conversation that it becomes second nature to greet someone with ‘mambo’ and respond with ‘poa’. I have found that Tanzanians appreciate the effort made by foreigners to communicate in Swahili, even if it is something as simple as ‘mambo’ or ‘asante’ (this is especially true in instances where both parties are speaking broken English and Swahili which can be entertaining). That alone shows the respect you have for the culture and the language, as well as people’s ability to communicate in whichever language is most comfortable. And of of course, you can’t help but love the looks of surprise you get sometimes when you utter a few words in Swahili.

Here, my friends, is a short list of commonly used Swahili words I’ve found myself using during my time here in Tanzania thus far. While I don’t expect myself to be an expert on Swahili by the end of my time here, I can say with certainty that learning Swahili has definitely helped to overcome any fears of language barriers I may have had before coming here and given me an appreciation and desire to learn another language:

Greetings and Conversation:
Mambo- How are things? (casual greeting among peers)
Poa/Safi/Freshi (in response to Mambo)- Cool, smooth, fresh
Jambo- Hello (common greeting for muzungos)
Sijambo- Nothing (in response to Jambo)
Habari za asabuhi- News of the morning?
Habari za mchana- News of the afternoon?
Habari za leo- News of the day?
Habari za jioni- News of the evening?
Usiku mwema- Good night
Mzima?- Are you well?
Mzima- Well
Kwaheri- Goodbye
Baadaye- Later!
Nzuri- Nice
Sana- Very much
Shikamoo- I touch your feet (respectful greeting to elder)
Marahaba (in response to Shikamoo)- I acknowledge your respect
Sawa- Okay
Ndiyo- Yes
Hapana- No
Asante (sana)- Thank you (very much)
Karibu- You’re welcome
Tafadhali- Please
Samahani- Excuse me
Napenda- I like
Bei gani- How much?
Shingapi- How much, in shillings
Wapi?- Where
Today- Leo
Tomorrow- Kesho

Family, Friends and People
Mama- Mother
Baba- Father
Kaka- Brother
Dada- Sister
Rafiki- Friend (yes, like Rafiki from The Lion King)
Mzungu- Foreigner
Mhindi- Hindu

Chakula- Food
Soda- Pop, soda
Chai- Tea
Maji- Water
Pili pili- Hot pepper (Nicole loves pili pili)
Wali- Rice
Wali maharagwe- Rice and beans
Mboga- Vegetables
Wali roasti- Rice and meat
Kuku- Chicken
Meat- Nyama
Chipsi- Chips
Mayai- Eggs
Chipsi Mayai- Chips and eggs, essentially an omlette with chips in it
Matunda- Fruit
Ndizi- Banana
Chungwa- Orange
Parachichi- Avocado
Passion- Passionfruit

During orientation, one of the games involved us learning the numbers 1-10 in Swahili which resulted in a lot of hilarity. A month or so later, I think we’ve all made great strides in counting from 1-10. So handy to know, especially when bargaining!

1- Moja
2- Mbili
3- Tatu
4- Nne (which can easily be mixed up with the number 8)
5- Tano
6- Sita
7- Sabu
8- Nane
9- Tisa
10- Kumi
100- Mia
1000- Elfu (e.g. 2000 would be elfu mbili)