Mwezi

November 5, 2010 at 4:52 am (Uncategorized)

So, on November 1st, I heard about NaBloPoMo, (National Blog Posting Month), and being a bit of a joiner, I thought, Why not?  But being a bit of a joiner who doesn’t always think commitments through, here I am on Day 5, without the inclination to write.  I have ideas, but they don’t seem to want to write themselves.  I’m hoping that this month will bolster my creativity, not make blog writing an unpleasant task.  Akin to the way a high school reading assignment of The Grapes of Wrath is sure to make it a slog.  At any rate, today will feature the second (and last) speech of my short-lived Toastmaster’s membership.  It’s a bit preachy, but I’m going with it.  Not to worry, I have no other stories back-logged, so I’ll have to weather out the rest of the month by actually writing.

Picture this.  Early morning, on an East African plain.  The sun has just risen and it’s not quite yet unbearably hot.  Through the plain runs a narrow path.  Soon, women, carrying water jugs on their heads and children tied to their backs, will be heading to the closest water source.  A small man, presumably homeless, sleeps under an acacia tree.  Now, something enters the picture that doesn’t quite fit.  An mzungu, a white woman, is running down the path.  She isn’t running from something, rather, she is exercising.  She’s wearing a Timex watch and carrying a walkman, and showing more skin than the native women do; she is wearing shorts.  If you’ve been to an underdeveloped country, you may already be thinking- that doesn’t sound like such a safe thing to do.  And you would be right.

I spent the fall semester of my college junior year in Tanzania, which is on the east coast of Africa.  Everyone who grew up in a developed country like the United States should take at least a month, preferably more, to live in an underdeveloped country.  You have no idea what you’ll discover about yourself.

So back to Heather, running along the path.

The man under the tree wakes up, and starts towards me.  As we cross paths, he ignores my smile and Habari na asubuhi (Good morning).  This is pretty weird in Tanzania.  Everybody greets each other on the street.  But I didn’t think too much more about it.

All of the sudden, a minute or so later, I was jumped from behind.  We fell to the ground.

You might think I’d be scared.  I wasn’t.  I was mad.

Both of us were fighting, hitting, scratching.  I was screaming, over and over, Mwezi!  Mwezi!  Mwezi!  This means thief in Swahili.  I did all the fighting with just my right hand, because I was still clutching my Sony walkman.  After all, that’s what this was about.  He didn’t want to hurt me, he’d just seen a stupid women with something he thought he should have.  He had no knife, no gun.  And no idea I was going to fight back.  After what seemed like forever, but was probably a minute or two, he ran off.  I still had my walkman, but discovered I no longer had a watch, and I had quite a few scrapes and bruises.  I was not seriously hurt, and I was shaken but felt strong.

At that point, you might be wondering why I picked this story to convince you that you should go to an impoverished country.  In actually, Tanzania is a very safe country.  You do have to respect the people and the culture by doing a bit of blending in.  Running alone, wearing what I was wearing, carrying a walkman, before most people had stirred, that was NOT blending in.  Americans tend to put a high value on individualism.  It’s important to us in life to try to distinguish ourselves from everybody else.  This really is a luxury.  When your survival depends on relying on your family unit and sticking together, much of this individualism fades away.  Like many things in life, the key is the balance.

I took home an appreciation for my country and the opportunities I’d grown up with.  Like a lot of kids, I was a bit jaded.  I wasn’t on board with most of U.S. foreign policy, and I tended to focus on the negatives of being an American.  But when compared to Tanzania, also a democracy, we’ve had it pretty good.  You don’t have to bride the post office to get a package, or the passport agency to get ID.  Most of us have never gone hungry.  It’s easy to know that others in the world have issues, but another thing to see it.

I encourage you to think about world travel.  Hey, some of us are going to have some time coming up.  You may see how strong you are, you may gain thankfulness for what you have, or you may gain some other new insight that you never would have here.

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1 Comment

  1. Jenn @ Juggling Life said,

    I love the connection you made about blending in and individualism; I’m glad the story had a happy ending.

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