Saturday, May 31, 2008

Final Reflections

Reflecting on such an amazing trip in one short paragraph is a difficult task. I have been overwhelmed in the past 3 weeks by our experiences, the people we have met, and the indescribable sights we have seen. Coming back to Springlands and receiving the warm welcome we received reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of this trip and that is the joy of the people here. The hotel staffs, the speakers we heave heard and the politicians we have met have all treated us with such kindness, hospitality and respect. On this trip, I have had the privilege of being immersed in a culture different, but equally as beautiful as my own learning from their leaders, and also learning from each one of the people in our group. I have also been overwhelmed by more beautiful nature that I could hope to see in a lifetime. Between the people I have met, our nature hike, Zanzibar, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and beautiful sunsets in all of these places, I have felt as though day after day I have been drowning in the presence of a God far bigger, more powerful and more loving than I could ever imagine.

There are no words that can accurately describe the emotions and passion I have regarding the incredible journey we experience over the last month. I signed up for this study abroad trip for the chance to travel to Africa for it was a place I never thought I would be able to travel to on my own. In all honestly, I was hoping for a once in a lifetime vacation, an eye-opening experience, and a trip I would remember for the rest of my life. All of my wishes came true, but the profound impact this experience had on my life as well as the people I met along the way was completely unexpected and all of it will have a place in my heart forever.

Before this experience, I only knew my fellow ILA classmates, and as for the rest of the group, I had only heard their names through mutual friends; however, by the time I left Africa, I had established a meaningful friendship with each person in which now I can say they are all a blessing in my life. I am extremely thankful to have met these incredibly talented individuals, but I am also grateful that we were able to experience this amazing journey together. I must admit, I have never grown so close to anyone in such a short period of time than I did with my classmates on our trip. The conversations and discussions we had with one another were out-of-this-world, compassionate, and inspiring. I'm proud to say in three short weeks, I not only developed into a more diverse and driven student/leader but also as a young woman. More importantly, every one of my classmates, possibly even my professors, would say the same thing regarding their own life.

I came to Africa thinking I was going to see pervasive poverty and encounter disease and destruction; I even anticipated anti-American interactions. However, I could not have been more mistaken in my predictions. Tanzania is a country of unity, dedication, and hope. The people are gracious, joyful, and take pride in everything they own despite the fact they have so little from our prospective. The working class far-exceeded my presumptions as they are some of the hardest, most dedicated workers I have ever come in contact with in my lifetime--and to think minimum wage is roughly six dollars a month. I believe they would be top executive multi-millionaires if they were living and working in the United States. Our staff at Springlands Hotel, whom we grew to love, often worked sixteen hour days arriving before sunrise to prepare breakfast and remaining on site until the last guest stumbled from the bar to bed—the same staff, one shift! This would never happen in the U.S.; however, Yasin, Dao, Neema, Gilbert, Basil, and Marianna (our staff) were always there for us and kept a smile on their face as well as our own. From a religious standpoint, the country is divided between Islamic and Christian faiths in addition to native tribal beliefs; yet, unknown to most foreigners, the country resides with peaceful relations for everyone is a Tanzanian before anything else—a characteristic most of the world should intend to emulate. From a business standpoint, I strongly believe Tanzania is standing on the edge about to dive into the global market. Everything they were teaching our group demonstrated their great potential and their ability to become a prosperous country. After all, Tanzania is a very wealthy nation in respect to natural resources, but until the right leadership and production comes along they will remain where they are today.

Upon reading an article assigned for class while in Tanzania, I came across a quote that does a reasonable job in summarizing my reflections towards my experience. The article was titled, "Sharing in Africa" by Mike Tidwell who was serving in the Kinshasa village in The Republic of Congo from 1985 through 1987. The article stated,

"As time passed, it grew easier and easier to let go of what I had. The reason was simple: I had a lot. Like most people who go overseas to do development work, I did so expecting to find out what it's like to be poor. But awakening to my surroundings after a few months, I discovered that that's not what happens. Instead you learn what it's like to be rich, to be fabulously, incomprehensibly, bloated with wealth. Into this jumble of backwater villages, where every man had a mud house, a hoe, and 10 kids, I came stomping and rattling with a motorcycle and cassette tapes and books to read and boots to wear and a bed to sleep on. I had two kerosene lamps and kerosene to put inside them. I had tools to fix my motorcycle and a 200-liter barrel of gasoline to make it run. I had a tin roof over my head. No one in Kalambayi could afford to share more than I."

The author and I shared the same development while we visited parts of Africa as both of our life-changing discoveries were completely unexpected but humbling nonetheless. It taught me that we should not feel sorry for these people or guilty for what we have. We should feel happy for these people and inspired by their genuinely joy and unselfishness; most importantly, we should recognize how blessed we are as Americans for the opportunities we have and for what we have been given.

Towards the end of our journey, my classmates and I all felt the same feelings, shared the same emotions, and recognized the same passion for the country of Tanzania in addition to the continent of Africa. This journey inspired us to continue our relations with the region as some of us even feel called to return to Africa one day for a greater good. Above anything else, we all have challenged one another to share our life-changing experiences with our families and friends and maybe even the rest of the world. I would encourage all of you to travel Tanzania or any other African country, and I hope that you will share the same experiences that I did on our journey. This study aboard was a vacation of a lifetime, an eye-opening experience, and a trip I would remember for the rest of my life, but best of all, it gave me a new prospective on life and made me realize all the blessings in which my country, family, friends, and I should be grateful.

These past few weeks have exceeded all my expectations in every way imaginable, and that is what is going to make it so difficult to leave this place. It has been an absolute blast, and I can't think of a time when I had more fun or developed so many deep friendships. At the same time, though, this trip has challenged to me. It has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and open up to another culture. It has challenged me to learn a new language. It has challenged me to think about practical solutions to stimulate business growth in a developing country. But, most importantly, it has challenged me to change my own perspective and reevaluate the way I see the world. Before the trip, I saw Tanzania as a country just struggling to get by, a place where poverty was omnipresent and commerce was virtually non-existent. Now, I see Tanzania as a country with so much potential and so much life.

Many of the people I met over the course of this trip were not only some of the happiest and most respectful individuals I know, but also some of the hardest workers. And if given the right resources and opportunities, they could be immensely successful. So now I ask myself: what can I do to make a difference? I have decided that the best thing I can do is, ironically, the thing that Africans do best: share. If there is one virtue I have learned from living, eating, sleeping, and breathing in the collectivist culture over here for the last 23 days, it is the importance of giving. In America, I often get so caught up in my daily life that I do not realize how "rich" I truly am. How blessed I am to have a loving family, trustworthy friends, a quality education, and enough food to fill my plate everyday. Now it is my turn to share, and I encourage everyone else to do the same -after all, even a little bit can go a long way.

Aside from the greenbeans, carrots, rice, and beef cubes served at every meal, our first memories will certainly be of the people in Tanzania. From the books we've read and the commercials we've seen, the intial expectations were to find emaciated children and ignorant adults lying in the middle of dirt roads; how wrong we were. Poverty exists -- 60% of the population lives on under $1 per day -- but poverty does not define these people. Rather, they are the most joyous and humble friends any of us have found. For this reason, the people are the nation's greatest resources. The greatest need, however, is leadership to guide the natural abilities of the Tanzanians into the global economy. With the emerging markets, the muyltinationsl corporations, and the foreing investment, the Tanzanian economy is ripe, and we will certainly be hearing more from it soon.

In four short weeks, we explored the depths of the Indian Ocean, got lost in the alleys of Zanzibar, went on safari in the Serengeti, met the U.S. Ambassado, were guests of Tanzania's Ted Turner (Reginald Mengi), and trekked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. this was my first trip to Africa. I cannot imagine what Round 2 has in store for us!

Wow! What an amazing experience. It's hard to believe that this trip is practically over. It has honestly been a trip of a lifetime and I am so glad that I was able to have this experience. I think the highlight for me was starring into the face of God as we drove through Ngorongoro Crater last week. It was truly indescribable.
Another thing I can't get over is how incredibly happy the native people are. They have very little material wealth in comparison to what most Americans have and yet I've seen more genuinely happy people here in Africa in the last 3 1/2 weeks than I've seen in the U.S. in the last 3 1/2 years! I think we have a lot to learn from them.

Emily D.
As we come to the end of our journey and I think back over our experiences the last three weeks, I am overwhelmed at everything we have accomplished. We have learned more on this trip about the culture, politics, and businesses of Tanzania than I could have ever imagined. From the small town of Moshi, to urban Dar es Salaam, to the beaches of Zanzibar, and finally our safaris in Serengeti and Ngorogoroo, we have gotten a whirlwind tour of a country we will always hold dear to our hearts. With a new appreciation of the people and their customs, we return full of extraordinary memories and lessons. We have made wonderful friendships and shared many unforgettable moments. I only hope we can capture the wonder and beauty of this country as we reminisce with our family and friends of the amazing experiences that have shaped our lives, our perspectives of ourselves, and our view of the world around us. It is impossible to explain in words the times that I have had here, and the incredible people that I have shared it with. It has been the most incredible adventure of my life.

Emily E.
This trip has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I think I'm probably just echoing what everyone is saying here, but when you come to Africa you really learn a lot about yourself and your values, and you get to reconnect with what's important. When I first got here I was nervous about the challenges I would face and the experiences I would have but instead I was greeted with the most giving and hard-working people I had ever met, a culture that does not exist anywhere else in the world, and the most beautiful and different landscape that literally takes your breath away. I also was lucky enough to make my journey with 14 others that I truly respect and who really challenged me to learn as much as I could. One of our journals for the trip asked us to write the first and last sentence of our travel book about Africa. Disclaimer: I wish I could write those brilliant and profound one-liners, but I can't. So read the next sentence with that in mind! But, the last page of my book would say something like, "the trip is over but my journey and relationship with Africa and the people surrounding me is not." This trip, these people, and this continent provoke passion, reflection, and thought, and I intend to not let this wonderful feeling disappear. I will be back!

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