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Forwards AND Backwards

I am officially in Arusha and my volunteer stint here is about to begin.

My placement for the next four weeks is at a program called Perfect Vision. When I was first informed that this is where I would be placed, my immediate assumption was eyeglasses.


Seems logical enough?


I opened up the link to their website, wondering why I would be placed in an optical environment and found out nothing could be further from the truth.


Perfect Vision is a non-profit organization that was set up as a way for struggling women to support each other. It endures to stop the shame, teach new skills and improve their lives. The goal is to provide the necessary skills and means for these women to live independently. The Mamas, as they are known as, come from heartbreaking backgrounds, including HIC, rape, abandonment and unimaginable levels of poverty.


I received an email shortly before my arrival, suggesting I begin putting together lesson plans for them.


Lesson plans?

Excuse me…?


I was fairly confident that I had sent my credentials… and teaching was not one of my many skills.


I was stumped.

What the HELL was I supposed to teach?


It has since become increasingly apparent how talentless I really am… without a computer or an iPhone.


I am looking forward to this next chapter in my travels, and I can confidently say these women will probably teach me more than I could ever possibly teach them.

But I will try my best…


I’m stuck as to what to do with donations.


It has been suggested that we do our own little fundraisers in order to further help our the programs we are in. I have full intention of doing so, thought I have teetered back and forth between different ideas and platforms. I looked into starting a GoFundMe page. I also considered putting out a social media request for friends and family to send money directly to my own account… but I think I would feel more comfortable removing myself as the middle man.


GoFundMe takes 2.9% of the funds accumulated, but it is secure and funds can be automatically deposited into the NGO. I think that is what I will do… but if anyone is more comfortable e-transfering me directly, I will ensure that receipts and photos are provided in order to account for donation.


My link will be up soon.


Much has happened since my arrival in Arusha…


I was picked up at my city centre hotel by a lovely lady named Linda, the office manager for THE. She has kind eyes and a friendly disposition. As a former teacher, she is the kind of person you feel completely at ease with, and I liked her immediately.


THE is the subprogram of International Volunteer Headquarters and stands for Tanzanian Host Experience. Although reputable, International Volunteer Headquarters is a business. Hands down. None of the money that we pay goes towards any of the programs here in Tanzania, which is upsetting.

IVHQ, like everything else in Tanzania, is all about the money. Tours, transportation, afternoon trips… they all cost money and although I crave a social and inclusive atmosphere, I am desperately trying to forego frivolous excursion. Perhaps frivolous is the wrong word.


They did a group tour to a waterfall the day following arrival… and the charge was $70US… PER person. In a single second, I went from chasing waterfalls to…. meh… “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.”


Safaris? I’ve done three.

*although the Serengeti IS the mother of all safari parks. The Great Migration is one of the planets most impressive and it epitomizes the very essence of safari.


Tribal village visits? I’ve done two.

As much as it’s interesting learning the culture about the local indigenous communities, the touristic aspect of it is much the same regardless of location.


I have to keep my eyes on the prize.

The prize? Uganda Gorilla trekking.


From my hotel, I was taken to the home of Mama Liz and dropped off. This was to be my home for the next four weeks. The home is quite large and I believe there are at least two houses on the gated property. The gardens surrounding the home are impressive. I have actually never seen grass so bountiful and lush. I was immediately impressed.


I really had no idea what to expect. For all I knew, I was going to be staying in a mud hut.


Linda led me into the house of Mama Liz and showed me to the room I was assigned. It was a smaller room, with two bunk beds, each cot adorned with its own elegant mosquito nets. I always find the mosquito nets so much more regal than their real purpose is. The room was painted a bold, moss green colour, and had one large cupboard space for our personal belongings.


As much as I was slightly dismayed to have received a shared room, I was elated to see that a bottom bunk was free. My poor knee could not have endured the narrow metal ladder up and down.

 

Most of the girls here on the volunteer program are very young, but so far, they are all lovely and have interesting backgrounds.

I have already encountered stories that have made my eyes flood with tears.


There are six girls from Chile, who met at Dentistry school and are here to work in this particular branch of the medical field for 6-7 weeks. Leading up to their departure, they worked tirelessly each day to fundraise and accumulate as much dental equipment as possible to accompany them on their journey to Tanzania. In addition to their own baggage, they lugged an additional six suitcases half way across the world, full of dental gear such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, microscopes, lighting equipment, mirrors, scalers… etc etc.


There is an American family home-staying in the house adjacent to my own. A mother, father, son, daughter and niece. When I met this family and found out that they had not only come here for the Serengeti safari vacation experience, but also to work alongside their children in a volunteer experience, I was truly blown away.

Overwhelmed, actually.

My first thoughts? What cool parents!

So admirable.


What a fabulous way to teach the younger generation about empathy and compassion. Obviously their hard work and positive examples of giving back has rubbed off, because these kids are not only confident, friendly and fun to be around, but also enthusiastic, inquisitive and resourceful.


Such a wonderful family and truly prime examples of meritorious. Everyone could benefit from ripping a page from their book.


Rupal, the mother, has become my touchstone… and my friend.


On the first night of arrival, some of the volunteers arranged a New Year’s Eve dinner at a swank dining room called The Arusha Coffee Lodge. It was quite posh, from the elaborate decoration to the menu choices and the extravagant pricing. They even had a live band… as well as flowers floating in their fancy pool. There was the option to carry on to a nightclub to ring in 2023, but bed was calling, and I think we’ve already established how I feel about nightclubs.

 

I am not so comfortable in my homestay.


Mama Liz has not been around too much, but the little I have spent with her has not given me the heartwarming, family I was expecting. She is no nonsense to the point of being quite strict in her convictions. At one moment, she seems somewhat terrifying, but then… lovely and approachable.

At the beginning, I was given the option of a homestay environment or dormitory accommodation. It wasn’t too difficult a decision to make. In my 50’s and moderately mature, I automatically opted for the private house. I figured I would be immersed in a family environment and I envisioned a house full of hustle & bustle, and laughter… and typical family banter. I was really looking forward to something almost parallel to what I experienced during my Ecuadorian experience.


Family.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t feel like I’m in a home here. I am a boarder and nothing more.


Perhaps I should give it a couple days… or not…


They lock us inside at 7pm each evening… and although I am permitted to leave, should I wish to… it is an inconvenience for either Mama Liz or for one of the maids to open the gate to let me in and out. On New Year’s Eve, after I returned from the Arusha Coffee Lodge at 10pm, the guard had to bang on Mama Liz’s window to wake her up and let me inside.


For a while I thought Mama Liz was two separate people. At our first meeting, she was dripping in style. Her hair and makeup were perfect, and she was wearing an elaborate, long and colourful dress. She looked elegant, confident and imperious. The next time, she was dressed in casual rags and lounging about on the couch, shouting orders. I wasn’t able to tie the two contrasting personas together and I figured Mama Liz was out of the house… and this was the head maid.


I was wrong.


There are two maids that are here on a daily basis. One in particular works from 5am until about 10pm every day. She seems about 14 years old and does all the cooking, cleaning and laundry.


Arusha is no different than any other Tanzanian town.

The power is infrequent. It goes off for sometimes 8+ hours per day. The hot water fluctuates.


I have realized I am not as versatile as I think I am.

Well… I can be, sometimes.


I do like my comforts… for example;

~ I really do like having power… for 24 hours a day.

~ I really do like fully functioning WiFi.

~ I really do like warm showers. Sometimes even hot!

~ I really do like my privacy when I need it.

~ I really do love to socialize… BUT I really like being alone at times.

~ I really do like it when food doesn’t have cilantro or mushrooms.

~ I really do like options. I like a lot of options.


Yes… I am very first world. I will admit it.

I try to adjust as best I can, but adjusting doesn’t always work in my favour.

In addition to all of this, I don’t exactly mesh with the girl I am sharing a room with. Jana… but pronounced Yana, so I will write Yana from now on. She’s German, very assertive and very regimented… all of which, I am not. At least not while I’m on holiday… or whatever you call this sabbatical.


There has not been one single conversation between us where I have felt like I did not say the wrong thing. I am constantly misrepresenting myself with my verbal diarrhea. I seem to adopt this blunderous mannerism when I’m uncomfortable. She is also volunteering with Perfect Vision. In fact, for the next four weeks… it is only the two of us. Our interactions are awkward and communication is tough because there is no common ground to be found. Our humour, recreation, organization, planning, thought patterns and general ideas are polar opposite and I have NO idea how we are going to work as a team for the next month.


Yana and I are very different people and I think we could be friends in extremely small doses.. and in a vastly different setting, I think it will be detrimental to both of our Arusha experiences should I remain in this homestay.


Imagine;

~ In the same lonely house.

~ In the same room.

~ At the same volunteer project.

~ Together ALL the time.

~ No one else around.


No.

No. No. No.


I can’t do it.


Being in confined quarters with one person can be challenging enough, but I know myself well enough to know that I don’t have the energy or creativity to flourish with her by my side 24/7.


It’s too much.


I also don’t think Mama Liz likes me as much as Yana.

Whenever she has anything to say to the both of us, she only addresses Yana.

“Yana! Yana! The bus is here to pick you up!”

“Yana! Your dinner is ready.”


At first I just figured she couldn’t remember my name, but… reality check… it’s atrocious to be able to remember Yana… but NOT Joanna.


I have requested to be moved.


As a woman in my 50’s, I have decided to leave the comfort of a beautiful home and throw myself… essentially backwards… to the wolves. I am surrendering to dormitory style accommodation… filled with rumbustious and enthusiastic 20 somethings.


Now that’s gotta say something.


It’s definitely going to challenge me.

Make me? Probably not.

Break me? Maybe. It certainly might.


Time will tell.

I can’t help but think back to 30 years ago… when I was cool. And fun.


At least for the next 4 weeks, my blogs should be interesting…


God help me.


Wish me luck…

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