Friday, March 7, 2008

Why Tanzania?- Part 2

When all you want to do is go abroad, choosing specifically where to go is quite the challenge. For nearly 4 months, Megan and I sent e-mails back and forth to one another, each time with a different country in mind. Nepal? Too much political unrest. Thailand? Monsoon season. China? South Africa? The list went on and on. Each time we got excited about a specific country, we'd do a little research and come to a roadblock. I began to worry that we weren't going to find a country we could both agree upon. This was a deeply shared dream, but was that just it? A dream and nothing more?

We had a few criteria we wanted met: safe, decent weather, third world conditions, and the chance to work with kids. Originally our top choice was Thailand. For awhile now, Thailand has been my "stare-at-the-map" day dream destination. What isn't to lust over? Buddhist mystique. Tropical climate. Gorgeous beaches. Elephants. It all sounds so perfect. Unfortunately, after doing extensive research, we realized Thailand in May-August would be nothing but a giant rainstorm. Definitely not the weather we wanted to experience for 2 1/2 months. We had to go back to the drawing board.

Ever since my conversations with Quilter and Camp Sunburst, I've been pulled towards the HIV/AIDS community. I'm not sure if it was this gut instinct or something else I don't quite understand yet, but Tanzania simply fell in our laps. When glossing over the countries our volunteer organization (Global Crossroads) offered, Tanzania jumped out at me. I pride myself on being knowledgeable of global current events and perspectives, but here was a country I knew little of. It was in Africa nonetheless, but that didn't phase me. Maybe it should have, but it didn't. I was intrigued by the volunteer options available to us in Tanzania and I once again jumped into researching the country.

Tanzania couldn't have been any better of a fit for me. It's a gorgeous country, or so I've read, located in East Africa along the Indian Ocean. Known for Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti wildlife, Lonely Planet describes Tanzania as "the country [that] embodies what is for many quintessential Africa." Tanzania is one of the few African countries to have escaped political difficulties and civil unrest. It's a culturally rich country of 100-plus ethnic groups living together peacefully. Unfortunately Tanzania hasn't been able to escape the HIV/AIDS crisis that is gripping Africa by the throat. According to The Global Health Report, by the end of 2005, it was estimated that there would be approximately 110,000 children ages 0-14 in Tanzania living with HIV/AIDS and approximately 1,100,000 children under the age of 17 who had lost one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS.

Whenever I think of Tanzania, my heart is immediately pulled to the Tanzanian children. Of course everything I know about the situation on the ground is second-hand, but I can't seem to feel drawn to these children. Although her book is about the children of Ethiopia, I've been especially inspired by the words of Melissa Fay Greene in her book, There is No Me Without You. An entire generation of Tanzanian children are growing up with one or more of their parents sick and dying from the HIV/AIDS. An entire generation left to discover life on their own. I cannot fathom this. I also can't fathom not doing anything. Here I am, a 24 year-old college graduate living a comfortable life by all means. I grew up in a loving home with parents who cared deeply for me. I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, how I was going to take care of my 3 younger sisters, or wonder why Mom was sick. My biggest fear was talking to the cashier at McDonalds. I was and continue to be so blessed by the incredible people I have in my life. I would be selfish not to share this love with the universe.

People have various reasons for volunteering, especially going abroad to do so. Here I can't speak for Megan, only myself. For me, this trip is a way for me to share all of the beauty and love I've been given in my life with people who are more in need of this than I may be. I'm not going to Tanzania in an attempt to share my religious views, which may work for some people... just not me. I simply want to support the woman and children of Tanzania who may have been given a bad deal of the deck by the universe. I'm taking with me the great memories I've created with all of the kids and families I've had the opportunity to interact with over the years. I'll be tucking kids into bed by kissing their noses and giving them a "magic pill" (an imaginary pill that gives you sweet dreams) just like I did with M&B P. I'll be giving big, squishy hugs like E.C. I'll be teaching all of the girls how to princess dance like G.C. Should someone have an upset stomach, I'll remember how R.K. taught me to sooth "icky tummies." I'll teach little boys how to draw comics like G.T. and how to play football like T.C. I'll teach little kiddos all of the signs M-A. G. has taught me. I'll share with these women every warm hug I've received from Mrs. C. Every inspiring conversation I shared over dinner with the P. family will be shared. All of the love and life you've given me over the years will be tucked gently into my backpack and sprinkled in the spirits of the people I meet in Tanzania.

I'm not sure what to expect while in Tazania, but I'm sure of one thing... this is what I'm supposed to be doing.