After 12 hours in the air, the plane finally kissed the ground. One bounce, then back in the air, as if deciding whether to stay or keep carrying her weary passengers to farther lands. I prayed in my heart she would stay ground-bound. Tanzania was far enough for me.
Tanzania would surprise me almost every day over the following two months, but I can distinctly recall my first surprise came as I gazed out the foggy plane window. The people were…normal. Nothing thrilling, exotic, disturbing or enchanting. I don’t know what I expected, but normal wasn’t on the list. These people looked just like normal humans! Homosapien sapien, with two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth. Maybe I expected them to break out into an African chant, or carry spears with lion head dresses, but unlike Alice’s rabbit hole, this new world did not launch immediate wonder at my blindfolded mind. How funny that my initial disappointing discovery on the arriving plane would transform into my most cherished treasure by the time I boarded the plane home.
I came to Africa with a mindset not unlike many foreignors: Let’s go save the poor, wretched forgotten people. Let’s hold little babies and our magic touch will cure them of all misfortune. Let’s share our talents,skills, smarts, magic minds and dollar bills to civilize the primitives.
Of course, I didn’t know I thought this way. That would be purely pompous. No, I only dared whisper it to my superhero complexes hiding deep inside my well-disguised ego. I told myself I wanted to help people, to give back a bit of the good fortune I’d so easily acquired, to CHANGE THE WORLD, and I truly did want all of those. I had two months to fill my world-changing quota and check it off the list, and I had too many ideas to know what to do with.
While my initial findings originally left me disappointed, I quickly realized that the common humanity I shared with the people of Tanzania was actually what made this place so dazzling and remarkable. Through the medium of our human-ness, the people of Tanzania introduced me to an entirely new experiential reality. We travelled by foot, exchanging salutations with new faces, tossing smiles and peaceful words between one another. Walking gave us the time to see one another, to speak of things other than the next task at hand, to let our hearts beat to the rhythm of footsteps. We crammed into small vans, sitting on laps and sweating with unknown elbows and knees filling every empty space. We hugged hello and kissed goodbye, and as I watched two grown men walk hand in hand, I realized that Africans did not fear touch or new friendship as I had been taught to do. In Africa, strangers are simply friends you haven’t met.
Humans dance. Humans sing. Humans cry and eat and savor sweet memories, and in Tanzania, the people embrace the simplicity of raw living. They know their own hands like a memorized story, as their hands build their own fires, break their own rocks, knead their own dough and construct their own homes. They sing on command, hold hands, and only perceive poverty when they compare their lives with American Tv.
I came to Tanzania to make a difference and fix what I believed was broken. I came to Tanzania to bravely face the wild dangers that fill storybooks and outsider expectations, to change the minds of the natives and tell them what they needed. Yet, in the exhaustion of trying to mold a fluid sculpture, I began to recognize that Tanzania and her people will only change through the touch of the original artist. The heart of this culture lives and breathes and stands alone as a relic of humanity. In the end, the people I so eagerly sought to teach showed me how to open my hands, my eyes and my heart to the terrifying concept that my little box could not contain the richness of our shared humanity.
My most terrifying journey occurred within myself, but it was Tanzania’s sun-soaked hands that reached inside and opened the door to the tiny compartment that contained my heart. On the other side of the world, I rebuilt my box, but this time without walls, because sometimes the bravest thing we can do is admit that what we thought we knew was wrong.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.