Burundi Rafiki (Burundi Friends)

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This week, there were nearly 10 visitors from Burundi who came to tour the yogurt kitchens.  They are from various organizations that are involved with the fight against HIV/AIDS, and improving the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS.  It is really exciting and inspiring to see how the kitchens are expanding organically across East Africa without the help from Canada.

On Thursday we went to the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), which is where scientists make the probiotic that is mixed into the yogurt.  The Burundi guests were getting step by step lessons on how the probiotic is made, and where it comes from.  There was one unfortunate statement, however, that almost sent the Burundi guests running in the other direction.  The scientist was explaining that the probiotic helps fight a type of vaginal infection, which in turn lowers the risk of HIV being transmitted to a woman.  I think because of a language barrier (dear goodness I hope it was because of a language issue) the scientist confused the origin of the probiotic, telling the guests that it “was from the vagina,” implying that the probiotic going into the yogurt that they had all been eating was derived from someone’s lady parts.  The Burundi guests, understandably, recoiled in horror at this comment.  It was not until we left NIMR that we got the origins of probiotics sorted out (much to their relief).

The Burundi guests are so excited to return to their country and start a yogurt kitchen of their own.  They plan on starting a partnership with Western Heads East, and UWO.  I told them that in the future, if they would like, an intern from UWO could come and visit their project in Burundi.  They asked if I would be coming to Burundi, but I said I could not due to my time restrictions in Mwanza.  I suggested though, that maybe one of the interns coming in September could make a trip to Burundi, to which they replied “no, no, no, they send an intern from Canada, to replace you, then you come back to Burundi with us!”  (seriously, the people in East Africa are too kind!)

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“I need Africa more than Africa needs me”

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I have been debating on whether to save a post like this towards the end of my trip; I’m not sure why, perhaps I feel like I haven’t been here long enough to comment on such things.  However, I couldn’t risk forgetting about some of the things that have been shared with me today.

Although I have only been here a short time, I will be honest in the fact that I have already been homesick.  A mixture of such a completely different culture, traveling alone, and being extremely close to my family, boyfriend and friends back home are some of the culprits I am sure.  Struggling with these feelings alone proved to be rather difficult; with much help from my parents, and friends, things are getting much better.  As I sat here writing this, after a long talk with my Mom about homesickness, my new friend, Joseph, brought me a plate of watermelon, after hearing how much I like it.  It is no doubt that part of being able to deal with my homesickness is a direct result of the unconditional kindness and warmth shown to me by people like Joseph.

A message from a long lost friend (bless her soul) has also, certainly put things into perspective for me.  She has just returned to Canada from being in Tanzania for a month and a half teaching and doing development work.  I confided in her about my home sickness, and she had some incredibly wise, comforting, and inspiring things to share with me, and I would like to share with all of you.

She shared with me, how trips like these can change you, can shape you, and how you see the world for the rest of your life.  But only if you let it. Only if you live it, completely and fully.  It is incredible how powerful 8 short weeks can be, in the span of an entire life time.  It is easy to forget sometimes that students are sent here, not only to do work that can help people here.  They’re sent to learn, learn from the incredible African community and its incredible people. Several months spent here will teach you more than you could ever learn from sitting through any number of lectures.   My dear friend predicted, and she was right; that being here will do me good, and I will grow, grow in my capacity to see, and to love.

A friend who lived in Tanzania for some time told her before she left Canada; “Always remember; I need Africa more than Africa needs me.” Africa has lived and breathed long before I came, and it will live and breathe forever after I’m gone.  It is so important to remember this as us interns complete our time here. Hopefully, keeping this statement close to my heart will allow me to remove my Western lenses through which I see the world, and to experience East Africa through a completely new, bare set of lenses, with an open mind, heart and soul.

Touchdown in Mwanza

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Hello all!

 

So it has now been almost a week since I left Canadian soil.  The plane trip was surprisingly comfortable, and not nearly as long as I thought it would be.  The same can not be said, however, for jet lag.  I think it will be a few more days until I finally become accustomed to the time difference; for now, I think I will use the excuse to catch up on some much needed sleep!

I was in Tanzania back in 2008 for just over a month, although I spent most of my time in a village called Bagamoyo near Dar el Salaam.  So I knew (somewhat) what to expect when I touched down in Tanzania. I was not prepared, however, (no matter how much Bob warned me!) for the state of the Mwanza airport.  After departing the airplane, we walked down the tarmac to an old building with a steel roof.  A guard checked our passports on the tarmac, and we all proceeded inside the airport.  There were around 25-30 of us squashed into a room probably 10 by 10 feet (perhaps I am exaggerating, I am known to be very poor at gauging distances with the naked eye). Need I neglect to say that we walked through an office shared by 3 people to get to this room; it looked to be the Tanzanian Revenue Agency by the signs on the wall. Thankfully, I already had my VISA so I was able to get out and grab my luggage fairly quickly, although not before I overheard the immigration officer rip off a Chinese tourist for over $100 (He made him pay $200 for a tourist VISA, which we know are only supposed to be $75.)  Once I grabbed my luggage from the next tiny room I proceeded to walk outside (this was the extent of the airport). When I walked outside I was so thankful to hear Missy call my name!

The last few days have been a whirlwind, just trying to get adjusted to Tanzanian life.  The apartment is rather nice, pretty much up to student living standards if you ask me (with the exception that there is no working toilet, just one of those that you squat over, and use buckets of water to flush with! Missy says that I will get used to it – let’s hope so!)

The city is crazy busy; there are crowds of people on every sidewalk and vendors snaking along every street.  And the roads – my family seems to think that I have road rage when I drive back home – I think this week I will make a video to show them a country with a true case of road rage.  Cars swerve all over the road, have no regard for pedestrians, and drive completely recklessly to say the least.

I was able to tag along to Kivulini with Missy yesterday, and it was really interesting to see how an NGO runs in Tanzania.  Next week, there are several visitors from Burundi coming to see how the yogurt kitchens run, in order to (hopefully) start a kitchen up in Burundi!

Signing off in Kiswahili (the very little that I know)

Badai! (Later)