Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bringing you up to speed...

I have been in Tanzania for about two months now, and have finally decided to set up a blog! My internet is better here in Shirati than I had anticipated, so I think that maintaining a blog is feasible. Unfortunately it will probably be difficult or impossible to add pictures because of my internet connection here, so I'll have to try to write extra well in their absence.

I spent my first month in the city of Arusha doing Swahili language training with the two other Tanzania SALT volunteers, Cara and Rachel. We had a good time getting to know each other and studying together, and at the end of our time in Arusha I was very impressed with how much of the language we had learned. Our teacher was a young man about my age named Humphray; he came to our house each weekday and taught us from 8:00 AM until 3:00 PM. We made lunch together everyday, which gave him the chance to cook some traditional Tanzanian food for us and us the chance to cook for him some North American dishes. He was a wonderful teacher and a great guy; I really enjoyed getting to know him.

After a good month of language and cultural introduction in Arusha, I boarded a bus for my eight hour journey to the small town of Shirati where I would be living and working for the next ten months. The road from Arusha to Shirati leads right through the middle of the Serengeti National Park, so as a bonus I was able to see a huge array of African animals from the window of the bus as we drove by. I saw a lion family, an elephant, three giraffes, hippopotami, gazelle, zebra, baboons, ostriches, and probably some more cool animals that I am forgetting. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable, but overall quite enjoyable because of the novelty of the experience. I was the only non-Tanzanian on the bus, heading to who-knows-where, equipped with my very basic Swahili language skills, taking it all in and enjoying every moment.

Shirati is a small town (population approx. 5,000) located in the very Northern part of Tanzania, 3 km from Lake Victoria and about 15 km from the Kenyan border. Mennonites from the U.S. and Canada first came here in the 1930’s, and ever since then there has been a steady presence of Mennonite missionaries/development workers from North America. The Mennonite Church in Tanzania now has over 60,000 members, all stemming from the initial encounter in Shirati. Much of the work that Mennonites have done here centers on Shirati hospital, which was constructed with the assistance of North American Mennonites and continues to operate with financial assistance from Mennonite groups in North America.

The mission of MCC is not evangelism but work related to relief, development and peace. In many cases (such as here in Shirati), MCC partners with an already established church to address various issues and problems facing the community. I am still unsure as to what exactly my work here will entail, but it will be in some way related to the promotion of environmental and human health. I am working in conjunction with and under the direction of the Tanzanian Mennonite Church.

I am now spending my days working on my Swahili language skills (although many people here speak English well) and building relationships with people here. SALT stands for “Serving and Learning Together”, and while I certainly hope to contribute something positive to the community here during my ten month stay, it is already very evident that I will learn a great deal by simply living here and sharing life with the people of Shirati. I eat all of my meals with my host family and spend time at their house, and I live at my own place nearby in a small house that I share with a young Tanzanian doctor.

I’ll probably post updates rather infrequently, but check back periodically if you are interested in following my journey!