We have been home from Tanzania for almost two weeks, and I am still trying to process the impact of our trip. With each passing day that we are home, I can feel us slowly slipping back into our normal routines. I find myself desperately clinging to memories so that it doesn't fade away.
When I close my eyes, I can still see the vastness of the undeveloped countryside, the bright green grass, and beautiful acacia trees, zebras along the side of the road, and avocados as big as my head. I can picture the vibrant colors of cloth and beauty of the people. I can hear the cacophony of sounds mixed together in a calming harmony: kids’ laughter, roosters crowing, motorbikes whizzing by, birds chirping, breeze blowing.
Before we left, I tried to avoid expectations and wanted to stay as open as possible to what we might see and learn. But, admittedly I did have a few fears. We were traveling during the raining season, so I was a little worried that the weather might impede plans to get around and explore. I was also afraid that we might not be able to connect with people because of the language barrier, or that the kids might be inflexible or unwilling to try new things. But, the primary goal was just to experience a new culture and way of life with an open mind and heart.
Any worries or fears were quickly alleviated. The weather was ideal. If it rained, it usually happened at night and the days were warm with a pleasant breeze. My favorite smell was the clean, fresh air during our Zanzibar spice tour, with hints of spices like cloves and cinnamon. The food was delicious, especially the coconut chicken curry with roasted bananas. The kids enjoyed getting to drink fresh fruit juices and flavored Fanta. We had only practiced a few words of Swahili: hello, thank you, my name is/what is your name. But, the kids were able to say a few things, and it made us proud to see them speak up and show respect.
Of the words we learned, my favorite is “Karibu,” which means “welcome in.” It is this spirit of invitation and inclusion that defines the people and their culture. Despite the fact that we were visibly outsiders, we were met only with warmth and kindness. I couldn’t help but juxtapose that with our country’s focus on individualism and think about the cost to each one of us and to our culture.
But, what struck me most was the sense of community all around. Everywhere we went people were outside together. Children were walking to school, helping to carry food and supplies, or herding cows and goats in the field. Store owners helped each other and would even go to another store to find something a customer wanted. There was a much deeper level of presence than I have grown accustomed to in America, and a noticeable void of an unhealthy attachment to stuff, most notably our devices and technology.
We also saw a lot of poverty. In the rural areas, families would bathe and clean their clothes in ponds, and then carry buckets of that water back to their huts for cooking and drinking. Many people sleep on dirt floors and lack electricity or running water. But, I did not feel pity. If anything there was so much to learn from them. In the simplicity of life, Tanzanians have made space for what matters most: connection to the beautiful world around them and to each other.
For the first time in a very long time, I, too, made space: to write, to read, to be quiet and enjoy the stillness. Disconnecting from technology created space for peacefulness, gratitude, and consciousness of true abundance. It was like I finally exhaled a breath I didn’t know I had been holding. It took me going halfway around the world to realize how much I have normalized busyness and the constant buzz of meaningless noise. The looming cloud overhead with all of the things I should be doing disappeared. Each moment felt like a chance to shed the layers between the world and the essence of me.
When I think back over our trip, I have so many incredible memories of safaris, tasting fresh spices and fruit, amazing wildlife and the breathtaking views. But, more than all of that, experiencing a completely different way of life reminded us that we are not, in fact, the center of the world, or better than anyone else. I hope we never lose the appreciation and curiosity for different cultures and allow it inform our views and way of life.
Most of all, I hope we never forget the moments of pure human connection and the lessons learned about what community really means: the belief that we all belong to each other--across race and religion and whatever other differences may seemingly divide us. May we carry the spirit of “Karibu” with us back to our lives here and remember to always welcome one another in: to discussion, to understanding, to love.