Different.

So for those of you that didn’t know, I arrived home from my study abroad about two weeks ago. It has been quite a whirlwind since I have been home, but I wanted to share some of the differences I have noticed since I have been back in the United States:

  1. I do a double-take every time I pour myself water from the tap or get water when I’m eating out. Potable water is definitely not a given in Tanzania, and after a couple run-ins with Giardia (a common intestinal infection caused by drinking unsafe water), my hesitation with water sources seems to have become second nature.
  2. I have become hyper-aware of the amount of trash and plastic people throw away every day in the United States. In Tanzania, there is no established waste or recycle system, so all trash is burned. Every single wrapper or bottle I threw away, I knew would either end up on the ground somewhere, or burned, releasing any chemicals into the air. I also realized how much climate change has impacted the people in Tanzania, by drying up water sources, and in turn killing both livestock and people. Is the convenience of plastic bags and to-go cups really worth the death of both animals and humans around the globe? Just because you might not see the harm you are causing, does not mean it doesn’t exist.
  3. I love our roads. The scariest thing I ever did in Tanzania was ride in a car. The roads are nearly all dirt (which turns into a pool of slippery mud in the rainy season), and no one follows traffic laws. Being able to drive home without sliding everywhere or almost colliding with livestock is quite enjoyable.
  4. I can’t help but feel conflicted about American food. First of all, grocery stores blow my mind. They’re huge, and you can buy whatever you could ever want. But in reality, I have been eating food that has typically come from local farms for the past 4 months. My meat was bought at a market down the road, and my rice and corn was harvested by neighbors. Now, I have absolutely no clue where anything in my cart came from, and in most cases I don’t even know what it’s made of or how it’s made. That being said, it is absolutely delicious, and I love being able to eat burgers and mac and cheese for dinner, rather than rice and lentils.
  5. I don’t check my phone as much as people would like. Now that I am back home and able to receive real phone calls, and visit with people, my phone has been getting a lot more traffic that I have grown used to. Living in a area where I relied on unreliable wifi, I tended to not bother to check my phone, and often didn’t even bring it with me. I learned to live in the moment, and appreciate where I was, rather than waiting five minutes for a photo on social media to load. Even though others may not appreciate my lack of connection to my phone, I have come to love being able to go out without my device tied to my phone. So if I am not answering your calls or texts, then don’t worry. I’m just trying to live life.
  6. I now completely understand the difference between “discrimination”and “racism”. In Tanzania, both me and my fellow students were often discriminated against due to the fact we were white. We would get charged insanely high amounts for products (no prices were fixed) and our white staff members were significantly more likely to be pulled over while driving than our local Tanzanian staff. Now this may have been an annoyance to me, and not necessarily fair, but it wasn’t racism. I have seen racism in the United States, when African Americans are always shown as the criminal in the news and on television, or when those who are Latin(x) Americans are told to “go back where they come from”. The difference is that the discrimination I faced was due to the fact that I am white, and therefore considered to have more wealth to spend. My discrimination stems from the fact that white people are considered to be better off than others, whereas racism stems from the fact that other races are inferior. My discrimination never endangered my life, but the racism I see in the United States has the potential for people to lose their lives. I will never be able to relate to those that face this racism, but I now feel I at least am able to better understand how far my privilege goes.
  7. I occasionally speak Swahili to others instead of English. I am sad to admit I never learned as much as I had hoped when it comes to Swahili. However, there are many phrases I learned in Swahili which have become completely ingrained in my mind, such as words for thank you, yes, no, okay, and you’re welcome, as well as common greetings. Even two weeks into my time back, I still catch myself saying asante (Swahili for thank you) when the waiter at Noodles & Company hands me my water cup, or saying mambo (Swahili for what’s up?) to random strangers I walk past on campus. Although it’s awkward when it happens, it makes me happy to think that Swahili has become such a big part of my life that I can’t seem to shake it, and it makes me quite happy that my boyfriend puts up with me rambling to him in Swahili occasionally (even if he has no idea what I’m saying).

As you can see, a lot of things have changed since I have returned to the United States. Although this transition has been tough at times, I am so glad that all of these changes have occurred. I have come back a different person, but I would like to think that this new me is a better, more understanding person. I have learned so much about culture, privilege, and acceptance while in Tanzania. My time abroad taught me lessons I never would have been able to learn in my lifetime if not for this experience, and that is something I will be forever thankful for.

Asante Tanzania, kwa kila kitu.

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