Asante sana, Tanzania

Two months ago today I arrived at the Springfield airport feeling anxious and excited for my impending trip to Tanzania. Unfortunately, the trip barely even began that day thanks to flight delays. But even though we eventually arrived in Mababu ridiculously exhausted and a bit off schedule, we still arrived. And I cried.

Bracelets. Certainly not a big deal to the average citizen, but I wear mine religiously now. Joseph, one of the head farmers of the group there in Mababu, handed a bracelet out to every member of our group when we arrived. This action took place just a few moments after we stepped off the dusty bus we’d been riding in for the past six hours. I was napping for about five of those six hours and was just waking up, just getting used to the surroundings. I stared in awe at the bracelet I had been given. Then Joseph started talking about how even though the gifts were small, they still were representative of the love and friendship we were sharing with the farmers. What? We had just gotten there. I didn’t know these people, and they didn’t know me. We didn’t even speak the same language. But we still found things to say. Kujengana. Build each other up. Shawn and everyone else kept repeating that. And I cried.

The next morning we pulled up in our bus and school was in session. I have never seen so many precious smiling faces. I will never forget the feeling of holding the hands of those little children. They had so much joy. They were more joyful than I could ever hope to be, yet they have none of the same possessions I do. That’s when I really understood that possessions don’t matter. People do. I remember worrying that I wouldn’t remember the kids’ names the next day, and I lost sleep over it that first night. Names are important and universal. They are how we feel known. And I wanted to know those kids. But the next morning, I realized I shouldn’t have worried at all. I recognized my little friends immediately and called them by name. Why? They were wearing the same dusty clothes from the day before. I realized we take so much for granted here. And I cried.

The week went on and there isn’t a single moment I don’t wish to go back to. I think about the people in Mababu every day. I’ve wanted to write something about the trip since the moment I landed back in the U.S., but I couldn’t. I honestly still can’t. So I hope this counts as something. As I try to put the best experience of my life into words, I am crying.

Seeing the children there broke my heart, but it needed to be broken. Shawn told our group that we should think about our vocation, our calling. He assured us that if we allowed ourselves to feel, we would find it on this trip.

On the trip I realized that my calling is to feel things, to say things. I want my tendency to feel deeply to be something I am proud of, a tool that I can use to better the world. And once I feel things, I need to say things. I need to write about it.

So here I am. Writing about people who don’t know my language. I don’t know theirs. I want to though. Language is kind of my thing. I love Spanish and I’m trying so hard to become fluent in it. Even though I read up on my Swahili before journeying to Tanzania, it was a lot harder once I got there. At least I got the simple greetings down. And thank you… “asante sana.” I said that a lot.

Since communication and language are my passions, Tanzania challenged me. I couldn’t talk to the farmers directly. I couldn’t ask about their experiences firsthand. The stories always came to me through a translator, or they didn’t come at all. I cried. Donita Cox, an advisor at my high school and one of the biggest supporters of the Chocolate University program, said something to me that I will never forget. I told her how burdened I was by the fact that I couldn’t converse with the precious children whose hands I was holding. She said holding hands is its own language. That’s when I realized that showing love to other people is a language too.

I guess if I had to somehow sum up my Tanzanian experience I would say this: I am fluent in English. I’m trying to be fluent in Spanish. I have a desire to know and understand many more languages–Swahili, Finnish, Dutch, and Hindi to name a few–but there is one language I have not quite mastered yet. The Tanzanian people have though. At least my friends in Mababu certainly have. They are fluent in love.

I’m working on it.

Shawn: Thank you for choosing me. I am forever grateful. You are changing the world.
Missy: Thank you for crying with me and encouraging me.
JT: Thank you for challenging me. Your insightful comments were always on fleek.
Dr. Tom: I will never forget when you cried as you described our joy from playing with the kids. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Donita: Talking with you made everything better. Thank you for keeping me smiling.
Aneva: I love you. Thank you for feeling with me. Thank you for everything.
Abigail: There was never a day I went without laughing because of you. Thank you for being so strong. Thank you also for your sass.
Anna: Thank you for teaching me how to be etiquette. And even though I yelled at you for getting the time wrong, thanks for at least trying to wake me up.
Bao: Thank you for teaching those kids how to say “banana” in English. Never stop being Bao.
Baylor: Thank you for teaching me how to play Mao and for jamming to Hamilton with me. You have a good heart.
Desi: Thank you for always being so sweet and for complimenting me every day. I noticed. Also your skirts were so cute.
Emma B.: Thank you for your smile and for sharing your comments about the trip at the Charlotte airport. It was the best week of my life too.
Emma W.: Thank you for opening up to me by the fire on the last night. You are going to do great things.
Leila: Thank you for teaching the kids patty cake. You may not be fluent in Swahili (I’m not publishing what you accidentally said to those farmers on my blog…) but you’re fluent in love.
Ronnie: Thank you for sharing your jokes and tattoos. Ink is important. And I loved the hats you wore.
Sydney: Thank you for sharing your heart when we had to share our senses. And thank you for your laugh.
Tim: Thank you for being honest. Also thank you for buying that precious soccer jersey for your future son. You will always have a home with the Chocolate U Family.
Zac: Thank you for your fun facts and jar moments. But mostly thank you for crying.
Alec: Thank you for sharing your heart with me, and for feeling too much too. Nakupenda sana.

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