Thursday, November 29, 2012

That Old Familiar Itch

No, I am not referring to Nairobi fly, but rather to a certain feeling I get after having been "Out of Africa" for a while.  It's like an alarm clock telling me it's time to go back, time to get to work.  Sure, these few months in New York have been fun, catching up with friends, hanging with the fam, eating good and drinking better, but it's time to relinquish my creature comforts and get back in touch with the things that matter most.  And, whether it's idealistically romantic or sickeningly sentimental, I only find these things in Africa.

I say "Africa" in general and not "Tanzania" in particular because although it's a pet peeve of most expats in TZ (myself included) to group together fifty-something countries and refer to them as one entity, there is in fact a certain unified persona to the continent, at least the parts that I have been to.  I see it as a sense of wilderness and wildness, danger and damage.  There's a lost, lonely quality that I identify with.  Maybe it lies in the natural surroundings themselves; in TZ, of course they can be found in the poetic kopjes in Serengeti and the majestic foothills of Kilimanjaro, but also on the long, dusty roads between towns, all along the way the villages and shanties, these stops just as profound as the great natural sites that we consider wonders of the world.  Africa is where you can let go of the ties that bind and see the real nature of both man and beast.  Africa is where you know yourself best.  There's no dressing up; everything is laid bare.

There is a real profundity to living and working in Africa and I don't necessarily mean the (supposedly) altruistic nature of development work.  It's more a way of life that permeates every aspect of one's manner of doing things.  It's about paring down your necessities and adapting to a simpler and purer lifestyle, cutting out the clutter, and focusing on what's truly indispensable: basic survival mechanisms, interpersonal relationships, and maintaining a modicum of happiness.  It's so easy living in the Western world to get caught up in all sorts of extraneous stuff that seems really important but actually isn’t, not just material trappings but all manner of white noise that comes along with it: media, politics, keeping up with the Joneses.  In Africa, it is easy for me to shut out that noise and focus on myself and my work.  And that is what I am starting to miss now.  The noise of New York City is creeping in and I'm ready to return to the quietude of Africa.

My current itch pertains most to the classroom.  I have for too long been out of a Tanzanian class teaching youngsters in their native tongue.  My Swahili is foundering after months of disuse and I find myself, in my sleepless moments, thinking whole speeches in Swahili, practicing in my head, reminding myself to check certain noun/pronoun agreements, passive tense suffixes, word choice.  And while I am trying to re-educate myself in this regard, I am really missing the experience of being the educator, of the camaraderie of the class, of greeting 60+ kids with a resounding "Hamjambo?" and being met with a chorus of "Hatujambo, shikamoo mwalimu!"  And then the ensuing chaos of the lesson, me trying to rise above the noise, the children excited by my very presence, the novelty of a mzungu teaching them.

When I first came to Moshi in 2007, I taught five days a week and that novelty wore off after a while and I was just "Mwalimu Sarah," a fairly ruthless taskmaster, but one who didn't use the stick, so that was preferable.  While working for Visions in Action, the small international NGO with which I was employed for two and a half years, I could not teach every day but twice a week was enough to ensure that my presence was not so unusual as to be a distraction.  Now, having been out of action for almost the entirety of 2012, when I go back next month, my re-introduction is sure to be a major event in Msaranga.  Of course, with Toa Nafasi, I won't be teaching per se, but rather observing, assessing, and then facilitating a shift in curriculum to ensure that those children who are struggling receive a proper chance to grasp the material in the way that best suits their individual needs and hopefully then succeed in kind.  It's a lofty goal and an ambitious undertaking, but I find myself not only up for the challenge, but excited, invigorated, and super-pumped.  A little itchy, too, I suppose....!  I am already packing my bags and I don't leave for another four weeks!!

At any rate, those are my deep thoughts for the day.  Take what you will and leave the rest.  Some images of "home" follow....dusty roads, green hills, and that big, beautiful mountain....

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