Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans
Tanzania 2019
Mambo! Hello! I am a recent graduate of the Sociology and Education departments with a passion for serving disenfranchised youth and upholding the importance of education as a gateway for future success. Join me throughout the next nine weeks in Arusha, Tanzania as I volunteer at the Sasa Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and children through education. Read More About Sarah →

home.

Home. It is the place that you are supposed to feel entirely at peace. A place where you are loved, accepted, and comfortable. As of today, I have been home for one week. However, home feels different now.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so happy to be here. To participate in all of the things that I have loved doing for the majority of my life, to see my loved ones, and to have a decent shower. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that I now have two homes. Tanzania will always hold a special place in my heart. I find myself longing for the smells, sounds, and people that once felt so foreign and scary to me. However, I am allowing myself to do things at home that I never did before. I am extending myself grace in a way that I never have before, I am allowing myself to employ the art of  “pole pole” in a place that has NEVER heard of it.

People keep telling me that I did the children I was working with such an incredible service. That I changed their lives. But I don’t see it that way at all. My students and my sweet Arusha changed me more than I could have ever changed them. They taught me more about love, grace, peace, and overwhelming joy than I could have ever imagined and I will never be able to express enough gratitude for that. Being home again feels weird, it feels foreign. How weird is that?? After spending just three months in a radically different culture, the place that I had called home for my entire life now feels strange! I’ll be honest with you, I was not expecting that.

However, when it came to my trip (and apparently my arrival back home) nothing, and I mean nothing, happened the way that I expected it to. But I guess this just another opportunity for me to grow. Another opportunity for me to get out of the boat and trust in something much greater than myself. My heart longs for Africa, but I will be present here. I will love my people a little bit harder than I did before, and I will hopefully be able to start planning my return to the land I love so dearly as soon as possible.

Nakupenda Tanzania. I’ll see you soon.

Song of the Week: Burn the Ships by: for KING & COUNTRY

goodbyes + the next adventure

Anyone who knows me can agree that I am not exactly good at goodbyes. Actually, let me re-phrase, I am terrible at goodbyes. When I said goodbye to my parents and boyfriend at the airport I was crying so hard that the woman at TSA actually asked if she could give me a hug. It was not pretty.

I thought that goodbye was going to be the hardest goodbye of this trip, and I could not have been more wrong. I’m not going to lie, I figured that preparing to leave Tanzania was not going to be easy, but I never imagined it would be this hard. This week, I had to say goodbye to my students, and wow, it was so much harder than I had expected. I wish more than anything that I could have been able to explain to them just how much they mean to me, that they have changed my life more than they could ever know. My sweet students have taught me more about the world, joy, and love than I could have ever imagined. I genuinely don’t know how I am going to leave them. In addition to saying bye to my students, I have had to say goodbye to my host family and the amazing friends that I have made throughout my time here. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would have been able to become a part of such an incredible community. Goodbyes are hard, however, they are incredibly necessary in taking the next steps forward in our lives. Even though I am not technically leaving Tanzania until July 30th, this week I had to walk away from my new normal. From the people that have filled my life with incredible joy, from the job that has reminded me of just how much we have to learn from those younger than us, and from the place that I have come to call home over the last nine weeks. Not going to lie, these goodbyes looked a bit like the one that happened just a few short months ago at the airport. But once again, these goodbyes were necessary. As crazy as it is, Tanzania has become comfortable to me. Tanzania has become home, and the idea of going back home, while so exciting, is a little terrifying. Once again, I have no idea what to expect.

But you see, we all have to get out of the boat sometimes. We must trust that there are great things waiting for us on the other side of our comfort zone. Before coming here, my comfort zone was exceptionally different than it is now, and I would be absolutely lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit anxious about returning to the States. However, I know that this is where we experience the most growth. In my time here, I learned more about the world, being a good person, and being independent than I have in my entire life. The majority of this growth can be attributed to the people I have been exposed to and the work that I have been able to do. Yet, I believe that a lot of this growth can also be attributed to the fact that I felt way in over my head. I had to learn how to live a radically different life than the one that I was used to, and I believe that it is this uncomfortable place that I was in psychologically that helped me trust in myself and my faith more than I ever have.

My time in Tanzania has changed me in ways that I cannot quite describe and I will never take that for granted. However, now that the work is done, its time for a vacation!! Tomorrow, my dad will be arriving in Arusha and we will be spending the next 11 days exploring this country that I have come to call home. We will be traveling to Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Conservation area for safari, spending a few days in Arusha, and then heading to Zanzibar for some time on the beach. While I am heartbroken about saying goodbye to the people here than have become a second family to me, I am so excited to share Tanzania with someone that I love, and honestly, I am beyond excited for the adventures to come!

Song of the Week: Great Summer by Vance Joy

a new “normal”.

I have noticed a shift within myself in a week or so. All of a sudden, everything here seems familiar. I have begun understanding much more Swahili, the crowded streets that once overwhelmed me have started to feel normal, and sleeping under a mosquito net feels like second nature.  The other day in the market, a salesman told me he would be giving me “local price” instead of the “mzungu price” (a higher price given to foreigners). I asked him why and he told me that he could tell from the way I walked in the market that I have been here for a while. This made me laugh at the time, yet now I look back at this interaction and remind myself just how far I have come.

Just a few weeks ago, this country terrified me. I knew very little Swahili,  I had no idea how to lead a class of 30+ children, and I couldn’t bargain to save my life. Yet just the other day I was recognized as someone who has spent substantial time here.

In all honesty, I am kind of scared to be coming back to the state in just a few short weeks. Although I have an incredible support system who will walk me through my hard moments, I am nervous about the culture shock that I will experience in coming home. Will I feel overwhelmed in a mall surrounded my overpriced goods that no one really needs? How many times am I going to walk to the wrong side of the car before remembering that American cars are different than those in my new home?  Although I will be unable to know the answers to these questions until I a back on American soil, these questions hang with me.

Africa has changed me in a way that nothing else ever has. As cliche as this may seem, it is the truth. I do not look at things the same way anymore, and while I am thankful for this, it is not going to make my transition any easier. I have fallen into a new “normal” here, and this new life does not contain many of the things it did back in the U.S. My new “normal” consists of broken English, sweet children exuding joy for things that I once considered to be incredibly simple, chickens and cows lulling me to sleep at night and waking me up again in the morning, and more love than I could quite imagine.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life at home. But, I love my life here too, and I am just not quite ready to leave this life behind yet. However, I vow to not get hung up on this quite yet. As of today, I have two more weeks with the kids, and 4 weeks left in Africa and I do not plan on wasting one second of it.

Heres to loving every moment, good and bad, of my new “normal”.

Song of the Week: Home  by Ingrid Michaelson

halfway there// an extraordinary week

It hit me that I am officially halfway through my time in Tanzania, and honestly, that makes my heart hurt.  It is mindblowing to think that for the last year and a half, I have been anticipating this trip, and just like that, it is going to be over.

However, with that realization, I am reminded about why I am here in the first place.

Up until last week, I taught about 13 students in a small classroom while the other 20-30 students (the number of students we have on any given day can vary a lot) were educated in a larger schoolhouse on the property. However, when I arrived at work on Monday, I was told that I would now be teaching all of the children English in the larger schoolhouse for the remainder of my time here. Let me tell you, being in charge of 30+ children under the age of 6 is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done. I love my job, and I love my students, but wow this change has been tough!

My new (and much larger) class.

Serving porridge to the school.

Serving porridge to the school.

After Tuesday, we began to settle into a routine and I have actually managed to get a better grip on the kids which has been great. On top of that, listening to them properly using the English that I have been teaching them is the coolest thing I have ever experienced. They are so proud of the work that they are doing, and I am so proud of them.

On Thursday, my house mama (and the founder of SASA Foundation) informed me that we would be going to a meeting instead of going into school that day. Assuming it was a meeting with the heads of another school, I dressed in my typical school clothing and headed out for what I expected to be a brief and relaxed meeting. I could not have been more wrong. We pulled up to a large building and a guard proceeded to do a bomb sweep of our car. From this point on, I gathered that the meeting we were about to attend was going to be a bit different than I had expected. We arrived at the conference room and ended up sitting down and hearing presentations from a variety of program leaders and legislatures of the status of climate change in Tanzania. Although this was nearly the last thing I expected to be doing in Tanzania, I was honestly honored to be able to attend this open-table and learn about the impacts of climate change on a place and population that I have come to love so dearly.

After the meeting, I headed to a cooking class at Projects Abroad headquarters and I learned all about cooking traditional Tanzanian food with people from all over the world!!!

Preparing our meal!

Eating our Tanzanian feast!

 

 

This week was much different than many of my weeks here, but it is just another reason why i love living here. You can never quite expect things to go the way you had planned. Even once you have finally developed a sort of routine, it can change in an instant. At first this drove me insane, but I have grown to love it, and it is going to be something that I will miss dearly when I get home. Tanzania has kept me on my toes, and that is just another thing that makes it so special here.

Heres to another amazing week!

 

Song of the Week: Rearview by Bad Suns

Lake Manyara: the first of many adventures.

I really struggle with what I wanted to title this post, as although it seems like every single day that I get to spend in Arusha is an adventure, this past weekend was my first ~real~ adventure here and it was INCREDIBLE.

Early on Saturday morning, we left Arusha for the city of Manyara, a small town on the edge of a massive lake and national park known for its elephants, baboons, and other wildlife.  The car ride itself was only around 2.5 hours, but the incredible views made it go by so quickly. We even stopped on the side of the road at one point to take pictures of the elephants roaming around in the fields on the side of the road. The whole thing was honestly surreal. On one hand, going on a road trip with friends felt so normal, yet we were watching mountains, African villages, and other incredible sights pass by, and with that, it was clear that we were not in our home countries.

Our drive to Lake Manyara

Elephants on the side f the road!

Dromedary’s right outside of the city.

After a stunningly beautiful drive, we got to our campsite which was much nicer than we had expected. I completely forgot to take any pictures here so I am pretty bummed about that, but it had a beautiful view of the lake and we ended up walking to a lookout path to check out the scenery on our way in. It is safe to say that I was completely in awe of the beauty here. Living in a city, it is easy to forget that places like this exist right in my backyard here and after living here for a few weeks I feel like I had settled in and become accustomed to the beauty of Africa. Yet, this place just continues to surprise me as just when I believe that I have seen the most beautiful place here, I see animals, mountains, and other natural beauty that puts everything else I have seen to shame. Needless to say,  I really need to stop having expectations for this place, as I firmly believe Tanzania will just continue to surprise me.

After leaving the lookout point, we got settled at the campsite and the headed back into the “city” for lunch. We sat down at a small restaurant for a quick lunch (which ended up taking 2 hours) and then headed to the trailhead to hike to an overlook. The hike itself was not crazy long, but it was arguably the most strenuous hike I have ever been on. Not only was it super steep, but the majority of the path was rocky, and ended up being a bit more climbing than hiking. Nevertheless, the views at the top made it more than worth it.

 

The view!

From Here to Anywhere!

After making it back down the trail, we headed into town once more for groceries and dinner before heading to bed in preparation for the next day’s activities.

In the morning, we woke up to see the sunrise, and although it was cloudy, the way the bright red and pink rays crept through the clouds had us all in awe.  After breakfast, packing up our things, and making sure the van was ready for our travels back home, we headed to meet our guide for a cultural tour through the village on bikes. The first place we stopped on our tour was the rice paddies. We were taught all about the cultural significance of rice in Tanzania and how the farmers here harvest the rice twice yearly.  After the rice paddies, we headed to the fruit market which was absolutley incredible.  We got to try several fruits that I had never heard of before and this market was much more accessible than the one in Arusha which was really nice.  We wandered around here for a while heading to a nearby village to learn about the creation of banana beer.

Starting our biking adventure!

Baskets of spices and grains from the market

At the village, we were taught about the cultural significance of banana beer as a tool for mending broken relationships, settling disputes, and even as a paternity test. We were all given a turn to stir the giant pit of boiling bananas before they begin the 7-day process of being turned into a beverage. After being taught about how the beer is made, we were all given a chance to taste it, which I cannot quite describe.

Making banana beer!

Our final destination was the massive waterfall outside of the city. Although our bike road to the waterfalls was beautiful, we ended up having to carry our bikes for at least a mile through a farm, as the path was as not wide enough to ride on. We laughed through the whole thing but wow it was hard!! After about 2 hours we made it to the path that we would hike the rest of the way to the falls. The water was not clean enough to swim in due to recent rains in the area, yet we ended up climbing on the rocks and having a picnic of Pringles (the only western snack we can ever find) and avocados.

Carrying our bikes to the waterfall.

The incredible view from the bike path.

Walking through the forest to find the waterfall.

Finally made it to the waterfall!!

We took a much shorter (and less treacherous) path back into the city square to our waiting van and we quickly loaded ourselves inside and headed back to Arusha for work the next morning.

Although strenuous, the weekend was incredible and I am so thankful that I am getting the opportunity to see the absolute beauty that Tanzania has to offer. Heres to more adventures in this beautiful country that I am blessed to call home for a little while!

Song of the Week:  Born Again byJosh Garrels

 

unrelenting joy.

When joy is a habit, love is a reflex.

-Bob Goff

Before coming to Tanzania I thought I knew what the above quote meant. I thought I knew what it meant to exude joy, and thus pour love into those around you. However, after being here for just about a month, I have realized that truthfully, I had no idea what that meant until my time in Arusha.

Africa has shown me unrelenting joy in a way that I never knew possible, and that joy is overwhelmingly followed with a constant love of others. Walking down the street to the dala dala station, I am met with a multitude of high fives, greetings, and kisses blown from strangers. At first, this kind of scared me, as it has been engrained in me that strangers should be met with caution. While I do still believe this, as I am still a foreigner here and I need to be cautious, the vast majority of these people only want to be met with kindness, and they expect nothing else in return. This is because, despite the hardships that they face on a day to day basis, they meet all those that they come in contact with joy, appreciation, and love.

Even more so than those I meet on my daily adventures around town, my students exude joy in a way that I admire and honestly, envy a little bit. Being able to come to school, receive lunch, and spend time with friends is something that I absolutley took for granted when I was younger, yet these sweet children see school as the greatest thing in the world and come in every single day excited to learn and grow. They meet me with a level of joy every single day that I cannot quite describe. From the way that they excitedly shout every time an airplane passes over the school, to the way they are so eager to share their newfound academic abilities, these sweet kids exude joy in an incredible way.  It is a kind of joy that I feel so lucky to be a part of, a kind of joy that shows you what is important in life.

These people, and more specifically, these children, are content without the materialistic lifestyle that we as a society keep feeding into, absentmindedly hoping that maybe one day acquiring the right car, house, or newest iPhone will suddenly make us feel whole. People here don’t seem to care about any of that. They want to spend time with one another. They want to eat in community with others, dance freely, and in doing this, they have shown me that these are the things that matter. Things will not bring us joy, people and experiences will.

Now that this lesson has been so deeply ingrained in those I am honored to live in community with, they can spend their time pouring out love onto the people around them, because at the end of the day, what greater gift can you give another person that your love? The people that I have been able to learn from here have truly made joy a habitual action in their lives, and, in turn, they spread love like they are made of it.

Song of the Week: Seasons by Grayson Chance

life in Arusha

Mambo everyone!!! There is so much that I want to talk about surrounding my time in Arusha thus far, however, before I tackle that, I feel as though I need to explain a bit more about my life here.

My Project....

Throughout the week I have been given the privilege of working with some amazing women at the SASA foundation. Founded in 2010, SASA is an organization dedicated to forming gender equitable practices in both the workplace and educational system within Arusha. SASA is home to a small school (which I work at) and a variety of women’s groups designed to encourage financial literacy, economic independence, and healthy marital relationships. During my time here I will be working in the school, teaching young children in the mornings, and educating adult women in English language skills in the afternoon. Additionally, I will be assisting SASA some logistical work including grant writing, budget proposals, and even planning. Although it has only been several weeks, I already absolutley love my time here and I am so excited for the work to be done throughout the remainder of my time here.

My class! These sweet kids have filled me with a level of joy that I cannot quite explain.

The outdoor area at SASA foundation. On nice days we eat our lunch out here and then practice our singing and dancing!

My Home Life...

My host family is located in an area of Arusha known as Tengeru, and it is located about 10 miles from the city center. Our home is amazing, and I feel so happy here. It is a bit off of the main road, so it is typically much quieter than living in the city and for that reason it has truly become a refuge from the chaos that Arusha can be. Living in the house are my two house parents, Jovita and James, and four other volunteers whom I am so lucky to call some of my closest friends here.

Our house! Every morning we get to have fresh picked bananas, mangoes, avocados, and oranges from the garden. Just one of the many reasons that I love living here.

4/5 of the volunteers in the house. These amazing women have quickly become like family to me.

Projects Abroad....

Being tied to a volunteer organization during my time here has already helped me in ways that I cannot quite explain. When I arrived in Arusha there were about 17 volunteers here and that number is expected to stay relatively stagnant throughout my time here, even as some volunteers come and go. Although we are spread out throughout the city on a variety of projects, we still find time to spend with one another and they are truly like another family to be already. Within Projects Abroad, I have two advisors who are here to help me with anything I may need regarding my project, or simply acclimating to life in Tanzania.

I have already absolutley fallen in love with Tanzania and I am so beyond excited for all that this journey is to bring. Week 3, lets do this!

Song of the Week: 40 Day Dream by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

slowly, slowly.

The night I arrived in Tanzania, my project coordinator taught me one of the most important phrases that I would need throughout my time here, and alternatively, one of the hardest things for me to get used to.

Pole, pole (which translates to slowly, slowly in English) is the most beautiful, and so far, the most difficult thing to acclimate to. Everything here is pole, pole. Westerners often refer to it as running on “Africa time” and I truly underestimated it before I arrived.

The dala dala (the main form of public transport here in Arusha) stops constantly to pick up more people into an already claustrophobic van. A drive that would take 10 minutes in the United States, quickly becomes a 30-40 minute endeavor and honestly, I’m still trying to get used to it. Meals can take 2-3 hours and it seems like people even walk slower here. There have already been multiple occasions on which I was supposed to be picked up or meet someone in town and they do not arrive until 30 minutes to an hour after we had planned.

But Tanzanians don’t move slowly because they don’t value your time, it is actually quite the opposite.  One of the reasons people are always moving slowly is because of the importance of community. People here love one another in a way that I have never seen before. At first, I was a little freaked out by the number of times strangers just came up to me to say hello and ask me how I was doing, but I have since realized that the vast majority of these people don’t have any ulterior motives, they just care about everyone. People will drop everything to go help a friend or even a stranger, and honestly, it is the most beautiful thing. For example. today, I was having some problems with my cell phone service and the man who helped set up my phone came and met me for no charge just to make sure things were working again. This man who barely knows me was willing to take time out of the one day a week that he does not work in order to make sure that I was okay.

The second reason I think Tanzania thrives on being pole, pole is because of the lack of a need to be busy that seems to run rampant in the States. Back home, it seems as though being busy is something to be admired, but here, people take their time in everything that they do and honestly, they’re happier for it.  They stop to say hello to one another, take time in activities that we rush through, and give themselves space to breathe. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I do not know how to be still with myself at all, but I think that will greatly change after my time here. Tanzania is already teaching me that it is okay to give yourself space to be still, and I am already feeling calmer and more at peace for it.

I have been in Tanzania for just a few short days and I feel as though I have already learned more than I could have ever hoped for.  On Friday, I had my orientation for my teaching project and I could not be more excited. I will be teaching a group of 8-12 children aged 2-6 in foundational English. I was able to observe in the classroom that I will be working in and the kids are filled with a joy so contagious that you cannot do anything but smile when you are around them. This place has already changed my life. I can only hope and pray that my time here goes by just like everything else in Tanzania...pole, pole.

Song of the Week: Follow the Sun by Xavier Rudd

A typical dala dala.

Central Market

The driveway to my host family’s house!

one week.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned as to have the life that is waiting for us”

-Jeffery Campbell

If you would have told me four years ago that I would be graduating from Belmont, a school that I did not begin my college experience at, and packing up to leave for Africa for the summer, I would have thought you were insane. Yet here we are, several days after my college graduation and exactly one week before I board a plane and travel to a country that I have never been to.

That is the funny thing about life though, it never seems to go the way that we planned. I can tell you that without a doubt in my mind, this was not the plan that I had made for myself. However, I cannot imagine a more perfect plan. In all honesty, I feel like I am living in a dream right now. I am about to embark on a once in a lifetime adventure, and I couldn’t be more honored to have been awarded this grant in order to do it. Tanzania is going to be the most amazing experience, and currently, the only emotion I am really feeling is excited.

With that being said, I think it is important to recognize that I am going to have hard times while I am abroad. Acclimating to a culture nothing like my own is hard. Language barriers are hard. But these are the places that we grow. While I am excited for all the amazing times that are to come in the next several months, I am also excited for the hardships, because I recognize that these are where I am going to learn.

Everything that I have been doing for the past several weeks has led me back to Tanzania.  When I am washing my face, I try to be mindful to not get water in my mouth as I can’t do that in Africa. At the grocery store, I think of all of the foods that I have access to that I will not have for my time abroad.  In the best way, I feel as though I can’t escape my thoughts about leaving.

When I received the Lumos grant last Spring, May 2019 seemed so far away. I thought that I have plenty of time to get ready. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The last year has flown by and while it is hard to believe that I am done with college, it is even harder to believe that I am days away from going to Africa, something that I have dreamt about doing since I was 13 years old.

Today, I (finally) started packing, and I think it hit me for the first time that this is real. However, in order to get to that point I needed to let go of my expectations for myself, for this trip, and for the way that I thought my life was supposed to go, and honestly,  even though my life is changing in ways I never anticipated and although I slammed with final preparations for Tanzania, I have never felt more at peace.

Arusha, I cannot wait to meet you.

Song of the week: Keep Your Eyes Open by NEEDTOBREATHE