Every morning for the last month and a half I have woken up in my mosquito net bunk bed to the sounds of birds as the African sun rise makes the sky around me orange. The sun rises and sets much faster on the equator, also creating a much more dramatic coloration for this short time period. Most mornings I take a daily jog up to the Moyo hill (meaning heart in Swahili). This might be one of my favorite activities in this study abroad experience. I am alone which is rare here, and as I get to the top I get to see the Rhotia village below me along with the surrounding villages and mountains. I also get the view of the Manyara lake and conservation area where I got to see my first large African mammals. This open view makes me feel free and reminds me how special it is to be where I am at in that moment.
My daily life here include lectures, traveling fieldtrips, talks from guests, animal research, and cultural experiences with tribes such as the Maasai. The times I have experiences with the Maasai tribe have shown me such a different way of life. For example during my camping trip in Tarangire National Park I got to spend time asking questions and seeing a Maasia tribesman’s home and family. These experiences have been the most eye opening days of my time here. They also remind me that although their lifestyle is much different, life is still so similar for all of us. I told him to ask me any questions he wanted, and the first one was about our president Trump, and the second was about what our cows look like. Usually late afternoons are filled with playing soccer at the local field, finishing up projects, and times reading in the hammocks on campus. Lately I have been thinking a lot about my desire to see more of African during these down times. I think that has been one of my biggest challenges is not having pure freedom as I do at home. We all eat our meals on camp together unless we are on excursions. We all must help cook breakfast once a week, which has actually become something I think I will truly miss when I leave. We also have community service planting grass on farms or volunteering at the local orphanages. I have also had the opportunity to teach a few English classes at the primary school. On Sundays we get to explore the local villages, do art projects in town, or go on hikes and bike rides. Yesterday I spent my free day hiking to the top of this beautiful waterfall in Ngoronogo conservation area. Here I truly felt like I was in the wilderness. It was so nice to see animals such as baboons not just in the national parks from the jeeps, but on foot. I felt like I was truly in the African wilderness.
One of my largest goals coming here was to try to meet new people and experience the culture as much as I can. Although, meeting locals has been a bit harder than other countries I have traveled to. Although I have had the opportunity to interact with many locals at the markets, during interviews, and in town, many of the gender roles make creating friendships difficult. Many women my age are supposed to stay home and take care of the house, as men have more freedom. Many interactions with men can be seen as promiscuous, and men you talk to may randomly ask you to marry them. Although people in town are so friendly and happy to interact with anyone! I got the opportunity to do a home stay and learn about the culture of the Iraqw tribe. Although I did see the gender roles in this family, the lifestyle is very happy and laid back. We spent the day in their hand built mud and stick home drinking tea and helping with household chores. We cleaned the mud out of the home from the cattle because the cows and family sleep in the same hut. We also helped with cooking and a little farm work. I loved how the kids and parents spend the whole day together! They were not rushing or stressing about any work to be done, just gradually doing their household chores with smiles on faces. Yesterday I was able to talk to a man that lives in Arusha, the big city nearby. It’s interesting to hear how different the culture seems there, and how it seems a bit more similar to my life back home. This made me question how my impressions of Africa might change depending on what region of the country I am living in. I’m excited for our three day spring break in Arusha, to compare these differences.
Many of my opportunities and privileges back home I am starting to miss. It’s easy to not realize the luxuries of first world countries when you spend your whole life there. The food may be my most missed aspect of the United States. Cheese isn’t really a thing here, and I miss quesadillas! Of course I knew I would miss things like rock climbing, and my friends. Although, I find myself missing things I never thought I would, such as going to movies, Washington vibes, grocery stores, warms showers, and not being starred at everywhere I go. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to realize how much I love where I live, and the experience to know how other people live in this world. My advice to anyone else doing this program in the future would be try to talk to as many people as you can, they will laugh at your broken Swahili, but you will learn the culture and language so much more! I am almost half way done with this program, and I have learned so much about this culture, and about myself. With another two months left, I have so much more to come and experience!