I am in Tanzania for almost 4 months now and it is an amazing journey. It feels as if someone has carefully designed every step along my pathway and each experience comes with a challenge, eye opening moment or deeper understanding. At the moment I am struggling with something which has been growing from the moment I arrived.
I came to Tanzania to challenge and develop myself and to completely immerse in a different culture. I did not come here to help. I want to learn from the people I meet and hopefully they learn from me as well. When you meet someone and there is true interaction both will transform. When interacting and exchanging with people from a completely different culture in a completely different environment the learning curve will increase.
There are a lot of moments where I feel blessed but kind of guilty as well for the life, chances and opportunities I have had and will have simply because I was born in the Netherlands. At the same time I think there are many beautiful things here which we don’t have. The way the west has developed with its capitalistic outlook on life and self centred way of living is not necessary the only way or the best way forward. When going to a country with a different culture I think it is very important to acknowledge and respect this culture and to be aware that there might be things you don’t understand or have to do different from what you are used to. People come to Tanzania to help and I have seen some amazing projects and organisations working together with the local communities to make a sustainable difference. With some other people however, although wanting to help comes from a good place, I think this helping motivation is naive or even selfish. When someone gives money or comes for a short amount of time and tries to change things the way they think it should be without considering the cultural difference, the true needs of the local people and the massive scale of the problems the project will most likely collapse during or immediately after they left. They might leave with a good feeling but the local people are left with nothing but failure, dependence and wrong expectations towards other expat.
At the moment I am part of a local music group. They make traditional music and dance with a lot of drumming, singing and story telling. I love working with them and I learn a lot musically, socially and language wise. I think they like me and love working with me too but at the same time the two only single members of the band told me they are in love with me and want to marry me, they expect me to pay everything wherever we go and they think I will buy them new instruments and make them famous. I love to share my musical knowledge and experience with them and I can brainstorm and share ideas but I am not going to manage the band and pay everything. That would create a strange dynamic within the band, it would make them dependent and then when I leave everything would collapse. That is what I told them during the band meeting yesterday but they did not really understand what I was saying. The conversation was confusing and made me feel very sad because although I wish I would be an equal member of the band during my time here, I realised I will never be.
Here in Tanzania I am Geerte or Helena (my more pronounceable second name) but at the same time I am mzungu. I don’t feel mzungu and I don’t want to be labeled mzungu… but I am.
I have never been so aware of my skin colour as I am since arriving in Africa. I have always lived in the west and I have never consciously felt white. Giving, sponsoring and working for free sounds great but it also creates expectations. A lot of people look at me and call me mzungu and some ask me to sponsor their children, want to be my boyfriend or expect me to pay mzungu price. Most of the time there are no bad intentions behind it and they don't try to insult me or anything like that. There are simply not that many white people here and the expectations are high because we come from the west. I don't like it when they call me mzungu because it feels generalising. I am not mzungu… I am Geerte!
I think there is a strange dynamic between the expat community and the local community and I am not sure where I fit in. I enjoy hanging out with both! I would love to just work with people no matter which colour, age or background but somehow I am stuck between the boxes and labels. I sometimes wish to blend in for a moment and be the same as everybody around me. People treating you differently because of the colour of your skin, assuming things and generalising without even knowing you. I know you can't compare my experience here with the racism black people experience in the west but I think this is the first time I can kind of imagine how it must be to be judged only by the colour of your skin.
I am not sure what to do with the local band situation. I would love to keep playing with them as I learn a lot and it is an amazing experience for me but at the same time I am leaving soon and I don’t want to mess up the dynamics within the band just because of my own enjoyment. I believe in exchange but maybe I am naive and selfish as well. I will go back to the Netherlands or wherever I choose to go but they don’t have that freedom to choose and will have to stay here and continue to survive in the world they live in. Maybe in some cases exchange creates more confusion than enrichment leaving a messed up situation. Do I have to take that in consideration, is it just part of life or is it selfish again to think that my presence will have such a big influence on their lives? I don’t really have an answer to these questions and I don’t think there is one. I do think it is important to think about it and I will try to be thoughtful. At the same time I strongly believe that yes there is a difference, I have a white skin colour and I am born an raised in the Netherlands but lets embrace that difference and learn from each other. Besides that the only thing I can do is keep going, make choices and see what the future will bring.
Last weekend I was on tour with Nora, Rogier, Erik and more than 30 local circus children. After sending instruments to the already existing circus group, they worked together for 2 weeks in Mambo viewpoint. Mambo viewpoint is a beautiful place on the top of a mountain just outside the village. They invited me to join the final performance tour in the surrounding villages which was an amazing experience!
We toured around with the children for two days in a car and a truck. We played some amazing circus/music concerts, got arrested by the police (30 children, some adults and instruments in the back of a truck is not really allowed..) and slept together, spread over mattresses, sofas and beds in our final performance village Lushoto. What a beautiful project Nora, Rogier and Eric!
While the children were packing their stuff to go home and teachers used their last bit of energy to finish their work, I was preparing myself for an exciting month of traveling. During my time in Kenya I lost all my travel fear so besides some city's to visit and people to meet there was not much of a plan.
After 3 days in Mombasa (mainly filled with sleeping on the beautiful beaches) I traveled to Dar es Salaam together with Jay. I met Jay one month earlier in Mombasa and we decided to travel together over christmas. In Dar we stayed in the house of his aunt. The most welcoming and caring family I have ever met! Everyday the house would be filled with different family members and friends. With some of them I could speak English but with others it was a daily Swahili practise. Every day I would sit with a different family member to learn new words and have very basic conversations. Where in the Netherlands I can not sit still for more than half an hour, here I would spend whole days sitting, napping, chatting and eating whilst from time to time moving to a different place around the house trying to escape the heet.
I have never experienced such extreem heet and most of the time we would only be active and go out after 4pm. I really got along with Jays family so in the end I stayed with them for two weeks. After that I continued my travel to Dodoma together with my friend and colleague Esnath. Esnath lives in Moshi at the moment but her family lives in Dodoma so we could stay with them.
When staying with local families I shower with a bucket, eat with my hands (only the left had actually) and sleep on a matras in the living room or share one of the other rooms in the house. My body is not really used to the heet, the food and the water and when I arrived in Dodoma I became ill for the 3th time. The idea was to finish in Mwanza and then fly back to Moshi but after more then 20 bus hours, illness and medication I felt very tired. It was time to go home.
Geerte de Koe