The study tour thus far been filled with new experiences and lessons. Each day we have had a full itinerary that takes us literally off the beaten path, traveling to some of the most rural villages in the country: getting there, is half the fun.
We have been traveling in a 3 jeep caravan that is tough enough to handle the rough dirt roads, full of pot holes and rocks the size of a bowling ball. Some roads are little more than a grass clearing and traveling through the mountains at steep 30 degree angles always keeps the traveler alert. Most of the time I feel as if I am on a Disneyland ride in which a 3D image is watched from chairs that the viewer is strapped into as it jerks left and right. The experience is always thrilling and actually lives up to its nickname of an, “African massage.” Its either that or it’s an, “African beating,” but I prefer the former. As much as I kid about the ride in the vehicle rides, I really do appreciate the luxury of having them available.
The dominant mode of transportation is walking. If a person wanted to get somewhere faster, they run. Bikes are very efficient as well and can be a dominant factor in whether or not a family can gain another source of income if they are able to get their home grown foods to the market. For about $1.00 each way a women can also pay for a ride into town to sell vegetables, empowering her with her own source of income.
For the past two mornings I have walked the short 10 minute walk between the hostel we are staying at and the CPAR office and have been pleasantly surprised each time by the experience of it. The street at 7:30 in the morning is relatively busy with people of all ages on their way to starting their days. Each person I pass however, shares a greeting with me such as, “Hello! Jambo! or Good morning!” Not one person fails to acknowledge me warmly. The experience comes at me as a surprise because when I am traveling with our large group of eleven, ‘Mzungus,’ (people of European decent), we receive quite a bit of attention everywhere we go, but rather than receiving warm greetings, we are met with critical and questioning stares. In the past day or two however, this has been less. I think we are slowly becoming more familiar to the people of Karatu and seemingly less threatening. It is perfectly understandable to me that they would be hesitant and filled with questions when they see us. Their stares seems to read, “Who are they, why are they here?” We meet people often, and most are proud and eager to show their property and gardens to us, welcoming us with open arms.
Trusting our feet and the path they will travel has allowed us all on the 2 week study tour aspect of our 6 week adventure, to see and experience things we may have encountered daily in our everyday lives, but which we never really see in entirety. On our first day in Karatu, we were led off the main road, full of markets, music, and people happily going about their day, and onto a side road which led to a sort of ghetto. Poverty struck us hard as we walked through the community. Shacks made of random material of wood, metal, cardboard, and mud were scattered about with no particularly organization. Children can be found under the arm of an older sibling, a mother, or a grandmother. Some curious children follow behind as we make our way through the winding dirt road. A man approaches from ahead of us. He is talking to himself in Swahili and not quite seeming all there. A boy in a school uniform passes near him and darts quickly to avoid his grasp, and I get a little nervous. A woman talking nonsensically approaches as well, and the man sees her, making a quick turn toward her. He approaches her and for no reason at all, slaps her. We are shocked. Right before my eyes and for no reason at all this women is hit quite hard. She yells out and rubs her cheek as 2 of the CPAR staff go to him and redirect him away from the women. CPAR’s country manager, Japhet encourages us to keep walking forward and we do, but the CPAR staff understand what is going on and positioned themselves between the women in our group and the mentally disturbed and drunk man. Japhet reports the incident to a community leader soon after, and we discuss the incident right way. That man was an example of some of the issues that Tanzania faces: gender discrimination, drunkenness, and violence.
All countries experience this to varying degrees, however, so it is important to keep it in perspective. If we had stopped there and concluded that Tanzanian men are psychotic, drunk, women abusers, we would be painting a very unfair picture of a group of people that has come a long way in these issues. They still are a challenge today, but there are so many more good people in their culture to focus our attention on and that should not be undermined. We have been warmly greeted by most of the people we encounter. They have hugged us, sang for us, and shaken our hands. The people we have met genuinely appreciate our presence, concern for them, and eagerness to learn. They are proud of what they have accomplished and want to share it with us. CPAR has worked directly within the communities, traveling high in the mountains by motorcycle to reach out to people in the belief that education and support is the key to changing a life indefinitely. Programs such as Farmer’s Field schools (educating farmers on effective farming practices), Rain Water Harvesting, and supporting other NGO’s such as UMATU to empower women living with HIV/AIDS are just some of the things that they do. Their active movement of going to the people and reaching the root cause of a problem has gained them much respect and is the main reason why we are so well received. We are being shown all of the projects that have been implemented and are seeing firsthand what they have meant for the people involved with them. Sitting behind a desk and sending money overseas is one thing, but to get into the field is another altogether. The lessons have been life-changing. Active movement, active change within the community is what means the most to people at the end of the day.
I asked one of UMATU’s founding members, Sophia Jones where she got the courage and strength to start an organization that would publicly address HIV in women in their community, directly attacking the stigma attached to it. She explained, “We were really scared, and living with worries. Talking with CPAR, we became less scared to talk freely about it. The most important thing was the love we felt from CPAR. That makes us strong.” Since her first discussion with the Tanzania CPAR team in 2005, they have obtained their own building within the CPAR compound, where they hold their meetings for their group which has grown from 2 to 45 members. They work together to raise money for each other and in support for putting the word out about HIV awareness and prevention. They are no longer scared to speak up.
One of my favorite quotes was spoken by Gandhi. He said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Talking can be a starting point, but we must take action. Just 5 days, and I am already beginning to learn what it means to be active. I hope that in my life I never stop, and always seek movement for change; one step at a time.
– Jacklynn –