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Traveling to Tanzania

This summer, Minal Ahson, a junior double-majoring in microbiology and religious studies, volunteered with Cross Cultural Solutions, an international grassroots volunteer placement organization. Ahson conducted her volunteer work in Tengeru, a small village outside of Arusha, Tanzania. She was awarded the Patrick Stewart 2003 Human Rights Scholarship from Amnesty International for her project to research the HIV/AIDS and healthcare situations in the village. This is the final installment of a four-part series in which Ahson describes her experiences and volunteer work in Tanzania.

Journal Entry #4
I was able to visit Zanzibar, a small island off the coast. Zanzibar is majority Muslim, so the architecture in Stone Town was influenced by that. It was amazing to see such a mix of architecture and history on the coast of the Indian Ocean, which is amazing shades of blue and green.
The difference between a city and a village in Tanzania is huge. I was able to visit my friends Priya and Nikki, UM students who live in Dar-es-Salaam, the economic capital of Tanzania. The city was very modern, comparable to a city in the U.S., but still had a culture unique to the region. It was awesome to see where my friends had grown up and to see their homes halfway across the world. Priya and her family were such gracious hosts!
The students at the school had their last few classes with me before their exams began. One custom that I never got used to was their rising and greeting me with “Good morning, ma’am!” whenever I walked into the room. They really respect their teachers and show even more respect to a short-term teacher like me. I often thought about how different the respect level in America is, where substitute teachers are often played pranks on and disrespected. The students were eager to have conversations with me to improve their English and wanted me to teach them slang. The teacher before me taught them “Peace out,” so they often said that to me before I would leave. They also taught me Swahili slang, like bomba sana, which means cool clothes.
Back at the orphanage, Abdullah, a three-pound, seven-day-old orphan, was being taken care of because his mother died during childbirth. Trying to quiet him in my arms as he screamed out of hunger, I wondered why he was at an orphanage instead of in an incubator, where I had witnessed babies of his size in America. I felt helpless and frustrated that I could not do more to help him. I pondered how long a baby his size could survive without constant warmth, attention and feedings. I didn’t have to wonder long, though. Abdullah passed away that very night.
Zuwadi, which means “gift” in Swahili, was another child at the orphanage. She had a developmental disorder, and we were unsure of whether it was autism or cerebral palsy. She could not see very well and often spent time lying on the ground face down or banging her head against a wall. She liked me, so she would sit in my lap and feel my face and hair. She would often scratch, so the other children did not like to play with her. Her story broke my heart: she had a twin, who did not have any developmental problems and was taken in by another orphanage. They would not take Zuwadi.

Leaving was such a difficult thing to do. Whatever I put in, I got back a million-fold. I cannot even explain how fortunate and grateful I am to have encountered those I did. When leaving Tanzania, I told Mama Simba of my desire to become a doctor and to advocate for improved resources and healthcare rights. All she said was, “Karibu Tena” [welcome again]. I hope so. . .

Minal Ahson can be contacted at mahson@miami.edu.

September 16, 2003

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