MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Mary was born in Leamington, Ontario and lived there until the age of 17. After high school, she was given the opportunity to play junior ice hockey for the Boston Shamrocks, which led to her to be recruited for Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts for the next four years. She is a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration specializing in Marketing with a minor in Communications.  During the summers, she worked at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp where she filled many different roles from counsellor to lifeguard to last summer where she led a leadership program. She has been fortunate to be able to travel to a few places, such as Germany, Paraguay, Argentina and most recently Ukraine and Istanbul. She loved learning about the different culture in all of these places and is excited to experience life in Tanzania. She is quite thankful for this opportunity and looks forward to being part of the great work MEDA does!

My MEDA Internship Reflection: "So many opportunities"

Graduating with marketing, I knew I didn't want to go into the advertising world, I wanted to market something I truly believed in, I wanted to use my business knowledge for something more then just making money. I had heard about the MEDA internships recently and for me the chance abroad, as well as the work experience was perfect.

No, it wasn't really what I thought it would be, it is actually a lot faster pace. I had assumed that everything would move at a really slow pace, not truly preparing me for work when I move back home but it was quite the opposite. Everyday presented a new opportunity and new challenge. The staff was incredible, inviting you into many discussions that are both a learning experience and a chance for you to share your own ideas. The office culture was as close to a family as you could get, not a day went by without laughing here. I had so many opportunities to be involved with so many more departments of the organization learning new skills every time.

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Don’t Be Sad, Just be Glad

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It's the last day of work, don't be sad just be glad, it's the last day of work. All you Silver Lakers know exactly what I'm talking about... that silly song we sing so we can deal with the sad feelings of leaving camp for the summer. I sang that song as I walked to find a bijaji today, my last day of work at MEDA Tanzania.I cannot believe it has been nine months, that is absolutely wild to me. The time has flown by. I find myself thinking about the beginning a lot, when I was so incredibly homesick, I considered packing my bag right then and there and flying back to Canada. I remember thinking about how I didn't think I could do this; that I did not have what it takes to live abroad for six months, nevermind extending the time for nine months. Those thoughts seem so silly to me now.The office here in Tanzania has set seriously high standards for future offices I may work in. The environment here, is exactly what I always hoped for, a place where people not only work together but grow together. Whether it's Goodluck singing to the whole M&E department with Irene and Ngowi joining in, Mwinyi trying to confuse me with people by using their surnames, Lorraine checking in to make sure I was safe on the weekend or while travelling, others teaching me more Swahili phrases that I can never remember that really are just another way to say, "Hey, what's up?" or simply having hilarious conversations over the cubicles that I cannot help but giggle at. Those moments I will take with me always. This is not only an office but it is a family. A family I was lucky enough to be apart of.I was able to complete my internship with a few days in the field taking pictures of the beneficiaries receiving their vouchers and nets. These are the people and the reasons why we continue to do the work for, these are the people that make every stressful day worth it and the people that are making the most out of the opportunities we are able to provide:Asante Sana (A great thank you) to all you at MEDA for making my experience every bit as great as it has been. This year has completely surpassed my expectations and I as I leave the office today, I will never forget all of your happy faces.ASANTE SANA
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Happy Birthday Redo

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Continuing on this crazy roller coaster of emotions, nights like last night happen and I never want to leave Dar es Salaam. The thing I'm learning about the friends you make abroad is they become your family so quickly. Everyone is so desperate for that community that we all have this instant connection and care for each other. I care so much about all of the people I have met in the past nine months.A few girlfriends and I had planned dinner for last night. As I was getting ready, I said to Marine..."I don't even really feel like a dinner party tonight!" Honestly, I just wanted to be home, I want to sleep as much time as I could away so I could be back in Canada but I would deal with it and go. We start walking up the stairs and now that I think back about the night, Marine was being SO WEIRD! When I tried to wear yoga pants to the party, she suggested I wear a necklace, she was just so bubbly and weird and as we went to the door, she sort of moved to the side; Why didn't I figure it out?I walk up the MANY stairs to Madeline's apartment, open the door and was sprayed with an unbelievable amount of silly string!! I was in literal shock. Why were all these people here? Who are all these people? Why are they screaming at me? What do I look like?! My eyes, as per usual, started to fill up, all these people are looking at me and I just want to cry.My unbelievably, amazing friends had planned a birthday redo surprise party! I had told them about how my birthday was the first weekend in Dar, where I knew no one, did nothing and wanted to fly home. Wow, am I glad I didn't. They went above and beyond to make me feel special and to share a special day with me.I cannot explain how much last night meant to me. In a short time they went from being people I have dinner with so I don't have to eat alone to people I look up to, people I am inspired by and people I truly care about. It is going to extremely hard to say goodbye to all of these people, and let's be real... I probably won't even do it because it is just too hard but I'm not so scared because I know that with the power of social media (at least) I will be able to keep in touch and watch these magnificent people do incredible things in this world. I can't wait to some day say... "That's my friend!"
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news. I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Boom, Snap, Clap

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If I had one wish, I would wish for life to be a musical. For anyone who knows me, also knows my love for musicals, although I have less then zero musical talent... I do LOVE it. So many times in life, I have thought, Man, wouldn't it be great if everyone just break out into song right now. Well, it took me 8 and a half months to realize that I am living in just that. Africa, the musical.It was on my hike through different rural villages up to the waterfall on Mt. Meru that I finally noticed it. Every corner we turn there was a new village home blasting music out of these giant speakers, occasionally with the remix of a Cow's Moo, a Chicken's Cluck and the children's laughter. Tanzania is full of life and showing it through the songs they sing everyday.When arriving at the waterfall, it was one of those moments where you can feel your soul taking a step back and realizing all that you have been experiencing and for me realizing that my time in Africa was starting to come to an end. Coming to the conclusion that I have made some of the best friends I could ever have imagined, I have learned so much more then ever expected and I have grown incredibly from the first day I arrived here. As we enjoyed the view, Chrissy and I talked about our experiences and what we were both excited and scared for when we got home. It is these moments that make me never want to leave.The next morning, we wake up early to head out to a horse safari. Riding on the back of College (Yes, that was my horse's name), through the large green grass fields, past the zebras and wildebeests, as I listen to the footsteps of the horses my mind began to wander. Starting to imagine all the people I would see at home and thinking about what activities I will get to enjoy this summer. I tried making the day go by faster and faster, which of course only makes it crawl by even slower.After the horse safari, we were going to make a trip over to a friend's orphanage. Our guide was so gracious to guide us on which dala dala (local bus) to take and where to get off... too bad he didn't' know where he was going. We rode on the first dala dala, being charged mzungu (foreigner) prices for about 30 minutes, when we get off and our guide shows us the school, we realize we are at the completely wrong place. Trying not to waste too much time, we cram into the next dala dala, and I literally mean cram, there were 26 people in this dala dala, which let's be real... it's a 12 person van with a few extra seats. After all these frustrations, we finally make it to the meeting spot, there are the only two other Mzungus, so we know we are in the right place!Maureen, works a Havila Children's Orphanage in Arusha for kids 3-18 years old. She is an absolutely remarkable, inspiring woman dedicating her life to these children and showing them unbelievable love and kindness which was demonstrated as we walked through the gates. Each child came up to introduce themselves to us and welcome us to their home. The kids spoke excellent English and we're full of joy and laughter.We spent the afternoon listening to them singing a few songs their pastor had taught them as the younger ones show off their dance moves, the kids taking so MANY pictures as they were fascinated with cameras and just hanging around the courtyard getting to enjoy their wonderful personalities. They took us for a walk around the area to the children's library and another children's home. As we're walking, playing the 'Don't step on the Lava game' and learning more about each other, it wasn't too long until the movie 'Frozen' came up and they090 (2) asked me to sing my favourite song. For all of those who know me, again know that there is no chance of me signing in front of them. I tell them, I don't sing but I know this really cool beat, and again... it's the only beat I know. As we're walking back to the village, I teach them the Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap and of course, they pick it up way quicker than I ever did. It was an all over, incredible afternoon.On the walk to meet our driver, my favourite little three year old, comes up beside me and although he can speak barely any English says, "Miss Mary" and puts his tiny arms in the air. I pick him up, holding him so tightly. During that walk to our driver, I cannot help but think about how I never want to leave, this little three year, Sammy has stolen my heart along with all the other children. Every single child, so full of life and so full of laughter, singing their song every step of the way sharing their love with anyone they meet. With Sammy clutching my neck, while I listen to kids shout ' Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap' it hits me again... I never want to leave.My emotions are on the biggest, fastest, scariest roller coaster ride, one minute I'm ready to be on the plane home and the next, I never want to leave. I'm trying my best to enjoy every last second of my time in Tanzania because I know as soon as I leave, I will miss all that I have come to love here but I do have so much to look forward to as soon as I get back into North America. Doing my best to sit back and listen to the whole song before simply skipping to the next track.
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news! I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news. I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Overflowing with Tears in Rwanda

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This is a story that simply cannot wait. I am in awe of the way life has a funny way of working around us, no matter how hard we try and force it in the direction we would like.I was on my way to Kigali with my friend Chrissy, we were to meet outside the airport, unfortunately the unpredictable traffic in Dar was causing her such an issue that we were not sure she was going to be able to make the trip. I was ready to fly out myself when she was able to show up just in time. As we sat for a few minutes before we boarded the plane laughing about how much someone clearly did not want her to make it to Rwanda to see the Gorillas, the announcement was made and it was time to board. We approached the boarding gate when she realized she could not find her ticket, they would not let her on the plane if she did not have that. We looked through everything, even where we were sitting and nothing, it was looking grim. Then, just in time, magically appears her ticket stub hidden in one of the pages of her passport.As we arrive in Kenya, we are on the bus heading to the terminal when we check the clock, we had just over 5 minutes to get on the next plane. This is unbelievable. We run to the gate when they inform us we still have a little bit of time but now they need to see a printed copy of my visa for Rwanda... only I didn't print it out, I only have it in my email on my computer. That is not acceptable. They inform me of a print shop a few gates down, 8 to be exact. I speed walk across the airport terminal, only to find out the printer is not working. I speed walk back across to the Rwanda Airways gate, the manager is there and gives me the go ahead.As we board the plane take our seats and again, laugh about how Rwanda really must not want us. The plane ride was quick and we were ready for a great vacation in Rwanda, if only it was that easy. After a short flight, the plane lands, quickly gathering our things we head off the plane and onto the bus ready to take us to immigration. Shortly after stepping off the bus, I noticed I was missing something... my passport, I had left my passport on the plane. It wasn't long before I was back on the plane searching for my passport, I knew I left it there but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. Devastated, scared, frustrated, I made my way back to the immigration officers where I tried to work out a way that they would let me into Kigali, no luck.Since Rwanda had never seen my passport, I was technically not even in the country, the only solution was to ship me back to Dar, so I could get it figured out. My heart sunk, I would not be able to explore Rwanda with my friends. For anyone who knows me, understands just how many tears my body produces and that night was no exception.Luckily, I have met so many amazing people out here and Chrissy was just too kind of a person to leave me stranded in the airport alone. She spent the night in the Rwandan airport with me, fighting for me, laughing at the luck we had and comforting me when I just couldn't hold it together anymore. After a long night of arguing and getting further away from a solution, it was time for the daily flight from Kigali to Nairobi. I had to return to Nairobi since that was where I stopped on the way over, half an hour before they were able to give me a boarding pass and I was on my way back to Nairobi.The flight was short, I slept for most of it, cried through the rest but none the less was there before I knew it. Arriving in Nairobi unsure of what was to happen next, I looked around cautiously for someone I could trust to help me. A young lady a few years older then me,had overheard my situation and could see the stress in my face. She came over and checked to see if there was anything she could help me with. Her kindness was incredible, offering her phone so I could call Rwanda (which was now long distance), checking in on me a couple times before she left the airport and a giant hug at the exact moment I was getting overwhelmed again.I was able to find a couple immigration officers that would help me with the next lag of my journey, it was a simple comment that they didn't understand why I had no passport that just had the tears streaming down my face again. They were terrified, doing everything they could to get me to stop crying and even had me laughing with their inspirational speech of how I must learn to be tough if I am going to live in Africa. Eventually, after many chats with the embassy, airlines and the Kigali airport they had booked me a flight back to Dar es Salaam.I had a wonderful escort, who had obviously heard how many tears I had shed in immigration, explaining to me that she is also a 'crybaby'! She did a wonderful job putting a smile on my face and making me feel that everything was going to be okay. I had explained my situation a few more times to the Kenya Airways flight attendants and now was just waiting for a boarding pass to be printed. With a few hours before my flight, I decided it was probably time to eat something and headed for lunch. I had just ordered when I heard, "Mary Catherine, please report to Gate 6, Mary Catherine please find Gate 6." In my head, I thought they must have my boarding pass, so in a rush I asked them to pack up my food and took the long walk back to gate 6.When I got there, the first lady had quite a smile on her face and said she had to call her manager. A few more people passed, all looking at me with these silly grins on their faces, something was up. The Rwanda Air Manager finally walks around the corner and starts with, "You lucky girl." Someone had turned in my passport just a few minutes ago in Kigali!I was in awe. No words were able to explain the relief, excitement and disbelief that I felt. Obviously, I started to cry. The manager of Rwanda Air was so lovely and had already arranged for a free flight back to Kigali and a free flight on Monday. I was going to get my dream vacation yet... well I hope, still sitting in the Nairobi airport waiting to take off to Rwanda. Wish me luck!
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Zanzibar Just Never Gets Old

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Well this past weekend was one more goodbye that had to be made, so for Parneet's last weekend we decided to take a trip to our beloved little paradise, Zanzibar. There is something magical about that place. This was my 5th time in Zanzibar and every time I go it has a completely different feeling, all great in there own way.This time because we were a larger group we all decided to plan our own transport there,which let me tell you is WAY easier. As a resident in Tanzania, I get everything for about the third of the price my non-resident friends would get. The ferry for me is only about $20 dollars, unfortunately I was not able to take work off that early at this time so with a few others we took a quick 30 minute flight over, which for me costs about the same a non-resident would on the ferry.Arriving Friday night, we head over to a beautiful rooftop patio for some dinner and drinks to start off what was sure to be an unforgettable weekend. As we all gather together, watching the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky from sundown, we catch up on everything, even though I saw most of these people the night before. Our group of friends may not all be quite as much of an extrovert as me, but they are pretty close and it is quite rare that we do not spend every evening together. Never the less, we learn about each others days, the struggles, the successes, the miscommunication we would have encountered with someone that day.After dinner, we all pile into a large van and make our way from Stonetown to Paje, where we will be staying for the weekend. Still not sure of where we are to stay, as if is easier to simply show up and find a place then to book online, well for those who have the extremely useful skill of negotiating, we find a beautiful place on the beach, with enough rooms for all of us and not too pricey, quite the deal. It was a long night full of laughter and many memories created, a great start to the weekend.The morning was a quick clean up, enjoyed some breakfast and we were packed up and ready to head out to the real treat of the weekend. We had recently heard of these private villas you may rent, so on we were, all piled in the van for a short drive down the road to Raha Lodge. After a few minutes of searching for this place through the local village, we spotted a rickety, old wooden sign that pointed us in the right direction. The place was absolutely gorgeous. In Swahili, Raha means happiness, which is definitely the way we all felt exploring our new home for the night.It wasn't long after we got out of the car that thunder and lightning began to shriek through the building and the rain started to downpour. It was that kind of thunderstorm where all you want is to cuddle up under a blanket with a cup of tea and watch the sky light up. It was going to put a hold on swimming, and tanning on the beach for the day but the thing about these friends is that it is almost impossible to have a bad time. As we sat under the roof watching the rain pour down, we exchanged stories, played some games and simply enjoyed each other's company.Shortly after the sky cleared up and the weekend played out exactly how we had hoped, even returning home sunburnt but no matter how the weather would have reacted I am positive we would have made it an unforgettable weekend. It is easy to say that people are the most important thing in my life and I truly don't know what I would do in this country without them. There is something special about connecting with others who are also away from the home they knew before this. Friendships are formed quickly, trust is unbelievably high and boredom is never an issue because there is always something new to learn. It was another great and completely unique weekend in Zanzibar! A little paradise.
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See Ya Later Alligators

It's the start of the of the goodbyes here in Dar. We all knew at some point it would happen but nothing really prepares you for how fast your time goes by with these amazing people, even knowing that the time is going to fly past you.It started on Thursday night where we would have one last night with our dear friend Laiah from California. Laiah had one of the shorter terms as she was out here writing her thesis, so we knew we would have to make the most of any moment. We spent a lot of time together, enjoying countless dinners together, learning new things at trivia, celebrating Mardi Gras and sharing endless laughs together. Laiah was an extremely intelligent, truly compassionate, hilarious individual who showed show much kindness to whoever she met, even when the conversations never seemed to have an ending. There is so much to learn from Laiah, I could not be happier to have met her.Then with short notice another friend, David from Ireland, was on his way back. I had met David playing ball hockey a little while back. David has a love for sports and although only played field hockey before he found a way to make it work in ball hockey. It was always great to be greeted with David's wonderful smile and genuine care for you with a simple question, "How are you, dear?" (In an Irish accent, I might add). I absolutely love spending time with David whether it was playing ball hockey, camping on bongoyo or sharing stories around a bonfire.As these goodbyes start, it only makes me realize how quickly my time is going to go bye. I try not to think about it so it won't become real but sometimes it just takes over my mind. It frustrates me even more when I waste my time here being homesick because I know that I will be missing these moments as soon as I am back in Canada. In our crew of friends, none of us really like to talk of the fact that it will be soon that we are not sharing every dinner together or spending countless hours reading through the what's app group chat sorting through useless messages trying to find what the plans are for the evening. All the things that may annoy me at the moment seem so useless.I am positive that my path will some day cross all these amazing friends again but until that moment I want to enjoy every single moment the days has to offer. It was terribly sad to see both David and Laiah leave this beautiful city and know that you will both be miss incredibly but all the best on where your journey leads you next. Can't wait to hear all about it the next time we meet!
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A Day in My African Life

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6:00am: Alarm goes off... the intention was to wake up and work out before it gets too hot...but we're just going to snooze that again.7:45am: Alarm #2 rings, this one is serious. Time to get ready for work. Ninapiga mswaki (I brush my teeth), Ninavaa nguo (I get dressed), halafu ninakula chukula cha asubuhi kabla ya ninaenda officini (then I eat breakfast before I go to the office).8:15am: Apsin, my trusted bijaji driver arrives to pick me up for work, usually on time. Apsin works for Theresea, an upbeat, cheerful woman who works in the kitchen here a MEDA. Theresea invested in two bijajis and employs two drivers, Apsin being one of them. He picks me up every morning and is always a text away if I ever need him. He has little English and I have little Swahili but still we have formed quite the friendship.9:00-12:00pm: Ninafanya kazi (I am doing work). I collect data from our call center and create reports on redemption rates, net stock outs and voucher stock outs. As well as, create the call list of random retailers and clinics and giving them to the call center for the following week.Some where between 12:00-1:30pm: Chukula (Food) time! The MEDA office is extremely generous and provides a delicious, filling lunch for us every day. I have found I am not as adventurous with food as I once thought I was, so I usually stick with ninakula kuku na wali (I eat chicken and rice) or kuku na chips (chicken and French fries). For dessert, the sweetest most delicious piece of fruit, my favorite is definitely the mangos. The way they eat their fruit always has me intrigued. For example with an orange, instead of peeling it and then putting it into slices, they cut the orange in half and you slurp all the juice out. My coworkers are really good at even getting some of the orange, unfortunately this is one skill I have not mastered yet and usually end up squirting orange juice in my or someone else's eyes.2:00pm: Back to work. Spend the last part of the day at my desk in the office putting together more reports, presentations and writing for this blog. The office is an amazing atmosphere, with jokes and laughter flying over the cubicles...half in English, half in Swahili. I never know quite how to respond when my manager, Goodluck shouts to me, "Mary?" I respond and he starts rambling Swahili forgetting that I do not speak fluent Swahili. This usually has the whole office cracking up at their desks as I sit there unsure of what to reply and Irene quickly reminds him, I am not a local.5:00pm: When the day is done, our friend Nazir is kind enough to drive us home everyday. He drops me off at the corner of the road so I just have a short 10minute walk home. As I walk to my apartment, I try to practice my Swahili and say hello to the Massiah, the guards at two different houses, the kids going home from school and almost everyone I pass. Even though the walk is so short, I am still usually already sweating by the time I reach the apartment because it is just so hot.6:00pm: Twice a week, I go for a Swahili lesson with Tina. She is quite funny and can be pretty sassy but is a great teacher, even if she yells at us for not always doing our homework.7:00pm: Being the extrovert that I am, I find it quite hard to spend an entire evening at my own place. So almost everyday, I find a way to get my crew of friends to meet up and hang out. Whether that is dinner, a drink and some dessert or a late night swim, it is always a blast. The nights are then filled with laughter, stories of funny experiences they have had, clever mind games or plans for what's next for them in life. These people have become my friends, travelling buddies, consultants, therapists, family and inspiration. Every one of them has a phenomenal story of where they came from, what they're doing and where they dream of going next. They all have a deep understanding that life is about so much more than making money. Since hanging out with these world travellers, I feel as if I have only just started to experience what is out there.11:00pm: After another great night, I return to my apartment with a few of the friends that live in the same compound. Put on an episode of 'Friends' and try to fall asleep before the roosters are way too loud!
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Just Another Tourist Trap

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I have to be honest. I am a sucker for "tourist traps" and more often then not, I get pulled into these even though I have already spent 5 and a half months here. I usually end up leaving feeling as though, I didn't really get to see a whole lot and spent ALL my money. I am learning that I'm not very good at bargaining and terrible at saying no to buying whatever little knick knack is being sold to me. I get way too flustered in these places and never really have a lot of fun... until the last time.Last Saturday, I was asked to join a group of new comers to Dar to the Woodcarvers Market, which I had been to a few times before and again usually walked away with something else I didn't need and paid way too much for but for some odd reason ended up accepting the invitation. So, I emptied my wallet to only carry minimal change, we piled in two bijajis and headed to the market.As we arrived at the market, I immediately started to head for the main shops when I was pulled another direction by one of my new friend's. She had a contact of a friend of a friend of a friends that wanted to show us the whole carvers market. This meant we got to go to the back behind the shops and see the countless number of men hammering, chipping and staining away at the most gorgeous pieces of artwork. On average they could make one medium sized woodcarving a day, some more some less. Some men would even spend more then three years carving one extravagant piece of wood art. Behind the men carving magnificent artwork out of any piece of wood were many beautiful women working incredibly hard cooking food for all the workers over a terribly hot fire. After the long day of carving wood and making food, many of these individuals would attend an English class led by different people in the community.In the middle of the large field was one stray brown cow try to look for any thing to eat in between the garbage and would be dirt. As a worker noticed me looking at the cow he offered me the story of how this specific cow came to be, telling me that they had won it in the previous weekend during a futball match. It was a tough match but they were able to pull ahead by one goal and win dinner for their community. Now all that was left to decide was what night their feast.It was an extremely welcoming group of people, everyone willing to sit and talk or teach you how to carve these beautiful pieces, even offering encouraging words like, "It's easy anyone can do it, I'll show you!" as they point to a structure that has taken them all year to carve. I had an unforgettable Saturday, listening and learning from this incredibly hardworking group of people who welcomed us into their everyday lives. I was definitely not trapped this time.
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The Depth of a Friendly Smile

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The first week I moved to Dar, I contemplated packing up my things and moving home several times. I didn't know how I was going to make it six whole months in this country. If it wasn't for the encouraging words from my wonderful mother at 3am, I am sure that I would be back in Canada long ago. The most difficult thing for me was actually, not having any friends. Being the extreme extravert that I am, I didn't know what to do with myself when I had no one. It wasn't long before the white walls in my apartment and spending my birthday alone drove me to just the right amount of insanity, that built up enough courage to go and make some friends in this strange, new place.Now, five months later, I can say I have met so many absolutely incredible people from so many places around the world all trying to make the most out of their experience. I don't know what this country would be without Arnav and Gaurav from India, Ahmed from Egypt, Anna from Finland, Mercy from Tanzania, Elise from Sweden and Marine from Boston, France, Washington and wherever else she has lived in the World! These people and so many more have taught, motivated and inspired me to make a difference. Every one of them is left an impression on me that have helped me grow that much more. Every one of them is changing the world in their own unique way.As always, it took me having no friends to realize just how important the people around us are. I too often forget how important a simple smile to the person across the street or a door held for the person behind you can be, we are affecting everyone around us even when we least expect it. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to take these friendships and all of our friendships in life for granted. I am definitely guilty of this, always moving forward to the next thing and forgetting to check back with those in other parts of the world.My life in Tanzania, as for many is simply another chapter in my life. It's a chance for me to listen to others stories, to learn about other cultures and to leave my legacy. I hope to take in every moment with these beautiful people, to create memories that will last a lifetime because it's just like reading a Lemony Snicket novel, you never really have any idea where the next chapter of this adventure could take us. So whether I'm running a Hash Harriers run with Anna, Elizabeth and Rose or playing underwater hockey with Ahmed, Alex, Mandi and Eric or going out dancing with Madeline, Mike and Chrissy or spending another amazing weekend in Zanzibar with Marine, I will cherish every moment. I will remember their laughs, inspiring ideas and incredible kindness. This chapter will definitely leave me smiling and excited to read more!
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Hockey is a Little Different in Africa

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The most popular question I heard before moving to Tanzania was always, “Mary, how are you going to play hockey in Africa?” At the time, I always regretfully applied, “I think it will be the first year since I was 4 years old not playing hockey.” Little did I know that I would have the chance to experience hockey in so many different forms.After 4 months in this country, doing very little physical activity and eating way to much wali na kuku (Rice and fried Chicken) I decided it was time to get back at it. I came across a posting online for underwater hockey. I was intrigued. Ice hockey and swimming have to be two of my favorite things and now they are being blended together. Most of the Tanzanians I spoke to weren’t even aware of what hockey was; I usually had to show them a video for them to understand. So I curiously inquired about this underwater hockey via the ever-useful Google search engine. I learned that underwater hockey is a large phenomenon across the world that is petitioning to become an Olympic sport. So that Sunday, I headed to the International School Pool where I would have the opportunity to try out this new sport with a few others.The concept of underwater hockey is quite simple just as ice hockey get the puck in the net.The difficulty comes from the many different elements. The players of each team start on the their side of the pool, the game is played length ways in both the deep and shallow end of the pools. The puck is placed in the direct middle of the pool and you hear the ref yell, “Sticks up, GO!” From that moment it is a mad dash for the puck in the middle, both teams trying to reach the puck first.The key is timing, knowing when to dive down to the bottom, knowing who is running out of air and speed.Underwater hockey equipment is a little different from ice hockey. Instead of skates the players wear flippers, players only have one glove on their shooting hand. The stick is a lot shorter, about the size of one’s forearm and only used with one hand. The final pieces of equipment are the goggle and snorkels, which believe it or not are the hardest items to get used to, I have taken too many breaths before I have quite surfaced and swallowed way too much pool water.The players snorkel on the surface of the water until they see a play they would like to make or defend. When they see an opportunity they take a deep breath and dive to the bottom of the pool and work hard to get the puck to another teammate of the net before they run out of air. When looking to pass to someone it is important to watch both the players on the bottom of the pool but also the players at the surface who may be able to dive down. When defending your own end it is systematic, your teammates begin to learn how long one can hold their breath and try to dive down shortly before that moment.The game is incredibly difficult but a phenomenal sport to learn. Since then I have also joined a ball hockey team and an ultimate Frisbee team and soon to join a Canadian football (soccer) team. Playing on a sports team has always been something I took for granted; not until I had not been apart of a team for the first time in 18 years had I realized how much I missed it. Sports have taught me so much from teamwork and leadership to drive and passion. The difference that can be made simply by wanting the puck more is phenomenal.  It is a mindset, it is training and it is confidence.  I believe so much of what I have learned in life has come from sports. I never made it to the Olympics for Ice hockey…maybe underwater hockey 2016?

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Everyone Loves Field Trips

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I think anyone who works in international development will tell you the best part of the job is always the field visits. It is always a great way to lift your spirits and remember why you do what you do. It is when the numbers you stare at all day really come to life.  My role here at MEDA is titled Impact Assessment but I have been most useful in the monitoring and evaluation position so I spend most of my days creating call lists, compiling net stock out reports or sitting in meetings to discuss how we could do this more efficiently. I often forget, I forget that for me this is simply a job but for those pregnant women this could be life and death for their newborn. Field visits bring that back to live. They encourage me to remember why I started or why I need to put every ounce of energy and focus into my work. The difference matters.  My last field visit was very special for me because I was able to bring along my parents. We went to a local clinic here in Dar es Salaam, which uses the eVoucher system. MEDA Tanzania works with two voucher systems, the paper voucher and the eVoucher. We are trying to introduce the eVoucher system more and more but the mobile network in the rural areas is holding us back in certain regions. In Dar however, we have been able to go completely eVoucher.  We dropped in a local clinic filled with women and their newborn babies waiting for their check up. When a woman comes in their first trimester or in the baby’s first three month they receive a voucher for a mosquito net to prevent against malaria. Once the beneficiary has the voucher code via mobile phone, they take that number to the nearest retailer. We work to ensure these retailers are within 5km from the clinic. At the clinic the retailer shop owner verifies the code via SMS to the host server and once they have confirmation that voucher is valid, they are able to issue the net for 500 Tanzanian Shillings, approximately $0.32 US. The 500 shillings goes directly to the store owner and we find a donor to cover the costs of the net for to the supplier. If an individual does not have the voucher a mosquito net would cost them 1750 Tanzanian Shillings.With the kindness of one of the mothers we were able to sit in on her appointment with her newborn baby, they were there to get their voucher for their bed net. We waited with her for several minutes as they tried to connect and reconnect to the network as the signal was quite weak. Once the voucher ID number finally came through, the nurse wrote the number on a slip of paper and handed it to the mother. With an infectious smile she received the voucher and gathered her things so we could be on our way to the retailer. This clinic and retailer were extremely special because the retailer was only about 100 feet from the clinic making it easily accessible to the women.  We walked across the street to the Duka (shop) where they sold the approved nets. Again we waited for the shop owner to connect to the network so this woman may obtain her net.  After some time, he had received confirmation that the voucher ID was valid. He exchanged her 500 Tsh for a net. When in the office, I see this simply as another positive number towards the redemption rate but to this woman this is securing the health of her newborn baby. It is so easy to be caught up in the day-to-day work, even here; I find it to easy to forget the importance of each report or each redemption rate. Hearing the impact first hand is much more rewarding than any paycheck.

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I can, I will, I am.

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Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. “Hodi? (May I come in?) Wake up tea!” says Adam, our awesome porter, “Hodi?” In theexcitement/exhaustion of the summit climb the morning before Jaredshouts, “Caribouuuuuu!” His attempt at the Swahili word Karibu (Welcome) gives us all a great laugh, as we are ready to hike the last stretch of the mountain to the bottom.Wanting to make Christmas in Tanzania special a few of the other MEDA interns and I decided to climb MT. Meru, the 5th tallest mountain in Africa that looks directly at Mt. Kilimanjaro.There are a lot of benefits to climbing Mt. Meru, it only takes 4 days, cost is a lot less than other treks and it is said to be a beautiful hike. All these reasons led us to signing up for to hike to 4566m to the summit of this mountain. December 24th, we meet our crew that will be helping us make it to the summit. Ashleigh our guide, Adam our porter and Godfrey our cook. We will also pick up 2 more porters at the gate.At the bottom of the mountain, before we head out they prepare a wonderful lunch for us; my nerves are already starting to bubble up. I try to calm myself down by impressing the park rangers with my kidogo (little) Swahili knowledge. As we start the hike I am able to calm myself down using positive self-talk that I had learned in my Sport Psychology class last year. With every step I repeat the phrase in myhead, “I can, I will, I am.” Step by step I will make it up this mountain. The first day was a 5 hour hike, uphill and downhill and even a few flat areas. Nothing I couldn’t handle. After arriving at the hut, they cook us a delicious dinner and we head to the viewing deck where we are able to see the most amazing stars I have ever seen, absolutely incredible.“Hodi? Wake up tea!” we were greeted the next morning by Adam. I haveto say the best way to be woken up is by someone serving you tea in bed, certainly a great way to start the day! After a quick breakfast, we started our next 5 hour hike up to Hut #2. This trail consisted of what seemed like 1 billion stairs, then paths slanted upwards that went back and fourth for a few hours. Tiring, but again nothing I couldn’t handle. When we arrived at Hut #2, we enjoyed a lunch prepared for us and then we hiked an hour and ahalf up to Little Meru to acclimatize us a little before back down to Hut #2 for the night.It was an early night for us, dinner at 6:30pm and in bed at 8pm. The nerves were certainly building up, the air was a whole colder at the second hut and as much as we wanted to sleep and rest for the hike the next day, I was wide awake. It seemed as though I had just fallen asleep when we were woken up with some breakfast tea just like every other morning, only this time it was 1:30am. It was time to hike to the summit. We tried to force down a little breakfast, put on almost every item of clothing we had for me that meant 5 long sleeve shirts, 1 sweat shirt, a windbreaker, spandex, jeans and wind pants… mostly provided by Nichols College Women’s Ice Hockey. We emptied our packs as much as possible, bundled up, headlamps on and we were off.The trail was long and windy; all I could see was Ashleigh in front of me except when I took a minute to look up at the brightest stars that light up the whole sky. I didn’t do that to often though because it usually involved me running into something or tripping over myown feet so I focused straight ahead following Ashleigh’s every step, repeating the phrase, “I can, I will, I am.” We continued to hike this dark path that was only light up only by our own headlamps. The hike was extremely steep and included many challenges where we scaled a rock wall to get to the next path instead of going all the way down and up again, walked on the very narrow path with a steep fall on either side and walked straight up as the volcanic ash collapsed beneath our feet. It was extremely strenuous and at one point, I felt as though I could not take another step, my legs felt like jelly and my whole body felt weak. I fell to my knees and with an uneasy stomach had my first experience with the dreaded altitude sickness. Ashleigh offered me some water and said, “Great! Now you’ll have more energy! Let’s go!” And incredibly he was right, I had a sudden burst of energy that was able to get me up the next stretch until it hit me all over again.Every time I slowed down, I could hear Ashleigh from a few steps ahead say, “Maria, it’s nearly there, you are so close, come on!” Even though I had learned by this point he was completely lying, I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I continued one foot in front of the other. As we were 50 meters from the summit we saw the sun start to rise right behind Mt. Kilimanjaro, it was the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky. I have never seen such an amazing sight… too bad I was too exhausted to grab my camera and take a few pictures. Instead, I continued. Three steps. Water break. Three more steps. Another water break. I was going to make it to the top, I was not giving up. With quite a few more rounds of this, I finally found the last push in myself and fought threw the last 25 steps to the top. With my final step, I collapsed on the ground right in front of the “Congratulation” sign. I had made it. It was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done.  Every muscle in my body ached, I was chilled to the bone and my stomach was bubbling in pain but I felt proud. After a few moments, I regained a little strength to stand up, take a few pictures and drink some warm water to satisfy my insides. It was shortly after when we started the trek down.Down felt a little better but certainly still not easy. After a few hours we made it back to the second hut where we enjoyed lunch, packed up the rest of our stuff and hiked all the way down the 1 billion stairs to the first hut. We had hiked a total of 3000 meters that day. Sleep was most definitely in order. We forced ourselves to stay up for a little dinner and then it was off to bed. The next morning after sleeping close to 12 hours we were awaken with our last wake up tea. It was time for the last stretch. I could not have been more wrong when I was thinking this would be a light stroll down the mountain. With every step, every muscle and my body protested. After hours of painful walking, listening to our park ranger play, “Call me maybe” on repeat the whole way down and my pack feeling heavier than ever, we finally made it to the bottom where five beautiful giraffes waited to congratulate us on an incredible accomplishment.There are many experiences that I will carrywith me for the rest of my life and this certainly, is no exception. The summit was beautiful but the true memory for me was in the journey. I was challenged, encouraged, frustrated and inspired all at the same time. I was able to learn from all those around me while sharing in so many laughs. I am so blessed to have these amazing opportunities.

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Not the Happiest of New Years

Usually New Year's Eve is a celebration of a wonderful year and looking forward to what the next year may bring but this year I find it hard to put on a smile knowing that for some the new year simply brings more struggles. It is becoming more difficult to turn a blind eye and live my daily carefree life. My stomach and heart are filled with deep guilt and sadness for those who have to face such difficulties. I find in this blog I often write about the incredible opportunities I am experiencing and forgetting to share some of the difficulties of living abroad. Contrary to what some may believe it isn't all sunshine and beaches.For me, it is easy to say my biggest challenge is knowing all that I am missing back home. I have a fear of missing out. That is a fact. For the most part I miss out on things such as the planning of my sisters wedding, or watching NC women's ice hockey beat Manhattanville or Christmas parties with high school friends or Wednesday game night with all those Silver Lakers in Waterloo but this week I am missing out on a different sort of situation. It is not so much that I want to experience this at all but I am struggling on how to process it so far away. I received news that a friend, teammate and housemate from my Junior hockey team, the Boston Shamrocks passed away in a car accident over the holidays. I can't quite figure out how to deal this shocking news normally but for being an ocean away somehow makes it 1000 times worse. I often look to the future, I try to look at a difference I can make when I am 'grown up' or what kind of job I am going to have or where I am going to live, always trying to plan ahead and look for more but who says I'm guaranteed more time. So many of us know this is the case and yet it seems we don't completely understand it. We spend so much time in life planning for the future, thinking about what we are going to do next, forgetting about the power of now. Living in a new place let's you experience so much that you could never even imagine but it really seems to hit hard when moments like this happen. You realize that the world that you know and love back home does not go on hold for you. By the time I return home so much will have changed and passed by that I will have to find my place all over again. I read an article recently that claimed, "Once an expat, always an expat!" It exclaimed that once one leaves a place for such a long time they always sort of feel something missing whether it be your home country or the last place you lived, one just never feels quite complete. That is a scary thought. It definitely is a fear of mine but the more time I think of this, the more I begin to feel it is still 100% worth it. As demonstrated way to often, life is short and we cannot take any of it for granted. Even if I never feel completely at home or that I am missing someone I met in Boston or Africa or from home, I know it is because they made an impact on me. I am missing them because they mattered and instead of getting sad or frustrated about that I can take what they taught me and share that with someone else and maybe, just maybe make half the impression on their lives.
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It’s Our Problem-Free Philosophy

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Hakuna Matata. A phrase we all learn from the beloved Disney movie, The Lion King. The first phrase people often teach you when trying to teach you Swahili. A phrase that is used multiple times a day here in Tanzania.Sitting on the rooftop terrace having dinner with my parents and listening to some beautiful melodies played by the local Zanzibar band, I had my first ‘Ah-ha!’ moment. Hakuna Matata is more than a phrase, it is a way of life. Hakuna Matata literally means ‘no worries’ but truly means ‘take it all in!’ It means don’t rush through every second of every day rather enjoy the small moments. It means don’t stress about the problems that arise instead deal with them and move on. It means look into the eyes of the one next to you and share a smile over the communication barrier because that sign of happiness is universal.With Christmas approaching it’s hard to not think about what I would be doing back home right now or the beautiful snowfall. I try to stay busy to keep my mind off of all that I am missing back home but this is not completely the answer. Rather I should take it all in, every single moment, every single smile. I need to focus less on what I am missing and more on what I am gaining. I need to learn to live in the present. Live in the now.Life in Africa moves at a different pace, it’s African Time! This is my worst enemy, I value punctuality and efficiency so I don’t understand why every African minute equals five regular minutes. The first few months I let this bother me quite a bit, I found myself getting frustrated when others were late to meet me or stressed out when I was late leaving for a Swahili lesson. I now see, it is not about the exact time but the quality of life we are living. Many of these people face much bigger problems then I could ever imagine so why let such a small thing as time bother them? People are fighting for their lives and I’m worried whether I will be there five minutes early.Now, don’t misunderstand me, I still value punctuality and if I make plans with someone at a certain time I try my best to be there at the time but I realize that it is not something that should cause me stress. I am realizing that life is a beautiful playground. We often make our problems seem so much bigger than they actually are and let that get in the way of our fun. We only have so much time at the playground before we must move on so why not capture every moment to it’s fullest. Smile over everything even miscommunications because Hakuna Matata.In this exact moment, sitting on this rooftop with the cool breeze flowing through me listening to these musicians put their heart and soul into the songs they are singing, I not only feel the moment but am living it. I experience Hakuna Matata to it’s fullest. I breathe all the way in until my lungs are full, close my eyes, and with the release of all that air I recognize all the blessings I have been given in life. I have nothing to be but thankful. So to that I say….Hakuna Matata

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According to Plan

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“Everything is possible” the words of our taxi driver that seemed to fit with so many things in this past trip to Zanzibar.Right from the start nothing seemed to go as planned. We arrived at the ferry terminal only to find all the tickets were sold out, thinking that we would have to start our Zanzibar excursion the next morning we headed out of the Terminal and down the street. It was then that we met the incredible Mr. James. He pulled us into his office telling us he would just go talk to the Captain of the ship, it was fine. In disbelief we sat there as they scrambled to find us ways on to this boat. After several minutes, some of his employees came back slightly disappointed but not completely out of options. They exclaimed that they could only get the residents tickets on the ferry but they could fly us to Zanzibar on a private plane and book us a ticket for the ferry back. It was only a $20 difference from the original price but they could quickly tell we weren’t completely sold, so with their excellent business skills they started to throw in extra incentives. They started with free transportation to the airport then adding a hotel in Stonetown with free breakfast for only $15 per person. This was deal breaker.Off we were on our private plane to Zanzibar, some people still in disbelieve this would all work out. There was quite a bit of traffic but our driver ensured us the plane would wait for us! Never worry! We enjoyed a quick private plane ride, were picked up at the airport, customs went flawlessly and made it to the hotel. That night we walked to the local food market enjoying every type of fish, seafood and chicken you can imagine while we made our plan for the weekend. It was simple, we would spend the night in Stonetown, in the morning head to the East side of the Island for some beautiful swimming and relaxation. Then Sunday, head back to Stonetown to meet up with a friend and head to Prison Island. That was the plan at least.The rest of the evening and morning seemed to go smoothly, as we enjoyed delicious dinner and breakfast and were able to get a taxi to drive us to the East side. He found us a great quiet place to stay. This was going to be a perfect afternoon laying by the pool, getting a great tan (or burn) and walking by the beach. It was not 10 minutes after changing into ourswimsuits and getting outside that the thunder started to roll and the rain down poured! Change of plans, it would now be a perfect cozy afternoon listening to the rainstorm, playing some scrabble and enjoying some delicious pizza!Sunday morning, we are packed and ready to head out to meet our friend for Prison Island. Per usual in Africa, we have more people than fit in the car, so stuffed with 4 people in the backseat our driver Ali takes off. It should be about an hour until we are in Stonetown, we’re right on time! Not more than 20 minutes down the road we are pulled over by the police, apparently you are not allowed to have that many people in car…who knew! It was easy to understand that through quick conversation in Swahili that he wanted a bribe, not completely sure how this was going to happen we all sat quietly in the back as Ali got on the phone with his boss. A few long minutes later the Police Officer received a phone call and was told to let us pass. As we are speeding off, Ali tells us that he works for the High Commissioner in Zanzibar and he is able to do anything he wants, “Everything is possible!” says Ali. We are all quite impressed with his achievement and sing along to the most perfect Bob Marley song on the stereo, “Get up, Stand up!”Of course, it is not smooth sailing from there. Our car starts to slow to a roll and then to a complete stop. We are out of gas and it is downpouring again. Ali without a worry in the world just out of the car, grabs a empty jug and hops on the back of a truck to the nearest gas station, as we all sat in the car laughing at the events of this trip. A few minutes later he returns on another car with just enough gas to get us to the last stretch to Stone town.We did not make it in time to see Prison Island or enjoy the warmth of the sun beating down on us. We had to pay a little more to get to there and we did not find a perfect paradise of a beach to stay on. Everything we planned seemed to change but in the midst of all this craziness and chaotic trip we laughed. It is incredible how we can focus so heavily on the little details in life missing the pure beauty of human connection. This is certainly a trip I will never forget. What was supposed to be a quick getaway for the weekend ended up being one of my favourite moments thus far in Africa! I am beyond grateful for the many moments of this past weekend that I was able to learn and experience so much with some wonderful new friends. The friendships mean so much more than any souvenir I could ever imagine. I am blessed.

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Mis-Frustration

Some individuals could find their way in any place with others who speak any language and find a way to connect, I however, find this extremely difficult. Even though, Ninajifunza Kiswahili (I am taking Swahili classes), I still find many instances where there is a significant communication barrier.As part of my internship, I am currently managing our call center of four employees. When I started we had two employees in the call center collecting data from our retailers in the North and South on how many nets they have in stock. Now, due to donor demands on data that should be collected, we have four employees collecting data on retailers in the North and South, hard to reach retailers, eVoucher redemptions and clinic voucher stock outs. As the manager, it is my role to train the new employees, create the calling lists for each, monitor and analyze the data retrieved. This is all new to me in English never mind Swahili.As I am putting together these different lists, I confuse myself over the different retailers and clinics, whether they’re eVoucher or Paper Voucher clinics and who is collecting what data. Meanwhile, as I’m only confusing myself more, I am trying to teach one of our new employees what I am looking for her to do. As I ramble on, back and fourth she continues to nod her head and accept the tasks I have given her. I finish my explanations, ask her if she has any questions and when the answer is always, “No madam” I return back to my desk. A few hours later or some times even at the end of the day when I am looking to collect the work from the day to review, I receive an email in response that explains that she is unsure of what the task was and was not able to collect the data. This is not ignorance or lack of wanting to work, this is a conflict in communication.Growing up and studying in North America, I would expect if someone did not understand the task, they would ask for clarification but that is not the case here. I have started to learn in many circumstances that Tanzanian people tell you what you want to hear. Tanzanians are extremely polite and this is simply a part of their culture as they do not want to offend you so they tell you what will make you happy. When asking a waitress to get you something the correct phrase is “Naomba maji?”  which directly translates to, “I beg you to get me some water?” The cultural universals are based off of politeness rather than efficiency. This allows me to appreciate the way of communication a little more but it is most certainly not an easy adjustment for me to get used to.I am learning that is difficult for me to understand many things until I am able to actually experience them. Even through all my communication studies during school I don’t think I really understood the frustration of miscommunication. I am embarrassed to say but initially I was quite frustrated at the situation but that is not fair or right. It is up to both me and the employee to work together to be sure the other understands what is being said. It is up to us to learn to work together to accomplish the tasks. It is up to me to embrace the culture for what it is and rather than being upset of time lost, take the time to use these as moments as teachable opportunities. I am learning, it is difficult but I am learning both Swahili and communication norms.

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