Monday, July 8, 2013

Gratitude--Third World Inspired

My somewhat simple lifestyle, for the past 8 years in a 150 sq. ft. motorhome, should have prepared me for the "lacks" on my recent 3-week sojourn to Tanzania. But I found myself in awe that people across this charming country have little in the way of reliable electricity and water.

Doing without sure made me treasure the abundance I experience here in the good ol' US of A.

Understatement. For sure.
Tanzania, in eastern Africa, is a fairly civilized country. The jarring frenetic pace of their commerce system doesn't compare with our mega stores. Shopping takes on a whole new meaning. So does driving. Road conditions are, well, Third World. Translate hazardous, extremely so.

But at the heart of my experience was the beauty of the people and the unbridled hospitality we were shown. My travel-mates Helen and Julie and I were treated like royalty. Our friends in TZ, Sister Afra and Upendo, made sure things were smooth. They went above and beyond, including making sure our travel was in a sturdy vehicle rather than chaotic public buses.

One purpose of our trip was to explore the work that our nonprofit organization Friends of Imiliwaha NFP has been supporting. Sister Afra, who received her undergrad and graduate education at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, is overseeing a monstrous project--the building of a school so she can provide quality education and services to children in Sumbawanga. Here's a 5-min video I made about those efforts.

Let me blast a few stereotypes that I held:

  • Mosquitoes would be rampant. Minnesota style. Not. At least not at this time of year, their winter, a drier time. And it depends on where you are in the country. (Was this a plot by the medical world to sell expensive medication and shots?)
  • Heat. Ditto the time of year element. We were a tad chilly some nights and early mornings. Frost covered the ground one morning.
  • Desert. Nope. Most of the countryside we visited looked like scenic northern Wisconsin. 
  • Education. It's way more important than I imagined. Neighborhood kids poured into Afra's informal winter break classes to learn the alphabet, among other things. 
I've found myself saying that this trip was "life-changing." I suspect that will become even more true as the weeks and months pass. I think back to a trip I took in high school, almost 50 years ago, as an exchange student. I spent 3 weeks in El Salvador. I still can count on that experience as a life-changer, although it didn't do much for my Spanish language skills.

Hordes of media followed President Obama's recent trip to Tanzania. I suspect none of the crowd saw what we saw. Certainly this country, with abundant resources and needs, will fall out of favor of the mainstream press. I posted this blog about his visit and ours in my AlterNet space.

Now I need to get back to my challenges of HEAR US, my domestic nonprofit organization. Poverty abounds on both sides of the ocean. And my firsthand experiences of life without will keep me fighting for those who can't escape the chains of poverty. 

Let me offer you a souvenir as I end this little post: Take one thing in your life that's a constant--it can be as simple as your morning coffee or your drive to work. Imagine how that one element happens--all the people that make it possible for you to enjoy whatever your thing is. Appreciating the abundances in our lives will fuel our efforts to level the playing field for those who struggle to survive. 

See. I just increased the value of your day.