Monday, October 21, 2013

First Impressions

First, this happened.

After seven weeks, I was finally reunited with my family.  Yes, I'm in Tanzania.  I was cleared to travel earlier than I expected and so I surprised by kids by walking in on their snack time.  Best day ever!  

I have been here for 5 days and I thought I would write down some of my first impressions so that I remember these early days (you only have them once).

When I arrived in the transit area of the Nairobi airport I cried because I felt like I was coming home.  That night I stayed overnight in a hotel near the Kilaminjaro airport, I was so happy to have a bed.  After my surgery I had been sleeping and resting a ton everyday.  Staying awake and flying for 2 days was beyond exhausting.   When I woke up and we drove back to the airport I was shocked by the mountain.  Wow, that is a site to behold.  Arriving in Mwanza was surreal.  I felt like I should have been arriving in DRC.  

In some ways, I feel like Mwanza is a lot like Bukavu in terms of climate (70s to low 80s), location (on a lake with mountains/hills), and size of the city and population.  So, in many ways there is a comfort in coming to a place that has the feel of home.  It hit me when I visited DRC in June this past year that I didn't have any culture shock when I was there because over the last 7 years I had spent more time in Congo than anywhere else.  So it was easier to go back to Congo, while my adjustment to life in the states was rough.  I have the same feeling again in coming here.  That there is very little culture shock because everything is so familiar on many levels.  

When we went to the local grocery store, I found myself automatically scanning the shelves in close detail thinking about what specials they have or what amazing find might be hidden on the shelves.  In Bukavu the small store usually carried the same items, but if you looked closely you might find something new (and then you text your friends to let them know too).  In this store, the selection is much much better so I had to stop myself from buying too many things given they will likely be there when I return next time.  I'm not in Congo.

Also while we were at the store, there was a white woman with a white child.  I had this gut reaction to seeing her where I wanted to go up to here and go "did you just move here??" in an excited voice.  Once in Bukavu, I was at one of the few "fancy" restaurants and there was a white woman and her child.  I was so shocked I immediately went over to her and asked them if they had moved there.  No, the mother responded, they were just there for a quick visit from Rwanda.  In Bukavu, I was one of 5 or 6 white women with children.  When a new ex-pat family was going to move to Bukavu we knew about it months in advanced (and excitedly anticipated it).  We knew every ex-pat child in Bukavu (there were only 9, some years there were 12).  In fact, I had a Congolese woman stop me once on the street and tell me, "ah, we know that peace is coming when we see white children in Bukavu."  There are few ex-pat children in Bukavu any more these days.  Here, there are large numbers of ex-pats.  There is an international school my children attend.  I'm not in Congo.

Our compound has walls, this is not surprising.  But what is surprising is that people that are walking by on the road can see through the walls because they are not solid concrete, they have decorative trim and windows through them.  I feel like I live on a normal street and am not cut off from everyone around me.  In Buakvu, we had walls you could not see out of and barbed wire along the top of those walls.  I'm not in Congo.

Given we lived in the countryside the past year in the states, getting used to the noise is hard right now.  Especially at night.  Even in Bukavu, it was quiet at night.  Now, we live more in the city and I feel like it doesn't really get quiet until after midnight, and even then our neighbor rooster likes to wake us up at 3 am.  I like that we live in the city.  In Bukavu, it was hard to find safe housing that was anywhere but in a couple neighborhoods.  We lived in the very "rich" area on the peninsula, where all the NGOs lived and where the UN compound was housed.  We were isolated.  Here I feel like there is a less of a barrier like there was there, that we are safe even if we don't live on the "peninsula".  (Ironically, there is a peninsula here too with large mansion like housing).  

Most people speak english.  This comes as a big surprise.  I have to stop myself from speaking french.  Not one person has yelled Mzungu at me yet.  There has been regular electricity that is full power and not "mood lighting".  There is water coming from the faucets (instead of huge water shortages and having to use Jerry cans all the time).  There are lots of birds (that are amazing!) and there are monkeys.  In Bukavu, we rarely saw wildlife.  There was just too much insecurity that led to large population displacements (pushing wildlife out).  Also, in DRC though the ground is fertile, the insecurity, population displacements, and lack of infrastructure create a situation where much of the food is brought in from over the border.  Here, there is more variety and less imported.  I'm not in Congo.  

One thing that has really hit me on a gut level is that I haven't seen any old frail women carrying impossibly heavy loads on their backs like we would see every single day in Bukavu, you cannot avoid it.  There is something there, that when the most vulnerable women are carrying loads that break their bodies the poverty is extreme and deep.  This is only a simple observation.  I have no statistics or research to back this up.  But watching women, bent almost horizontal carry, sacks of flour that weigh 50 and 100 kg speaks of deeper great injustice.  It is perhaps a small thing, but I think it isn't and speaks to the lack of protection for women in DRC.  For women and their children.  I know there is poverty here (it is very obvious), otherwise we would not be living here (given Mike works for an NGO), and maybe I haven't been here long enough to observe women carrying similar loads.  Maybe. 

There aren't guns everywhere.  I actually had gotten very used to seeing guns.  It wasn't until a friend visited and told me it was a bit alarming how many "uniformed people" carried guns, that it hit me that perhaps this wasn't normal.  I was reflecting on this with Mike the other day and remembering pushing my Bob stroller with the girls in it to school every day past the UN compound full of soldiers and then past the house of a military official with his security contingent and then past another house with a group of armed guards outside the compound walls.  I'm not in Congo. 

Honestly, I feel like I am on vacation.  I feel like I am visiting a friend's house in another country, like when we went to visit our friends in Rwanda.   I feel overwhelmingly fortunate and blessed we have the chance to live in Tanzania.  On so many levels, life will be easier here for us.  And I feel blessed that we are not very far from Bukavu (given Tanzania is so large we really could have been living much further away, but we are even on almost the same latitude!). 

Yet, I miss Bukavu.  I miss Congo.  I miss my friends in Congo.  I miss my home there.  And maybe this post seems too much like I am comparing DR Congo and Tanzania (and DRC is coming up short every time).  It's hard not to, given living in DRC was my only other experience of life in Africa.  What I realize most is that though life here will be easier (that is clear early on), I wish we could live in Congo right now.  I wish that the situation was different and that I could be sitting here typing this from my dining room table in Congo.  Despite it all, that is where I would like to be right now.   Perhaps, that longing for Congo will always remain.  I pray that this also begins to feel like home as well. 


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to a chance to see your world...which might come again quickly (e.g. Thanksgiving week) will be in touch - RH

Anonymous said...

(PS - posting from the gate to Dar at that same airport you passed through last week! So close yet just a little too far!)

Jess said...

So glad to hear that you are there! I have been checking every day to see any updates. So excited to see pictures. Is your husband doing the same type of work in Tanzania as in DRC?

Holly said...

RH--Can't wait to see you!

Jess--I know, I can't believe I am finally here!! Yes, he's doing similar work (with a different US granting organization though) with a different organization. Still doing agricultural work and some health/nutrition projects as well. I think more with children this time around, though I'm not exactly sure yet everything his job entails.

Renee said...

I felt the same way when I lived in Tanzania in 1999 for 9 months. I did come to love it in a different way though.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest that you go and see they are located here
I am sure you will love them. She knows everybody high as low and can for sure connect you with everything needed. She is British and runs one of the two best baby homes in Tanzania. (The other one is in Arusha) I am not sure if she is Christian though few Christians will ever save as many lives that she has!
Wish you and family all the best.
A Nielsen