Six months have now come and gone as a long term volunteer at Rift Valley. What started out as strange and foreign has progressed into comfortable and familiar. As I sit here I can hear the familiar chorus of Glee episodes playing in the background and the sounds of eight pre-teen girls taking showers and preparing for the evening. In two short weeks, this will all be a memory and I will, yet again, have a new familiar to adjust to back in the states.
I came to Rift Valley with few expectations. I knew no one who had previously volunteered and only had a website and some very descriptive emails from the Volunteer Coordinator to go by. I had visited Africa in the past but Tanzania was a foreign place and for whatever reason, I can’t explain, it spoke to me. So I quit my full-time job, sold most of my belongings and moved for a 6-month adventure to a strange land. To say it was a challenge at the beginning would be an understatement, but I persevered and have come to know and love all 95 of these children as I never thought I would (even if it did take a full 3 months to learn all their names). I have honed my teaching skills, learned all the “dont’s” for working with toddlers in Swahili (ie. don’t touch, don’t eat, don’t hit, don’t cry), learned how to cut homemade bread and make PBJ sandwiches like nobody’s business, and have successfully watched every season of Glee on repeat in random succession.
No expectations was DEFINITELY the way to approach this experience. Like everything else in life, we appreciate the little things more when we know we are about to lose them. It’s a habit I am realizing more and more as I make more life transitions and this is no exception. The sometimes irksome demands of early wake-up calls and runny noses now seem endearing and nostalgic. I appreciate the hugs just a little bit more and the little hands that grab mine from behind. Even the crying sounds a little sweeter. Just as I had no expectations to begin, I am trying to finish with the same mindset. The list of things that I wish I could do and see before I leave will never end but I can honestly say that I am so happy with my experience here. Six months may have come and gone but I have been able to do more in these short six months than I ever thought possible. So now I need to savor the smiles and the giggles and the conversations and prepare again for a new familiar. But I will never forget Tanzania.