Sorry for the late blog entry….

For the last month I have been travelling around East Africa.  I have visited different places I have never been in Tanzania, seen some of the amazing beaches of Kenya, Trekked with gorillas in Rwanda, and visited the Source of the Nile River in Uganda.  It has been a pretty amazing journey.  Before I left on this long adventure one of my aunts asked me, “Kerri, you visit some amazing places but I still don’t understand why you love to
live in East Africa?”  This answer is not always the easiest for people to understand.  The things that make this place very different from America and very difficult to live in, are sometimes the same things I love most about it.  So in an effort to help everyone I love understand why I chose to try to live here this blog is dedicated to some of those reasons.  

Just for comparison purposes….

In the United States I am a highly educated award-winning teacher (so fancy I know but I am proud of that) who works long hours for my students.  I am insecure at times about life and some times get so passionate about my work that I can argue about the smallest things or break into tears over my frustration of the slow pace of educational change in America.  My co-workers spend a lot of time making fun of how involved I get in school and my need “to save the world,” one after school group at a time.  I run a Model United Nations and Interact Service Club.  I keep score at the volleyball games and take tickets at the football games.  It would be an understatement to say that I live for my work or that my work is my life.  I lived the last few years in a suburb 45 minutes outside of Chicago where the houses were pretty much the same and the grocery stores, restaurants, and places to go for fun were all corporate chains.  On the weekends I hung out with my family, ran activities at my school, or watched tv or talked to friends on the internet.  All events with friends generally had to be scheduled in advance because people were so busy with America’s crazy work expectations that no one had time for spontaneity and everyone had wall calendars, phone calendars, and email calendars to keep them on track.  I love to travel to fun and exotic places but many of my friends have kids and realistically their idea of travel is weekend trips to Wisconsin, weeks in Florida or other small trips due to the short amount of days people were given off of work.  Don’t get me wrong I love my life there and it is an interesting one full of amazing students, fun times, and wonderful family and friends.  I love Sunday mornings with Bill Mahr and Starbucks Coffee.  I love to go to the Chicago museums, eat at cool restaurants, or to just walk around Millennium Park.  But for me after everything I have done and all the places I have been at times every day in the US tends to feel the same.


In Tanzania I live in the north of the country, in one of the most beautiful, environmentally diverse regions, I have ever visited in all my travels.  I live in a middle sized city called Moshi full of crazy and insane interactions and experiences.  In a way of life that is completely different to what I am used to in the United States I am amazed every day by the things that surrounded us….

Everyday when I wake up I look out my back window to a view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  And everyday the view gives me the chills just looking at it.  It is the largest free-standing mountain in the world and with the glacier on top it looks like a massive piece of ice and rock that could kill anyone who challenged it.  But for me, I do not think of the rock and ice or of the thousands of people that are on the mountain that day trying to reach its peak, instead I think of possibilities.  It is this mountain that people come from all over the world to climb and stand on the top of so they can say they reached the roof of Africa.  The mountain provides jobs to hundreds of people in the region and brings so much money in the form of tourism to the area.  The glacier at the top provides water to thousands of people that would not have it otherwise. The slopes of the immense mountain are full of coffee plantations and banana trees that so many people work to earn a profit from.  Every time I see Kilimanjaro on a clear day I think.-  Wow, Amazing!   

View from my backyard window
We then spend time at Kilimahewa Education Center or Gabriella Center with amazing children who come from all over the area to get an education.  Some of our kids walk hours to get to school and then stay after school and on Saturdays just for some extra help that might help them pass the national exam and determine if they can have a secondary school education.  The kids at Gabriella have huge smiles and are so happy for positive attention that they light up a room when they walk in.  The kids listen to every word and although they do not always understand our messages they truly want and are grateful for every moment we spend with them.  Our afterschool group teaches leadership and life skills and you can see our students implementing the lessons they learned through their interactions with each other, their teachers, and through the stories they tell about their homelives.  Our outreach programs work with parents craving information about their child’s disabilities and you can see the small amount of hope they have start to shine brighter at the possibilities of support.  The desire for education and appreciation from students, parents, and organizations we work with warms my heart and is the most rewarding thing I have every experienced from a job.

Moshi, the town we live is a small town that booms due to tourism and a huge sugar plantation but if you travel west an hour you come to a much larger city called Arusha full of business, development, and many people. Both cities are full of traffic and congested with cars, people, motorbikes, buses, and businesses on street corners with funny names like “Chicken Pub”.   One of the things I love most about this part of where I live is the drive to Arusha.  On the way to Arusha you go from the lush forests and crops that fill the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to a vast open Savannah full of Acacia trees and people that live like nomads traveling around looking for water, food, and business.  You look out over the rolling planes and see the dust, the trees, and the moving people and I think of the Africa one envisions before they know better.  I think of ancient Africa with warring tribes, spears, mud huts, and people wearing small loin clothes from old history books.  This is the stereotypical perspective that most Americans have of Africa and is not completely accurate today but looking at this vast Savannah you can imagine what it was like and actual envision it coming to life.  

When you live in a place like I do you often miss the small things from home that make you so feel comfortable.  You miss silly things like good coffee, comfortable couches, places to hang out where you won’t get bothered because you are a minority.  When you are in the United States you have access to these things everywhere you go.  A cup of Starbucks coffee just becomes a part of normal life.  Sitting in a cute café with comfortable couches is not really as exciting because they are on every corner.  You walk down the street and everyone in the United States looks different so people leave you alone and you can go about your business without talking to anyone.  In East Africa good coffee, comfortable couches in cafes, and places where you don’t stand out like the statue of liberty exist but they are rare.  When you find them you love them for the happiness they bring you that you never would have thought a comfortable coach could bring you.  You get excited to go to them and you make special trips to visit these places just to get that feeling.  If they have wireless (which does exist here in some places) you get even more excited and sink back into your American habits of playing on your ipod and not talking to the people around you.  You love it and tell all your other friends about it because you want them to share in that feeling and go with you.  This new appreciation for the small things in life makes you happy you live in a place where you can finally see the value of the miniscule experience of living.

Living in a place like this you also learn about how to live differently, you have to  adapt, learn how to relax and wait, and learn a new form of patience.  Life here is very slow and so much different than the United States.   The work ethic is almost the opposite of what you see in America and the values of life are very different.  The culture you have to adjust to here is one built on relationships and social interactions.  People value each other and interactions as a way to share stories, gather information, and do business.  Working is important and there are systems and rules but often nothing can be done here without talking to many people, making others feel comfortable in the process, and not stressing over small things that might derail your scheduled day.  As a result working and living here leads to different experiences everyday and everyday is spent waiting for someone or something.  I cannot tell you of a single day that has been the same as any other day.  Everywhere we go we meet people, talk and socialize and develop new ideas of how to improve what we are doing or how we are living.  These interactions happen on the street corners, in offices of friends, at the grocery store, next to the bus stand, in the road, everywhere.  Everyday our planned workday changes, we talk and work with different people, and we hang out with friends and relax without a pressure to get work done for the next day. In one day you might have to have 15 conversations to get one piece of information, or call 3 people to find out where your meeting is, or stop in five different offices to get one important document. It often takes so long to accomplish tasks here that after one day you feel like you have worked for a month.  You might be thinking that it sounds exhausting but for me this means everyday is a different challenge and you get to visit different places and talk to different people everyday.  Monotonony does not exist in this part of the world, at least not in our lives.  This also means I get to have spontaneous experiences every day.  I can see my friend on the street and get a coffee and no one questions my work ethic.  I can meet someone in the morning for a meeting and then decide to stop and visit a students home and it is completely normal.  I can plan an amazing autism conference with a group of people and trust that word of mouth will attract people to come without trying to fight people to listen to me through their blue tooths, cell phones, and busy schedules.  I have also come to learn how to survive it without getting frustrated and now I find I thoroughly enjoy the slow pace of life here.  

You have to scratch cards and enter number into your phone to make it work. Sometimes they only have 75 cent vochers and you can spend 15 minutes scratching them and entering them.
You order food and drinks but might wait an hour for someone to bring you a bill. Service is very slow here.
Everyday you have to go to the market to buy what you need that day for dinner. And if you need rice you have to go through it and get rid of the rocks and sticks before cooking it. It is much more difficult than Uncle Bens.
These are just a few of the things that I love about where I live but over the last month I have also been able to experience some of the amazing beauty and breathtaking environments that exist in Africa.  Traveling around Africa is not easy.  It requires lots of patience, many bus rides, lot of confusing situations and long hours waiting but once you reach different places you see things like you would never imagine.  The animals are incredible and things like the National Parks, Nile River or Lake Victoria are vast and are still great examples of natural untouched beauty.  You don’t see crazy high rise hotels or paved roads full of corporations trying to make a profit.  Instead you see a natural environment and the people around it not even aware of the rarity of the place they live.  I cannot put into words the amazing things I have seen so check out these pictures below and just imagine you are there.

Last but not least the most important reason I love living here is the people I have come to know.  In the US I often feel like I am not completely understood.  In my life I have travelled to 6 continents, 33 different countries, on over 20 different airlines.  I don’t know why I have done these things other than I love the adventure, meeting new people, going to new places, and feeling challenged.  I have seen the amazing ancient buildings and structures like Stonehedge, The Greek Parthenon, The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Ankor Wat, and Wat Pol.  I have seen wild animals such as lions, giraffes, whales, gorillas, seals, elephants and others in their natural habitat.  I have stood on huge rugged cliffs on the edges of Europe, America, New Zealand, and Thailand and stared into every major ocean. I have hiked through rainforests, trekked up mountains, ridden a bike down a volcano, and rafted through major rivers.  I have lived an awesome life and I am only 31.  I do not have a house or apartment in the US, anything I do own is in boxes at my parents house.  I am no longer married and everyday unsure of what the future may hold but I know I love my life.

When you have lived the way I have lived and seen the things I have seen it is sometimes really hard find people who understand you.  Here I have been able to meet people who have done similar things, people searching out adventure, people wanting to live non traditional lives and I don’t feel a need to have to explain myself.  

I will be leaving this amazing place and returning home to America in 2 months.  I know my family is very excited and I am very excited to see them but before I come home I did want wanted to answer my aunts question about why I stopped in East Africa.  I love living here because I love the amazing environments, the rewarding work I do, the new appreciation for the small things in life, the relaxing pace of life, the untouched beauty that exists and the wonderful people I have met.  

I hope everyone is well and you had a great Memorial Day weekend!  Talk to you soon!  More blog posts will be coming soon!

This week two of my good friends, Farahani and Charisma, came to visit for a week.  It was a great experience.  With Farahani being from Tanzania and going to school in America it helped me get a better idea of just how crazy it can be when cultures collide.  Farahani has been in America for one year and is going to college in New Jersey, and Charisma in an America who just finished medical school and has traveled to Tanzania to volunteer in the local clinics and hospitals.  Both of them were nice enough to come to an Interact meeting (a student club I run at ACHS) with me and talk to my students about what life is like for a  Tanzanian to live in America. 

Farahani talked about how hard it has been for him to get used to how many things we have here and how much we take for granted.  He told students many stories and how the hardest thing for him was seeing the large number of things Americans have and thinking about how many people are in such need in his home country.  Many of the stories he told helped open the eyes of my students.  Here are some of the stories that stood out to them and to me.

He told students about was how difficult it is to go to an American restaurant and get a menu.  He described how it requires intense studying just to decide what to eat in America, and how once you decide there are twenty questions until you fully order……How would you like it cooked?  What do you want on the side?  What type of dressing do you want?........In his country the menu is one side with only a few options and there is no alternative to what is written.  Beans and rice is beans with rice.  Chicken Fried is fried chicken.  When asked how he would like his chicken (original, spicy, mild) his first thought was “Which one means dead?” 

He talked about how difficult it can be to drive in America.  In Tanzania there are only a few stop lights, and all roads are one lane roads.  Here there are so many stop lights, stop signs, lanes, streets and cars.  He told students that driving for him was like sitting through a really difficult math class that you couldn’t fully figure out what to do and you had to pay attention to so many things that eventually you just don’t want to do it anymore.

He discussed with them how difficult it can be in America because very few people talk to you and it can seem like a very unfriendly place.  In Tanzania everyone talks to their neighbors and knows everything about everyone through lots of conversation on the street, in town, at home, at school, everywhere.  He told them how when he first came to the US he spent most of his time in his apartment because very few people talked to him and it did not seem ok to go knock on people’s doors and talk to them.  He explained how in Tanzania it is perfectly ok to walk down the street and talk to a little kid or a complete stranger where in America if you start talking to a little kid people think you are kidnapping them and a stranger walks away from you quickly thinking you are crazy. 

Through this visit it reminded me how different cultures exist in the world and it is sometimes so hard to merge them together.  Had Farahani not told my students about these differences they might not have known how different our culture can seem to others.  Maybe through his conversation and his sharing of his experience they will be more open to those with different backgrounds.  I know that after this week together our cultures definitely collided and although Farahani and I did not see eye to eye on all matters we are better friends now because we tried to understand each other. 

I cannot wait to set out on this next adventure and see how different life can be.  After this very difficult year I am ready for a new adventure full of new ways of life, new cultures, and the chance to meet different people.    Though are cultures will surely collide and it will be difficult for me at times.  I am excited how that collision will change me as a person.  

Stay posted.....