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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Tanzania Editorial

    I sat in the dark van and listened to the rumble of dirt and rocks under the wheels. The sun had just set on the Serengeti and I wrapped my sweatshirt around me as the chill of a Tanzanian winter night settled in. I could still see traces of the bright orange sky through the acacia trees lined along the horizon. I wished then that I could sit there and watch this scene as it enfolded everyday, as it had for ages before then.

    The same time next week, I would be sitting at home in New York knowing that the sun was setting in Africa, knowing that baboons would be sleeping on the trees I had just passed, and knowing that I would always miss being there.

    As we rounded a curve in the road, our driver slowed to a stop and calmly said, ‘Look, simba!’

    We sat up to see 20 lions surrounding the car. They were nonchalantly crossing the road as if they hadn’t even seen us. Our headlights lit their bright yellow eyes as they strayed from a dead carcass on the floor to our van. Ignoring the driver’s order to roll up our windows, I leaned closer to the scene. Two of them were fighting over the kill, and a male leapt up and stretched his arm out to claw another female. I heard his cavernous roar, a deep, rich tone that ran through my blood. While the others in the car screamed, I sat down, speechless. Our campsite was only 75 yards away from them.

    All night, we could hear roaring and fighting in the distance. Surprisingly, they never came by the site, and I later found that they rarely bother campers. Still, that roar still resounds clearly in my mind, and I know that my life was held only by the van I was in.

    Three weeks before that, I was sitting in a bus staring up at the dim light above my seat to find about 50 mosquitoes eagerly nestled in its glow.’ I remember thinking that I had just taken my malaria medicine on the plane, and feeling a little safer. All I could see that first night were bushes and dim lights along the road, but I stared into that vast darkness surrounding the road wanting to take in as much ofAfricaas I could.

    The Tanzania Study Abroad program to me was a mystery then. I was to take medicine to avert a potentially fatal illness, learn Swahili, find an independent research project, climb halfway upMt.Kilimanjaroand see the Serengeti–all in four weeks.

    Magi ya Chai was the first village to greet our group of 15 Stony Brook students. Speaking Swahili with the proficiency of two-year olds, we ventured out into the town sporting our ‘hujambos’ and ‘shikamoos’ (greetings to equals and elders, respectively). Most people smirked appreciatively at our curiosity and attempts to communicate, and everyone was always willing to help. On either side of us stood deep green forests and hills spotted with rays of sunlight beaming through low-lying clouds.

    In vain, I tried to imagine a life with mountains in my backyard and giraffes and elephants just a few miles away roaming freely at a national park. At the same time, I had to imagine a life with just one school uniform and a seventh grade education.

    That week we met with students and children from the village who took classes at the community center we stayed at. Listening to Swahili rappers and dancing to African traditional rhythm and song, we spent the week sharing and learning from people we came to know as our friends.

    That first Saturday, we embarked on our trek up Kilimanjaro. The climb was far from easy, with the path often towering above my head as I looked past each curve. We listened to a stream that followed alongside the trail, and we would often catch glimpses of waterfalls and blue monkeys along the way. As we neared the top, the rainforest changed to a blanket of pale green pines.

    The group had split, and I found myself alone on the eerily overcast mountain. Through the piercing silence, I heard porters in the distance; workers that carried enormous sacks atop their heads to deliver to lodges along the mountain trails.

    One woman I met told me she did it for the hela (money), and she asked for chocolate. I gave her my cookies and candy and continued along the way. The experience was bitter sweet, as I knew that my light hike was nothing compared to her burden. Her story brought the reality of the place back to me. This’ mountain was feeding her family, and hundreds of others inTanzania. It’s hard to really appreciate that just watching the Discovery channel.

    ‘ When people ask me how my trip was, I tell them that it was easily the best month of my life.

    ‘ It sounds cliched, especially for a 19 year old to say. But when one month changes your life, it’s not easy to describe. Now I don’t need those new sneakers, or that dinner at Applebee’s. I don’t need a car, or a bigger dorm room. I need a better understanding of other people’s experience. As Americans, we live in a world far removed from reality. Try hard, and you can do anything. Some may argue that there are glass ceilings here, ceilings coated with race, gender, unequal opportunity and so on. But what we fail to realize is that we are at the penthouse, with ‘ most of the world under us. Most of their ceilings are opaque. At least we can see the possibilities and can aim to break any obstacles. When you know there’s something better and try your best to get to it, but simply can’t budge, your own life becomes a dead end.

    Tanzania‘ is the most beautiful place I’ve laid eyes on. The people and land taught me what happiness is. I’m far from understanding the secret to a happy life, but my hope is simply that more people get an opportunity to do what I did and maybe change the way they see their own lives.

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