making sense of things, thinking of home, and finding my place in it all
26.06.2014 - 26.07.2014
The below was written, and then life changed - as it always does, though arguably more rapidly and dramatically here it feels. A bit of an EDIT therefore (and I've edited the below slightly as well)....I’m still here, in Tanzania, but I left the organization I arrived with. I'm starting to feel more connected and integrated to the lands, and am involved in a promising permaculture project and an organization that I can tell from my first few moments is actually maybe one of the few organizations that is doing good here, and by that I mean, in a way that makes sense given the situation, and in a way that involves locals and reflects actual needs, not those perceived by our biased western minds (but I'll save that maybe for another post). So I shall be here until it no longer feels right to be here. I do still feel ready to go home and yet inside I also feel as though I am not quite yet finished here…..I keep having dreams that I’m back in Canada, and those dreams are always met with a slight regret, that I came back too early…and so I will trust that and carry on here.
I was so worried to leave before because I didn’t want to miss it, once back in Canada, though there were many things that I missed, and wanted to be back home, I didn’t feel ready….I am starting to feel ready now. I’m ready to get back to the place I not only love, but where I feel love so deeply. Where I can run along the seawall and embrace nature as it embraces me back. Where I can pull back the leafs and stick my head into the forest floor and smell the sweet, rich, and crisp smells of decomposing matter and mycelium. Where I can inhale a big gulp of pure, fresh, forest filtered air without any other lingering particles of exhaust, dust, or other such chemicals. Where going down the street doesn't make me full of dust and dirt, or even walking from the shower stall to my room. It is not to say one place is better than the other, but it is to say that I feel I personally belong in one place over the other. And just as I belong back home, there are of course many who belong here and that is just fine. Many whom have lived here for their whole lives and have adapted/grown up with these landscapes, these patterns, which makes them much more apt to live here than me, who would feel exactly as I feel if they were to try to live in Canada, that is to say, disconnected, and out of touch, I'm sure. None of this "the west is what everyone should be like". Not at all.
It’s really been a whirlwind these past few months, more recently past month. Many organizational issues that I won't go into detail here but suffice it to say, it's really helped me to think deeply about why people "help", whether they should help, and whether or not they are doing more harm than good. In general, the issues that have gone on where I was continued to bring about a general lack of trust, though that being said, it seems it was always like this, people were just waiting for something to latch on to, to gossip about or point fingers at. I could begin to speculate on why things are the way they are but I believe it would be futile because I can’t even begin to comprehend the complexities that exist in a place of which I am completely foreign to. And, arguably, more than half, if not all, of the issues that I've witnessed, likely wouldn't be issues at all had we never set foot here.... that's maybe a bit harsh to say, but I do wonder these things. Regardless, I can't possibly know the full situation because while, yes, I've spent almost four month’s here now but that’s nothing, a blip in the radar, a single kernel in rows upon rows of monocultured maize.
I want deeply to understand, and still, I will try, but I am realizing now that there are just so many subtle (and not so subtle) cultural differences which leave me isolated and on the edge (though nothing wrong with some edge #perm-ref-boom #addinghyphenssopeopleknowwhati'ma-be-hashing?).
Despite having lived in Canada for the majority of my life, there are still subtleties one can’t pick up on and within any group of people, any village, town, city, province, it can fluctuate and vary. Culture is complex, it is fluid, and ever changing. We not only exist in it, we exist with it, we are it and it is us, and it’s difficult to understand something when you’re in it, by the mere fact of trying to understand it you invariably shape it, it becomes impossible to assess from afar, objectively.
In my heart it felt so right to come here. My heart, mind, body, everything was in alignment. I would have thought when it was ready to come home I’d have a clear path for my future, a goal, a set destination, much like my previous goal/destination (CA designation) - i.e. having a clear plan, and allowing myself to coast, I have none of what I thought I would but I’m sure I have so much more than I ever imagined, though it remains unclear as of yet. (So, maybe it's a good thing then that I will still be staying).
Regardless of how everything has gone down, I still feel sure about having come here. I have learned a lot, my head has exploded ten times over with thoughts and ponderings, and I have many writings to reflect on. I also believe that once I am home countless other lessons and experiences will flood my memory and shape and change me. When I do eventually go home, I'd love to have a plan, as I originally thought I would have by the end of this "trek", it sure would make everything a lot easier, having a specific plan that could be written down, numbers added to it, timelines and charts, calculated and ready to go…but alas…. No specific plan.
I think that’s part of this transition though, it is learning to live in emotions and feelings, and less in the head space of “I will do this, then this and that will equal this…”. It’s about trust, and being in the flow. To be honest though, I’ve been really out of the flow over here, which confuses me since coming here felt like such a right decision - I'm at a loss for what I need to be doing here, to feel that connection again. I hope this new place I'm at can help me to find my flow again, and I have a good feeling about it all, as already I feel so much better than where I was previously. But regardless, when I do eventually return home, I look forward to getting back into the flow there, into alignment, into where my heart explodes by looking at the ocean, where a run is more than a run. . . it’s a giant hug from mother nature and a place for my consciousness to travel into the depths of the forest floor, and the heights of our cosmic essence. But I know I shouldn't think like this - that it will only happen once I'm home, I ought to trust that it can happen anywhere, any time or place - that it's not about where I am, it's about what I am feeling inside, what I am tuned into, and I think actually feeling safe enough in place, to let go of the outside world to be able to focus on the inside world - and so maybe that is it, I have not yet felt safe/comfortable enough to let go and let in.
I've thought back to what my friend would always say when we’d go running by the water or hang out near the ocean - how much she loved Vancouver, how beautiful it was, how beautiful Canada was and how glad she was to be there. Whenever she’d say that it, while I did not disagree, it always made me a little sad because instead of being able to wholeheartedly agree with her, I always felt a bit strange, because inside I felt a deep sense of longing towards Africa; I felt unfulfilled, and like I could not fully appreciate what was in front of me because I had somewhere else I felt I needed to be. I am happy to report that I don’t think I will feel that anymore – but of course I can’t be sure until I’m back home.
I have really tried to ensure that if it’s time to go, it means that when I go home I won’t feel that sense of longing. It’s not fun to feel that because you never feel complete in where you are. I think I will feel complete now. I suppose it’s that saying, if you love something let it go and if it comes back …etc. etc.… I let my home go and I feel it coming back, and I deeply appreciate it now in so many more ways than one. Inherent trust and safety though keep standing out for me.
The other night there was a big debacle with having a guest here. I am currently the only volunteer and wanted to have another presence around because I just don’t like being alone in this compound – I like being around people, I don’t necessarily need to be engaging with them all the time but I like to have other human energy relatively nearby. The power went out and so I was sitting in my room with candles not wanting to go outside. A friend had mentioned he could stay in one of the extra rooms if this was something I felt I wanted. I had sort of been pushing it off for a while now thinking I would be fine but I was at the point where I really did not want to be alone in the dark - my mind thinking about all the rats, potential snakes, and then general unrest since people were let go etc. So I decided to take my friend up on his offer. Well, easier said than done. We had to spend an hour outside the gate, discussing it with the guard, calling people back and forth, getting translations, more calls etc etc. Eventually the askari let him in, but we had to write a note saying I accept all responsibility and sign it. Now of course the askari was just doing his job, arguably a very good job, but also it was so sad to me to realize that, here is a situation wherein a fellow human being is showing compassion for another, trying to help someone in a moment of stress/fear (i.e. not wanting to be alone in the dark), and instead of it being recognized and appreciated for what it is, it’s seen as a threat. I also learned the askari thought that perhaps it was a ploy to fire him, so that he would agree to let my friend in and then BAM he’d be fired. It broke my heart to learn that this is where people’s minds go. That would never in a million years cross my mind as something that might be going on. So this whole situation just really made me appreciate Canada, the inherent trust which is built into our systems (granted there is a lot of untrustworthiness and I am not trying to say Canada is perfect but it’s different) which allows individuals to feel safe/trusted. Which allows me to bring friends over to my house and not worry about what potential crimes it may cause. When you can’t even trust individual people who you know/work with/are friends with….that is a deep loss for the community, and honestly for all of humanity, as we are all deeply connected.
I later learned that this ordeal had caused turmoil in the community as well - people were talking...why was a girl hanging out with a guy? This is the culture here, girls don't have guys who are friends....which also reminds me that I wouldn't be able to fully fit in here, I have many great guy friends. I have great girl friends too, but I don't think I could just have one gender as friends...rather, it's not even gender specific, I don't think "oh here is a guy I want to be his friend...it's just, here are rad people, and now we happen to be friends.
Anyhow, I also learned that there was confusion as to why I would need a guest when I have askari, why don’t I feel safe with them? So I started to really consider that – and I asked myself, why was it that I felt safer with my friend coming over than the askari….and it may seem glaringly obvious now reading this but it took me a bit of journaling my thoughts down to realize.
Trust does not exist on its own, in a vacuum, simply because, and the mere fact that someone is paid to be an askari doesn't make me feel trust towards that person. Trust isn't given, or bought, it's earned, actually it's experienced, and it grows over time and usually based on conversations and on getting to know a person, or witnessing actions (like how I trusted one of the bus drivers to help me get to the other bus station, and find a guest house, because of the way he interacted with guest on the bus and because of what another person I met had said, about how he is always on the phone with kids’ parents letting them know when we’ll be arriving….save that for another blog post!) I have said only a few words to the askari who was on duty that night, and it was very basic, and all in Swahili, so that shows how basic it would be as I am clearly not yet fluent. Quite simply, we don't speak the same language. It would therefore be very difficult for me to trust him for that reason. It's not that I don't trust him… it's that I'm neutral I suppose. I trust him in a surface level kind of way because people say I should but that isn't how trust works...and so I felt better having my friend here too because I know him, I can talk to him in English and if something is going wrong….I can express myself and he will get it. But also from the perspective of.... here is someone I really don't know, and he's getting paid to keep me secure, to me that isn't how I feel secure. It’s not to say I should not feel secure but I feel secure when I know people, and know the community and feel comfortable because I know my neighbors. I don't know anyone here and quite honestly an electrified cement fence doesn't make me feel safe. I can’t recall specifically where I read this quote, I think in one of Charles Eisenstein’s books (which was I believe a Chinese proverb reiterated) ..... it was about how these types of structures/fear mongering keeps honest people out but the thief will find a way in regardless. People here were asking me after this incident - how do you not feel safe? You have askari and a fence and all this... but yes, that is why.... because safety is in community, from a place of love, connection, relationship, and knowing that people, real people have your back, people you know. Your safety is therefore not built upon fear, it’s built upon community. And this whole experience just reinforces so deeply to me how important community is and how glad I am to realize that.
I started thinking also….how utterly alone I feel here, away from all that I know; wondering why. And I started to think about relationships, and how we exist in relationships. Like the concept of Ubuntu, I am because you are, and who I am is defined by my relationships to others and I do not exist in a vacuum. This may be why when travelling, especially alone, we often feel so open and vulnerable in a sense…. We are now alone from all that which makes us, US or what we’ve come to believe has made us us. Of course we still are whether we’re in Africa or Canada, or anywhere, but not being around your common stories and relationships has a way of transitioning your thinking and opening you up, for better, or for worse.
Oh how I'm in constant thought here.....