Like a fish out of water… a general update

Karibu Sana! You are very welcome!

I have been greeted by these words repeatedly for the past 2.5 weeks when people find out that I’ve only just arrived to Tanzania. And I really do feel welcomed–the Touch Staff has been great in making me feel part of the team, Rose (the wonderful woman who does it all at the Touch House) has cooked some awesome Mwanza dishes for me to try, Francis (the 50+ year old man who helps keep the Touch House and gardens running but speaks almost no English) continues to laugh at my Swahili attempts but tries speaking to me regardless. And I’ve slowly started making a couple more friends beyond the Touch House. Life is good 🙂

As a few of you may know, this is my first post (and I think it may be a long one). I’ve held off writing partly because of the bustle and jumble that has been in my life the past couple months and also because I wasn’t really sure how to say what I wanted to say. Moving from Davidson to Ecuador to NY (where I moved twice) to Mwanza, Tanzania was a fun whirlwind but not exactly ideal for letting feelings and thoughts settle into words. Now, I finally feel a little grounded so here goes:

I was a biology major at Davidson, all my summer jobs beginning freshman year were in labs. While I did have to do some “desk work” it was mostly hands-on work. I was fortunate to always end up in labs that were welcoming and did lots of group activities.  Regardless of where I was, I was always moving, doing, and meeting lots of people who I later considered good friends. And then I accepted a job with Touch Foundation. I truly respected this non-profit organization- their projects are based on understanding what the local population needed and they believe that local stakeholders need to buy into these projects and therefore engage them in their programing. They support the Tanzanian health care system by improving a local hospital’s education, and in that way improving the quality (and quantity) of health care workers in the country. They produce tangible, sustainable results. For this and for many other reasons, I accepted the position of analyst with the Touch team.

Working for Touch Foundation is unlike anything I have ever experienced. And to be honest, I struggled with it for the first couple months. Initially, it was pretty much an 8 hour office job. I have a computer that I look at for 98.5% of the time, and reading and reporting to do. I am also now creating consulting power points. Everything you learn about power points as a bio major is 98% inapplicable to consulting power points. A little painful and a lot confusing.  I felt like a fish out of water. Or like Santa Claus on Mother’s day (whichever paints the best picture for you)… very, very much out of my element. Not only was I creating documents and producing information that I had no idea about, but I was sitting still for hours at a time: 8 to be exact. I don’t remember the last time I sat that long. I felt terrible. I would get up and walk to the bathroom or the kitchen every 2 hours or so just to stretch. Although this doesn’t seem like a huge deal to most people, I would like to let you know that Touch’s office share space with a consulting company and I’m sure some of those analysts didn’t move more than once or twice throughout the day (there was a point at which I questioned if they were real people). My restlessness was noticeable. And my lack of an 8-hr concentration span made me uncertain of how well I would be able to meet Touch’s standards. On top of that, I also happened to start at Touch near the close of the fiscal year. Everyone has a deadline to meet and the jargon and the names of each of the programs become a blur, I kind of envied the water-less fish at times, and I’m sure Santa was much less confused than I was.

But now, in retrospect, I remember the craziness with happiness. Yes, my new job (and of course New York) was a bit of shock at first, but I slowly grew to love the city. It’s actually an introvert’s paradise, and a place where kindness goes a long way. It was also a great time to remember and celebrate true friendships. From dear ones who called and skyped with me throughout the first months (or visited!!!) to the awesome Touch team who, regardless of how busy they were, would also take a quick second to answer any questions or recommend a yummy lunch place. It was a little disconcerting at first, but it was good practice for the switch to the Mwanza. Here, while English is generally spoken, Swahili is often the best way to communicate with the locals and picking it up is (for me) a slow going process. In fact, I may or may not have played charades with a wonderfully patient older woman who laughed when she finally understood that I was lost on my way to the grocery store. I also happened to go from the city that never sleeps to the town that isn’t too safe after dark—I need to be home by 7 PM if I’m walking and take taxis wherever I need to go afterwards. Also, in case anyone is wondering, Mwanza lacks good chocolate.  Regardless, I am in love with this place, and have posted a small portion of Lake Victoria’s shores to help you fall in love with it, too.

In regards to my work, this last week my 8- hour days were a little easier, and I was more productive during those hours than before. Bodies and minds really do adapt to their new settings, if you give them a chance. I also really like the Tanzanian Touch staff where, while work gets done, there is teasing, and people are really helpful and kind. And that constant worry about whether or not I’m doing things well was finally soothed yesterday. I’ve been recently working on an project that required that I organize a workshop. Although I usually run things by my “manager” before and after projects (I’m still learning), we didn’t actually get to talk before the workshop. Later in that day, he turned to me and told he had completely forgotten about the workshop. He said he was sorry about forgetting and then said. “I guess that I know that you get things done, so when I knew you were doing the workshop, I stopped worrying about it.” Ahhhh words of confirmation! People, don’t ever underestimate words of confirmation.

Summary of post:

1)    Feeling like of fish out of water is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes it’s uncomfortable at times, but uncomfortable keeps you moving and learning and fully appreciating the times when you do get some air.

2)    Mwanza is beautiful and Touch Foundation work is challenging, but fun.

3)    Words of confirmation. They’re wonderful and best when sincere and unexpected

Enough rambling for the time. This was a quick update and I’ll be posting more structured blog entries soon. Asante sana!