Tanzania: 45 hours on buses across the whole horizontal width of Tanzania; One picnic-sized backpack on my back and three friends on an adventure across the red earth of Africa and across a portion of the Indian Ocean over to the turquoise waters and intricate alleyways of Zanzibar. Oh and we ran into Bill Clinton along the way. This doesn’t even begin to cover the amazing and strange adventures my friends and I had while traversing Tanzania. We saw lions and zebras in the Ngongoro Crater in the Serengeti; we hiked up to a secluded and towering waterfall, looked into the clouds where Kilimanjaro would be (much to our lament we never saw the majestic mountain) and explored crowded markets in Dar Es Salaam; we had to sprint and jump onto one of our buses so as not to be left in the red dust in the middle of nowhere and got semi-lost in the alleyways of Stone Town, Zanzibar. We spontaneously hopped onto a boat to “Prison Island” which contains neither prison nor prisoners, just tortoises. We ate delicious meals cooked by vendors on the street for about a dollar fifty (and miraculously did not get sick) and grew closer as friends. I feel infinitely lucky for having such an incredible journey with such amazing people. Yahoooooo!
We also met Masai women and warriors, which, for me, provoked thoughts about the problem of walking a fine line between cultural respect and complacency over women’s bodily rights. The Masai practice female genital mutilation. Some compare FGM to male circumcision but that is an incorrect comparison. FGM really is mutilation because it alters the female body so completely that women often have lifelong problems, pain and even die as a result.
To me, it is incredibly important to respect any culture. But once a particular practice causes human suffering, I think it is the duty of fellow human beings to step in and say, there is something wrong going on. I think our human community needs to look out for each other no matter what. But how can you put a stop to such a long cultural practice? Thankfully, there are organizations that are doing influential work in this regard and are promoting alternative rites of passage. Every human being, male or female, should have the right to their own bodies, dontcha’ think? And be free from mutilation.
Another issue that came to light while on my travels concerned acid attacks. Two women were attacked with acid in Stone Town while I was there in Zanzibar. Absolutely horrendous. Attacks are all too common around the world and the reason is often simply that a girl rejects a marriage proposal of a man twice her age and so a perpetrator throws acid in the girls face, permanently and painfully disfiguring her for life, often causing blindness. I am optimistic however that we as a people on this awesome planet earth are making steps in the right direction to put a stop to human rights violations such as acid attacks and FGM. But of course advances don’t just happen, there is so much work to be done, much of which involves educating and opening the hearts and minds of each other around the world. So this trip was an incredible trip simply because of the awesome adventure it was, but also a deeply, mind opening experience for me to come so close to the issues I feel so strongly about.
On a lighter note, Tanzania was an incredible experience all around. And our bus rides absolutely crazy. At one point we were on a bus that was like a bat out of hell. (Lamest expression ever, but what other phrase is there to describe such crazy driving?) Our driver floored it as fast as he could go and the lack of suspension on our bus sent us flying into the air each time we went over a bump. The clanking, crashing sounds were less than comforting and the way the bus swayed to the left or right each time we took a turn had me mentally preparing to protect my head in case we flipped. (Don’t worry padres, we’re fine!) Not to mention, all of this was taking place on the opposite side of the road because of Britain’s influence in the early 1900’s and so they drive on the left side in Tanzania. At one point we pulled over to a police station and it turned out our bus driver, while blasting past a vehicle, had taken a truck’s mirror clean off. We hadn’t even noticed or heard the sound since there were so many crashing and clanking sounds already. Thankfully, that bus driver had to stay at the police station and we got a slightly milder driver (by Africa standards) for the remaining 12 hours on the bus.
All in all it was quite the adventure. But I’m glad to be back in Rwanda at the Gashora Girls Academy where I can hear girls murmuring and giggling while they get ready for bed, ready to start the first day of there final school term of the year. I sit in my room surrounded by 90 bunk beds of girls just outside my bedroom door and listen to the croaking of a toad and the chirping of crickets outside my window, feeling like I am exactly where I need to be.