Sunday, January 01, 2012

The First Few Days

Katie and I (along with our three fellow missioners) have been here in Mwanza for a few days now, and it has been quite an experience. Our Maryknoll colleagues have been tremendously welcoming to us, opening their homes to us, cooking us excellent meals, and really making sure that we get what we need to get adjusted to our new environment. We’re all doing well, still a bit tired, but the effects of jet lag are decreasing with each passing day.

We’ve had some fun experiences so far. We went to a Swahili Mass this morning (couldn’t understand a thing), have twice walked though a herd of cattle in the road, went shopping at a market not far from the house (sandals purchased), and experienced a New Year’s Day celebration involving a gang of kids running around in the dark banging on pots and pans and chanting.

It is interesting being back here in Mwanza. We visited here in 2006, but our experiences in the city proper were somewhat limited. Yesterday, we took a trip into the city (our hosts live a little ways out of the downtown area in the Pasiansi neighborhood) and we had a good lunch in the same pizza parlor where we had lunch with Fabian Maganda on our previous trip in ‘06, so it was fun to have some sense of familiarity with the place. But I’ll say Mwanza is much more busy and chaotic than I remembered. The hustle and bustle was a bit overwhelming, yet still exciting.

Of note: the drivers here drive on the left side, and most all cars are standards, and from a newly transplanted set of eyes, the driving looks to be real loose and haphazard. In some ways, it looks fun; in other ways it’s a little horrifying (like in the I-don’t-really-like-driving-and-I’m-not-good-at-driving-a-stick-and-city-driving-stresses-me-out-big-time kind of way), especially since I’m certain that my work will have me driving the most of all the new missioners. Yikes, folks. YIKES.

It’ll be a while before we really establish ourselves into our own routines and patterns. We start language school in the city of Musoma in a week, and until then we’re guests in someone else’s home. Our hosts are VERY generous, but we also don’t want to disrupt their own patterns any more than we already have. It’ll be at least 3 more months before we get into our own places (once we return to Mwanza from langauge school).

The reality of our new life here in Tanzania is still sinking in. Our training in Ossining spent a lot of time preparing us for culture shock and the low-points of our transition, and I am sure that we have lots of those low-points to come, but I was surprised by the flood of anxiety I got not five minutes from the airport upon our arrival. We’ve been working toward this move for a decade; I really don’t think I could have been much more prepared for the move. The sounds and smells upon arrival were wonderful; in fact, it was so familiar it was like a homecoming to experience those sensations again. However, once we turned off the main road into the neighborhood where Joanne and the Ottes live- onto terrible dirt roads and the small houses and the poverty and all the immediate and overwhelming difference- once that was starkly in our face, I had an honest-to-goodness moment of asking myself “My God, what have we done?!” It didn’t help that we were exhausted.

However, that fear subsided quickly. Getting out and starting to familiarize myself with the area has helped and has been a fun time. I’ve talked with our fellow missioners who arrived with us, and that was not an uncommon feeling, and we all agreed that we cannot take it all in right now. We can’t approach this from a "big picture" view everything we will have to do in the next 3.5 years; that will just paralyze us. We need to break it down (“partialize” it in social work terms) and take it in small steps. Language school is our next step, and that should be our focus; we shouldn't worry ourselves about whether we will be effective in our jobs (or whether we can drive the car). It also helps that we have people here who are very much committed to helping us get on our feet. Another thing that helps my processing of our move is to remember why I made the decision in the first place. I’m here because I am passionate about social justice work; I’m here because I want to learn about another culture; I’m here because I want to make a difference, even if it is modest and small; and most importantly, I am here because I have answered a call to live my faith and to serve the least among us. So here’s to a New Year, a leap of faith, and baby steps into our new life.

Here’s a few photos of the neighborhood where we are staying for our first week (and likely will live once we return to Mwanza) as well as a few shots of downtown Mwanza.

This is the home where we are currently staying.

George shopping at a local market stall.

Walking down one of the roads in the Pasiansi neighborhood.

Downtown Mwanza


Steev said...

Great reading, Chris! I'm glad we'll be able to follow your journey through your blog!!

Jordan said...

Keep it coming - excited to hear about your driving adventures.