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Tanzanian Journeys: An Ethnographer in the Making

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Rebecca Rea-Holloway, Office Assistant and Transcriptionist at ERI

Hujambo rafiki!

As some of you may know, this summer I went to beautiful Tanzania for 3 weeks with National Geographic Student Expeditions. I did some things I expected (like meeting some wonderful new people) and some things I didn’t (like touching a Black Mamba, the deadliest snake in Africa). I have been to a waterfall, climbed a mountain with Maasai men, seen a Black Rhino on safari, been inside a hollowed out Baobab tree, visited the UAACC (United African Alliance Community Center, founded by former Black Panther members from our own Kansas City), visited an orphanage, played soccer with local children, attended a funeral, visited a leprosy center, bargained in the markets of Arusha, drank goats blood, dug up an old water pipe to make room for the new in our home village of Maji ya Chai (which means tea water in Kiswahili), gotten up at 5:30 to go on a game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater, visited a boma (traditional Maasai dwelling) where a man had 7 wives and 42 children, attended church, and danced with our Maasai guides.

When I signed up to go to Tanzania I knew it was going to be great, but I didn’t really realize the impact it would have on me. One of the main things that makes National Geographic Student Expeditions unique is its emphasis on the “On Assignment” project. I chose photography while some of my friends chose people and cultures. We had three leaders, two of which were photography mentors. We were encouraged to take photographs of anything that inspired us and to try to pick out a pattern in what we found most interesting. I ended up with the theme of “Women Working.” I chose ten pictures, and those ten pictures were then put in a bigger presentation and shown at the UAACC on our last night. It was interesting to me to see what each person came up with and how different they all were.

We also worked on a project to learn about Tanzania and it’s current issues, and we chose the theme of Water. There’s a drought at the moment so it was interesting to interview people about how they use their water, and exactly how they get it. We were a small group, only 14 students and 3 leaders, so it was easy for us to get to know each other. We took turns helping to cook meals, clean the bathroom, etc. A major adjustment was the freezing cold showers, which I tried to avoid if at all possible.

Every morning I would get up and look outside at our compound (complete with pet turkey) and remind myself where I was. At night we would sit around our campfire tended by our askaris (guards), Urio, Godi, And Gili, and look at the stars. There’s no pollution so it’s absolutely amazing how many are visible. The people we met were very kind and friendly to us, often wanting to practice their English and teach us some Kiswahili. It struck me how these children living in rural Tanzania were speaking to me in English spoken remarkably well, and I sit at home not putting in my best efforts to learn French with thousands of resources available to me. I loved, loved, loved every minute of my trip and was very sad to go home.

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Categories: Ethnography
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