Gratitude: Travel

Today, traffic jams and flight delays frustrate us to no end. We never seem to get anywhere fast enough. But when you stop and put it into perspective, we really take for granted how good we have it today compared to our great-great grandparents.  I found this map of Rates of Travel in 1800 and it just blew me away. That’s about 6 weeks from DC to Chicago. Can you imagine what life would be like without planes that allow us to go anywhere in the world? Think about what a plane is,  (big heavy tubes that fly in the air. It’s incredible how it has revolutionized how we travel the world today. Modern travel truly amazes me.  I am grateful for travel; it rejuvenates my soul and refocuses me. It makes me appreciate life.

Think about this chart next time your flight is delayed even an hour.

 

 

Travel in 1800 via Mother Nature Network (mnn.com)
Advertisements

2012 in review. Year of Caryn complete.

Happy New Year, readers! Hope your year is off to a good start. How has another year passed already? Can someone please tell me because I am in disbelief that it has been a year (as of Jan 2) since I made that life changing decision that completely changed my life. It is true, time never stops and looking back, it really does help heal the wounds. It was a very difficult year emotionally but I refused to let misery encompass my life. So instead of wasting my days moping, I decided to learn about myself and made 2012 into the year that I began to find Caryn. I wanted to discover whom I was, what made me happy. I wanted to pursue dreams that I had let fall away and I wanted to become the most authentic version of myself. I did a lot of reflection and soul-searching and I took a deep look at who I had become and who I wanted to be and finally stopped dreaming and started doing. I had deemed 2012 The Year of Caryn and that it was. I find it bittersweet that it is over because I learned, grew and accomplished so much. I am kind of sad to let “my” year go. I know every year can be The Year of Caryn but it isn’t the same. And plus that’s just The Life of Caryn then.

Looking back, I am proud of 2012. It started off to be heart-wrenchingly painful where I was at rock bottom but I turned it around. It could have been just another miserable year but I made it into a year about self-exploration, independence, actualizing dreams, amazing adventures in Africa, volunteering, four (!) visits to DC, finding happiness and myself, winning things, and growth, learning, giving to others and being grateful.

January

Emotional. Tears. Swollen eyes. Heart-wrenching pain. Breakups. Saying goodbye. Losing a best friend. Mom’s 60th. Seeing an Intuitive. Receiving justification. Light-bulb moments. Dark days. iPhone acquired. Celebrated birthday. Realizing the fake vs. true friends. Depression. Crying in a public bar. Visits from supportive & amazing friends (from across the country.) Family support. Soul-searching. BiSC registration. Costa cruise crash & sinking.

February

Set personal goals. Self-reflection. Registered for volunteering in Tanzania. Girl sleepovers. Apartment hunting. RM work test. Date with Dad to see American Idiot. Emotional battles. Misery. Optimistic. Ugly tears. No appetite. Girls night out. Out of town friend visits. Signed a new lease. MIA Valentines Day. First Kitchen Aid! Scary Warm weather in 40’s! Whitney Houston’s death. Deadly tornado in Illinois.

March

30 Day Shred. Deadly tornado in Alabama. MRI results show new lesion on liver. Launch of ChiTownTweetup. Countdown to BiSC & Africa. Travel shots.

April

Acting like a teen again by gabbing on a call for 3 hours. New work team. Spontaneous trip to DC on a one day notice. Surprising friends for goodbye parties. 30 day shred. First official CTTU event at Blue Line Lounge. Planning. Creating. Dreaming. Tears. Dinners with friends. Botched haircut. Botched haircut fixed. Consulting call. New friends. Blog post causes tension. First blog post payment earned. Announced Africa to world. Shopping for Mad Men. Brunch with BiSC Chicago friends. Countdowns. Conflicting emotions. Dick Clark died.

May

Planning. Surprise visit a graduation. DC visit #2. Second CTTU event at Kirkwood. Book Africa flight. No more dreams, now reality. BiSC. Reunite with good friends. Freedom. Guard down. Wedding in Houston. Internal struggles about returning. ALL the emotions. Exiled from hotel room. Sister’s engagement party. Vegas. Abraham Lincoln hoax. Stolen stripper vodka. Soul-searching. Attempts at self-discovery. Spreading positivity and happiness. Lessons learned. Dancing on tabletops. In public. In bars. Letting go. Hit goal weight. Blueberry Stoli’s. Phone dates. Skype dates. Winning the Amazon Kindle Fire. Strip Clubs. Mad Men Party. Zumanity. Get ripped in 30.

June

Month of lots of skype dates and phone dates with friends. Applied for Visa. Attend invite-only Twitter party. Stacy’s Bridal shower. Brunch. Train to visit Mandi. Social media day. Assist in friend’s proposal. 4-way air-hockey. Planning. Stress. ANXIETY. Mom’s graduation. CTTU Sunday Funday at Brunch. Won free BiSC trip while skyping. Positive attitude. Personal Growth. Realizing more dreams and desires. Weight gain begins for no apparent reason.

July

Told my blog gave perspective to woman whose son moved away. Bought Tweetup for Change domain. Creativity. Founder. Entrepreneur. Risks. Charity. Philanthropy. Fireworks. Phone Dates. Skype Dates (Stacey). Almost record-breaking hot weather 100’s. Crazy humidity. Sox game for Dad’s Birthday. Fireworks at The Cell. Bridesmaid for the first time. Conflicting emotions. ANXIETY. Pepperoni chin breakouts. See Ex for the first time. In a wedding together. Extreme awkwardness. All the emotions: tears, pain, happiness. Fever and zits from anxiety. Rivers of tears. Missing him. Longing. Opened wounds. Talking causes crying. Saying goodbye all over again. Heartache and heart-break. Visits to Botanical Gardens to find calmness. Wedding dress decision time. In Aurora, Colorado movie theatre massacre. Bridesmaid chooses to be ex’s friend over me. Lose a friend. Uncomfortable. Lies. DC visit #3. Roadtrips with Maxie to Richmond. Cake Pops. Chocolate food fights. Laughter. Drool-worthy brunch. Bacon Bloody Mary’s. Sister’s Bridal shower. Dad’s 61st. Last minute visitors. Pre-work breakfast bonding. Olympics in London. Wacky opening ceremony. Biased USA reporting. Michael Phelps makes history. USA women’s gymnastics wins gold. Realizations that I’m not ready for friendship, despite wanting to be. Begin couch to 5K. SMC Social events. More shots. Africa preparations.

AUGUST

Concerts for Mothers Day. Seeing J.LO & Enrique. Great entertainers. Photo class. Accomplishing goals. Laid off. Blessings (not) in disguise. TUFC’s Dip Your Beak for Change at Drinkingbird. Won amazing headphones. Found out he’s dating. Elephant chest steps. Motivation to be ready to date. Shopping and preparing for Africa. Bachelorette planning. Neil Armstrong died.Sears Tower Skydeck glass city views. Deep dish pizza and cookie pies. Cupcakes from ATMs. Belly-ache laughs. Being local tourists and playing tour guide. All the walking.

SEPTEMBER

Horrible skin. Stress trumps a positive attitude. Flu. Sickness. Aches. Stacy’s Bachelorette. Last day of work. Job hunting. Loneliness. Lady-friend cycle late. Excited for Africa. Final shots. Filed for unemployment. Pressure to limit trip length. Standing ground. London Layover. Kensington Palace. Long flights. Disconnected from technology. Independence. Appreciation. Learning Swahili. Safari. 20 year-old dreams come true. Teaching kids. Lots of hugs & smiles. Kids shouting Teacha! Teacha! Pictcha! Pictcha! Personal exploration.

OCTOBER

Zanzibar. Palm trees. Poverty. White sand. Aqua water. Snorkeling. Relax. Actual vacation. Pools. Slave trade tours. Flights. Rewards. Love. Friendliness. Gratitude. Lesson plans. Photos. Kids singing to me. Teaching. Hugs. Waterfalls. Day trips. Coffee plantation. 1st Peanut butter sandwiches. Art projects. New cultures. Goodbyes. Tears. Climb Kilimanjaro. Tents. Boulders and rocks. Climbing legitimate rock walls. Personal goals accomplished. Survival. Hiking 7 hours a day. 13 hours to Summit. Accomplishment. Proud.  Mental power. Stunning sunrises. Who needs to breathe? Camping. Tents. Behind-the-Rock Potties. Layers of clothes. I CAN DO THIS. Wet wipe showers. Sleeping bags. Hot Tea. Guide crush on me. Climb mountain same day as my wedding. Tornadoes on wedding day at home. All the emotions of that day. Realization that I like traveling internationally alone. 22+ hour flights. Peace. Content. Calmness. In my element. Tranquil. Return home to enormous stress. Anxiety. Daydreams of returning to Moshi. Coughing. Cat-scans. Lance Armstrong stripped from awards. Parents proud of all my accomplishments. Give up eating meat that is GMO. Superstorm Sandy. Man jumps from space 

NOVEMBER

Culture shock. Anxiety. Depression. Weight gain. Workouts. Sister’s beautiful wedding. Mixed emotions. Tears. Love. Baking. Sign up for online dating. Finally ready. Thanksgiving. Share gratefulness. Gratitude. President Obama re-elected. Best re-election speech. Relieved. Grateful to be able to vote. Grateful lady bits are safe. Revisit orthodontist. Retainer. Again. Job hunting. Moving on. Missing past. Dates. Stress. Baking. Just Dance party. Begin running.

DECEMBER

Birthday. Visit DC & Richmond #4. Apartment hunting in DC. Road trip with Maxie. Donated my birthday to charity:Water. THE WORLD IS ENDING! Anti-climatic-false-Apocolypse. Her lack of perspective. Pain. Helpless. Frustration. Stress. Begin Eating Clean lifestyle. New Years with good friends.  Cards for Humanity. Sabers. Champagne.

Other things that were big this year:

Obama‘s endorsement of gay marriage! Honey Boo Boo. THIS NEEDS TO STOP NOW.Gangam Style. One Direction. Some Nights & We are Young by Fun. Death of Trayvon Martin. “Legitimized rape”. Chick-Fil-A controversy over gay marriage. The Hunger Games. 50 Shades of Grey. Facebook IPO bombs. Clint Eastwood argued with a chair. Hostess files for Bankruptcy – end of (fresh) Twinkies. NFL replacement refs.

Any other big things from 2012 that I forgot?

Here’s to 2013 & another year of growth and new adventures!

Happy 2013

 

* EDITED to include forgotten events.

Safari Adventures: It’s like the Lion King or Discovery Channel -only real and unedited.

Best photo bomb ever with the giraffes; a sand tornado, our safari jeep & all 25 volunteers on safari
Can you spot the BEST PHOTO BOMB ever? (with the giraffes); a sand tornado, our safari jeep & all 25 volunteers on safari

In Swahili “safari” means trip or vacation. Not crazy-cool-awesome-African-animal-wildlife-adventure as we know it to mean. How much more rad would it be if every time you got away, even on a weekend trip to say Wisconsin, you said you were going on safari? I mean, even in Europe they call it “holiday.” Both sound so much more like a mystical fantasy getaway than “trip” does.

Immediately after arriving in-country, a group of 25 of us volunteers booked a weekend safari with Pristine Trails. Pristine was simply wonderful and I highly recommend them! Adam our coordinator was fantastic (and adorable) and made everything so easy for us! On our way to the safari parks, we stopped to visit the Maasai Tribe. They are the only tribe (of over 140 tribes) that still completely lives by and follows tradition. They believe they get all the nutrients they need from the cow so they only eat cow meat and drink cow blood. I actually felt scammed and pressured to buy jewelry. Tourists come to see them all the time, so they profit off of us. But seeing their tribal dances and their homes were really neat. I guess the cow method works for them – they live long lives, are all over 6 feet tall, and when they jump vertically, man do they get air!

maasai
The Maasai

To see animals in the zoo is fun for a little while but then you are reminded they are trapped in captivity and you feel bad for them. To see the animals in their natural habitat, roaming completely free and wild in nature is unlike any other experience I’ve ever had. The animals and terrain – it is literally a live version of The Lion King. It felt very much like an out-of-body experience for me, as if I was watching Nat Geo or Discovery Channel only real and without a TV screen to protect me from the wild animals. This was up close and personal with nature at its best.

We got to visit two National Parks: Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park. Between the two, we saw four out of five of The Big 5 (cape buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant and rhino). I was bummed that the only one we didn’t see was a leopard. There are only about 4,000 black rhinos left in the world and we saw 3 of them! We also saw a family of about 30 elephants bathing (one of the highlights!), tons of giraffes and wildebeests, water buffalo, a hyena, a jackal eating a gazelle, a baby gazelle just minutes after it was born and struggling learning to walk, zebras, so many gorgeous and vibrantly colorful birds, hippos, ostriches, baboons and monkeys that even stole our chocolate and cookies from our lunches. The zebras seemed to always be posing for photos. They are very photogenic! One of my favorite, most symbolic photos is of a water buffalo standing besides a skull of another water buffalo.

My group for the safari was so much fun. We took dirty photos of the animals and scenery and kept playing songs from The Lion King; even our driver sang along to Hakuna Matata! Whenever I saw the warthogs, all I could think about was Pumba singing, “I clear the savanna after every meal.” 

One of the highlights: seeing the elephants bathe

 My driver spotted two figures out in the distance about a mile away that appeared to be approaching us. It turned out to be two brother lions that walked right up to our jeeps (and peed on the jeep behind me), and then kept walking. As they passed us, I saw two warthogs notice the lions strolling towards them and they took off in the other direction faster than their little legs could carry them. It was adorable and amusing but a reminder that this wasn’t a movie, it was real life, and I was witnessing the power of the food chain. Lions are cool in a zoo, but in the wild, they are absolutely stunningly beautiful and extremely majestic. I was mesmerized by their beauty. These brothers were slowly strutting towards us with such an arrogance kind of like they were saying, Yeah, look at us you silly tourists, we’re The Kings of this savanna, so we’re going to pee on your jeep just to prove it to you.

The progression of them coming closer and closer.
Beautiful brothers. (All photos here are mine except the one where I am clearly not taking it)                                                            Maybe Bert’s? If it is yours and you want photo credit, please let me know and I’ll gladly update it.

The monkeys were everywhere, on the street and in the trees. It was really neat to see the female cleaning the male, just as I’d seen in videos but this was IRL! During lunch, Chris was enjoying his cookie, when suddenly a monkey came from the trees and snatched it straight from his hand. Another one came towards me, I grabbed my lunch and ran. He grabbed the chocolate I accidentally left behind. He was fascinating to watch and he knew to unwrap it just like humans do. Another group went back to their jeep after lunch only to find a monkey sitting in the backseat eating their food. #cuterascals

Baboons
Bottom middle: the monkey eating Chris’s cookie. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have gotten that close.
Baby Gazelle, Jackyl & Gazelle, warthog, Water buffalo alive & dead, hyenas, hippos & zebras
Baby Gazelle, jackal & gazelle, warthog, water buffalo alive & dead, hyenas, hippos & zebras

This is already photo heavy as it is – so if you want to see more pictures click here.

I wish we could have stayed in tents in the national parks but we didn’t. I think it would be have been so neat to sleep in their territory, listening to them howl before you go to sleep. But we slept at a much safer campsite. I smile every time I look at these photos and still am in disbelief that I did it and am able to cross it off my Life List. There will be a next time because I know I will do another safari at some point. The joys of witnessing nature, no one trip will ever be the same.

Teaching in Tanzania – Part 1

Mambo! Harbari za asubhi. Jino langu ni nani Caryn. Nina toka Chicago. Ninajifunza kiswahili Polé Polé. Nitakuwa Taznania Kwa wiki tatu. (Hello! What’s the news this morning?/Good morning. My name is Caryn. I am from Chicago. I am learning Swahili slowly slowly. I’ll be in Tanzania 3 weeks.)

I had learned enough Swahili by my first day to be able to introduce myself to my class.

 ****

hands

I went to Tanzania with a program called Cross Cultural Solutions to fulfill my dream of volunteering and teaching in an impoverished country. They set me up with my placement at Karanga Catholic Nursery, in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, where I taught mainly 5 & 6 year olds English, math, animals, emotions, family, shapes, body parts, colors, the ABC’s, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (see adorable video below).

Imagine your school when you were that age. Your teacher probably always had a lesson planned. There was structure and bountiful resources. You had  kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. grade levels divided by age and a set curriculum. You had lights, desks, a chalk board, cubbies for your backpacks, and maybe a TV in the room or school. You had whatever school supplies you needed, building blocks, toys, and the room probably even had carpet (handy for nap time). Your mom put you in a car seat and drove you to school. You get the picture. There, in Moshi, they had absolutely none of that. Moms didn’t even walk them to school.

Going in, I knew to set my expectations low and not to compare it to what I was used to back home. The chalk board was cracked and so worn that parts of it were glassy and didn’t write anymore. The chalk was so poorly made it crumbled upon contact. There was no electricity in the room; we opened the glassless windows for light.  There was absolutely no educational structure, nor any obvious progression of curriculum. The curriculum was entirely up to me. There was no nap time, they learned straight through with only one “recess” break. I brought tiny plastic pencil sharpeners for my class, but one of the other volunteers said his 3 year olds used razor blades! To count they used sharp beer and soda bottle caps. (Can you imagine the American mothers if they saw their kids counting with rusty and sharp bottle caps?)  The kids had only one swing set, no jungle gym or soccer field to play in, just stones and a dirt road. They entertained themselves with used dolls and the straw basket that the dolls were kept in. The kids all sat 3 to a single bench until end of 2nd week when used desks were donated. I presume from a previous volunteer. Of all the volunteer placements, I was the only one whose students had real desks. The whole time I was there, I only met one mother, one father and one brother. All the other kids, even as young as 2, walked to school on their own.

Although I never went in the bathroom to confirm, there was no running water in the actual school. The only time I saw the kids wash their hands was when I brought in peanut butter sandwich snacks. Bibi (generic & respectful term for all women of grandmother age) rinsed their hands by scooping water from a bucket and pouring it over their hands. After praying, Bibi served the porridge which was also scooped out of an old (cleaned out) paint bucket. Many of the students come from families who can’t afford the tuition and the only food they got all day was the porridge we fed them after break.

Despite it being 90 degrees outside, the kids all wore the same thing everyday, day in and day out, which included a green sweater as part of the uniform. A sweater in 90 degree heat! They had safety pins as buttons on their pants, holes in their clothing and shoes that didn’t fit.

My school was very privileged to have some educational posters on the wall. We had two classrooms, and the second room looked like a Montessori class. It was nicer than any of the other volunteers’ classrooms combined, especially once the desks were donated. See? I was lucky with my placement. My teacher, Sister Mary, once mentioned to me that if she needed supplies, she had to buy them herself. I figured it out and I think it came out that the teachers only make about $150 USD a year!

When I arrived, all 40+ kids aged 2-7 were in the same little classroom. The material was too complex for the little ones but too easy for most of the older ones. Since there were two teachers and two volunteers, I suggested we split them up into an older class and a younger class. Can you imagine a classroom with all ages trying to learn the same material? Why had this not been done before?

As soon as I started, I became a full-time head teacher. While every school varied, class for my school was from about 830am -12n. Some days my teacher would should show up at 930am and other days, not at all. My first day the teachers arrived about 45 minutes late. I quickly realized, time was of no concern to Tanzanians. In fact, they have Tanzanian Flex Time (TFT), which means some people show up to appointments 4 hours late (without calling usually) and it is perfectly acceptable, people will wait. No one is in a rush, everyone is worry-free. Hakuna Matata, right?

I was given no direction, guidance or curriculum to teach. Occasionally, when my teacher was there, she would help with translation but I had to make do on my own when she was MIA. By the end of the 2nd week, I noticed I was in the room a majority of the time, teaching completely on my own. Every day after class, I had to do all the lesson planning for the following day. The home-base had very little resources and since the school had even less, I had to bring any needed school supplies with me for the day.

In over-crowded classrooms like this, the kids often don’t get the one-on-one attention and support they need to be successful. As a volunteer, it was so humbling to be able to provide that extra attention to help them learn and understand the material. I was a role model and provided inspiration for both the children and local educators.Whereas most volunteers, even by the end, seemed to only know a handful of kids, maybe the devil kids or their favorites, I took pride in the fact that by the second or third day, I knew all 20 kids in my class by name (and some of the younger ones, too). I made an effort to know each kid and to give them all individual one-on-one attention possible. This helped me get to know them on a personal level, enabled me to be a better teacher and to have a stronger impact on them. I think because of this, the kids looked out for me. They would sit on the ground to play (which is dirt, not cement) and be content being dirty. But as soon as I stood up from sitting in the dirt with them, they would take their cute tiny little hands and brush the dirt off my skirt until it was gone. And in the mornings when I got dropped off, some of the kids would run up smiling to greet the bus, grab my hand and hold it as we walked to the classroom. It was enough to melt your heart. Every time.

The thing about the kids was the amount of love and joy they exhibited every single day. When they weren’t being kids and arguing, they were all smiles. They couldn’t seem to get close enough to me, always climbing on me, playing with me, hugging me, sitting on my lap, and fiddling with my watch. Every day I went home with dirty handprints on my shirt from their little hands. One day, I decided to let Devota play with my hair. She clearly had never played with a Mzungu’s hair before and had a blast running her fingers through it as she giggled and tried to put it in a pony tail.

Despite the serious lack of resources available, I loved my school and was very lucky with my placement. The thing about having limited resources is that it is all a matter of perspective. To us it seemed like very little, but they were used to it and get my with what they have. So that is exactly what we, volunteers, had to do, too; make do with what we had.

Between being a full-time teacher, trying to communicate & teach through the language barrier, and  doing my own creative lesson plans every night, I was wiped out by dinner. The 3 weeks I spent teaching was anything but a vacation. It was exhausting but extremely fulfilling and rewarding. 

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

Tanzania photos

The one where Tanzania taught me the true meaning of wealth and happiness

As I mentioned in the previous post, I learned a lot while I was in Tanzania. While it all had an impact on me, I keep thinking about what it means to be truly wealthy and happy.

It takes a village to raise a child. There is a reason this African proverb exists, and to the Tanzanians, it couldn’t be any more accurate. The children really are raised by the community. In America, we are taught “Stranger Danger.”  There, everyone is part of the clan, part of the family. Anyone can reprimand the children anytime without motives being questioned. There are no babysitters because the kids are children of the community. If a mother cannot afford medicine, she can go to the community to help her. Children as young as 2 years old walk to school on their own. They aren’t at risk of getting kidnapped or of pedophiles snatching them up. Everyone protects and looks out for everyone and seem to genuinely care.* It is customary to ask about one’s family, friends, health, and get updated on life before diving into conversation. Tanzanians show interest in each other’s lives and actually mean it. What a concept. I know. I think this sense of security and trust contributes to why everyone there is so friendly, so positive, so happy. It is a true community in every sense of the word.

I would often sit in the front seat of our van on the way to school to watch the community going about their everyday lives and to see the pedestrians wave and smile at me. The kids smile and wave to Mzungus (foreigners) passing in cars like they are waving to old friends. How can you not smile and wave back to a smiling, waving little kid? Smiling and being friendly really is contagious. I would carry those moments with me even after they had passed. I found myself “paying it forward” by waving to and greeting almost every passer-by.

The smiling waving kids don’t have fancy gadgets or many resources at school, and for some, the porridge we served was the only food they would get all day. But no matter what, they glowed with smiles and a sense of cheerfulness. Everyone says it when they return to The States, but it really is true. Despite having very little, the Tanzanians are the most friendly, joyful and happy people. In all my travels, I have never encountered a whole culture as friendly and grateful before. While in-country, I never felt like an outsider and always felt welcomed. My Dad always says You never know what happens behind closed doors and while that may be true, perhaps this is just a front, the Tanzanian’s I met seem to have found something that many of us have neglected: happiness and being grateful for what they have.

*****

Homes seen roadside. Left- woman (hard to see her) sitting inside her house without windows. Right – rusted homes

Of the volunteers at CCS, I was the only volunteer whose teacher invited her to see her home. My teacher couldn’t wait for the day I was able to visit her home so she could show me her cows and pigs. Her home was maybe 10 feet by 10 feet.**  She had a curtain separating the bunk beds from the living room which was composed of a couch and coffee table. Her kitchen was outside in a wood hut with an open fire. And boy, was she proud of her home and farm animals. It gave her such pleasure to show her prize possessions to me, it was truly humbling. Some of the other homes I saw were nice and kept; some had four walls, some had no furniture, or no windows- just holes to let light in, and a rusted old roof. That is not to say all homes were small and rusty but most that I saw were.

I asked some of my local friends if people travel and found out that many have never left the country or even Moshi Town. Many have never been on a Safari or even seen the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and here I was doing it all. So perhaps ignorance really is bliss. But I don’t think this so-called ignorance is why they are content with this simplistic lifestyle. Regardless if they travel or not, they do have insight into the world outside Moshi with internet cafes, TV’s, papers and radios. Yet, they are still happy with what they have, not pining for more or complaining about what they don’t have.

One day while I was in town printing photos of my students for an art project, I decided to print two photos for my teacher, too. When I presented her with a photo of herself and another of her with her son, she hugged me and got tears in her eyes. To us it might just be another printed photo, but to her, that photo made her day. She didn’t have a camera so that might be the only picture she has of herself. Another day, she came to class and her phone, think circa 1999 Nokia, (no one had iphones) was smashed in two pieces but she smiled and laughed about it. She continued to use it for several days and I thought of the many people back home who would have had a tantrum and demand it be fixed immediately, as if it was the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. Is a broken phone really the biggest problem in the world? Do I hear “first world problems?” I think so!

In America, our problem is we are always coming out with new shiny, flashy, things so we always want more. Status determines wealth. We always want the next best thing instead of being content with what we have.  We always want more, more, more. We live in a society where everything is bigger, better, faster, and now. We need instant gratification. Nothing is ever enough. Tanzanians live very simple, happy lives and are seemingly content with what they have.

I am not trying to imply they do not have their challenges because that just wouldn’t be true. Everyone has challenges and hardships. But perhaps they just handle it better and with a better attitude. Afterall their motto is Hakuna Matata – (yes, the phrase from The Lion King)- and it really does mean no worries/problems. They don’t seem to be bothered by the silly, waste of energy drama or stupid stress that us Mzungus always seem bothered by.

After seeing their lifestyle, the simpleness that surrounds them, the way they smiled and waved at me as I drove by, and how I was treated with such a welcoming friendliness, it became clear to me that having more money and stuff doesn’t guarantee or equate to happiness. We, Mzungus, were often looked at as people who were rich simply because we were foreigners. To the locals I may be “rich”, but in my eyes, it is the Tanzanians who are rich. The Tanzanians showed me that wealth isn’t measured in currency like Schillings or Dollars, but in happiness and gratefulness. They showed me that happiness is not dictated by how many material possessions you own, how much money you have, or by something as silly as even if you are connected to the internet or not. Rather, it is based on what you deem as a priority, your outlook on life, who you surround yourself with, how you treat and are treated by others, and if you appreciate what you do have.

It is this, happiness and gratitude that makes you wealthy, not money or status. And with that, Tanzanians are definitely wealthier.

The photo I took of my teacher; random children on the street waving; lower left: the orphanage kitchen;  Lower right: my teacher’s kitchen

*I don’t mean to imply it is like Pleasantville or anything. It is far from that and I know there are always a few bad apples in a community. Moshi does have a prison but law enforcement is a lot more strict in punishment in order to keep the community safe.

**I don’t know measurements so that might not be accurate. But it was small.