A month in Tanzania
I grew up in rural Southwest Virginia in what was affectionately called
“the sticks” We had our own goats we milked every night. We had our own
organic garden long before it was popular. I played in clothes that were
made by my mother or hand-me-downs from one of my older siblings. By the
time they got to me, the youngest, they were often the worse for wear, but
I never really noticed. We were home schooled and taught to be hard
workers. This childhood sounds like something out of Little House on the
Prairie but it was all I knew growing up. I learned to be independent and
spent countless days up a tree daydreaming of places far, far away.
By eighth grade I was in the public high school. My world geography teacher
gave us an assignment to write a personal timeline including significant
moments in our lives. Mine went something like this: I was born, I broke my
collarbone, I earned a yellow belt in Ta Kwon Do, and in 1996 the first
Congo War began. Africa seemed like a distant cousin I had never met but
was still part of my blood. Africa became real to me during that
revolution. A girl my age I knew had been in the Congo with her parents
when she was kidnapped. For three years she was separated from her parents
taking care of her younger siblings in refugee camps after their release
from captivity. To be cliché, it changed my life. It showed me that within
all of us we have unlimited potential at any age. I studied French in high
school because I was intoxicated by the sound of places like Cote D’Ivoire,
Abidjan, Djibouti, and Gabon. They were as far away as I could imagine from
my little mountain town.
I have had the opportunity to spend time overseas starting with a summer in
Sweden when I was ten. At fifteen I went to Colombia to visit a friend by
myself. At seventeen it was half a gap year in India. After college I went
to Uzbekistan with the Peace Corps. I have been so lucky to have these
opportunities but I have always dreamed of Africa. In less than a week I
will finally be able to step foot off a plane and walk onto a continent I
have dreamed of for so long.
I am going to a country half way around the world that has a language I can
barely say hello in, to work in a clinic with people I don’t know. In case
you are wondering, yes I am a little scared. I am scared of not being able
to communicate, scared that I might be in the way, scared that I might
never want to leave, and scared that a place I have envisioned for so long
might not really want or need me. I have a policy that when I am scared or
facing a challenge I ask myself the simple question “What is the worse that
could happen?” Putting a voice to my fears has always made me feel stronger
and then I can tackle them.
As an accelerated student nursing is very new to me. I started nursing
school 14 months ago but I now feel more prepared than I have ever been in
the past. I have been working or volunteering in health education for eight
years but nursing has added the element I knew I desperately needed. It
allows me to better provide complete care. Perhaps more importantly it
helps create a relationship of trust more quickly with new populations.
When you prove yourself knowledgeable and compassionate about someone’s
wound care, or prenatal care, they have a much better reason to trust you
with other areas of their life. I hope that I will be able to use nursing
as a springboard to help communities address social inequalities, poverty
relief, and political freedom. These impact health directly and cannot be
ignored because you can’t see them. This may not happen on this trip, but
hey the day I stop dreaming of change and a better life for my patients is
the day I need to take a break.
Just like that girl in the refugee camp we all have this potential in use.
It doesn’t mean that we all need to go to Tanzania or join Doctor’s Without
Borders tomorrow but it does mean that we can all change the world a
little. If for you that is being the best friend you can be, or that you
take the time to make it to your kids soccer game, or you take an extra
minute to wipe a tear from a patient’s cheek, you have changed the world!
Don’t cheat yourself that victory.
I look forward to sharing with you my adventures over the next month, or
upon my return depending on the accessibility of the internet. I would love
to hear about your own victories in this journey of life we take together.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that
we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most
frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of
God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing
enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around
you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make
manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us;
it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own
fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” -Marianne Williamson