The journal I write in everyday was a gift from my grandmother. The cover has “dreams” written in wispy italics, and my grandma (Mama) wrote me a note on the inside: “Always follow your dreams. Love, Mama.”
It is something I have been told my entire life. I am lucky to have a family who has told me to believe in myself and to stop at nothing to pursue my passions. My mom has always reminded me to “spread my wings,” a saying that has remained a mantra in my life.
I can say that the root of most of my dreams involves tackling the wonders and challenges in my personal life and the life we share in this world. I dream of having an impact on an international level because I strive to actively understand the issues that face our world and to incorporate diversity into my perspective and my work. And, of course, I dream of adventure, discovery, novelty and beauty; the list goes on.
In a way, right now I feel like I am living my dream. I am reminded of how big the world is and how there are so many different ways of working, laughing, struggling, and loving. I am working with organizations that were built on dreams and I am able to contribute to their fulfillment. A view of the tallest mountain on the African continent begins and ends many of my days. But I am left wondering what this “dream” of mine really is, where it came from, and where to take it next.
One of my first evenings in Moshi, I was sitting by the railroad tracks on the edge of town, enjoying a beer with some friends. A woman, who I assumed was a tourist, stood in the middle of the overgrown grass, a beaming smile on her face as she captured Mt. Kilimanjaro gleaming over the clouds. I watched her from afar, then looked over at a man sitting in a chair close to me, who I assumed was from the area. He sat in solitude, barely seeming to notice the majesty of the mountain.
Now, I could be completely wrong – this woman could have lived in Moshi for her entire life and that man could have been a world traveler. I don’t want to assume anyone’s story from one simple observation. The purpose of this anecdote is to bring to light the thought that struck me in that moment, and how it changed my approach to my time here. It was a big shift from thinking in terms of novelty and wonder to thinking in terms of normalcy and familiarity.
That’s not to say that I can’t continue to be awestruck by the views of Kilimanjaro or excited when the flowers start to bloom. What it means is that I have to see this as equivalent to my own life in as many ways I possibly can, and to assimilate my perspective to see connections rather than differences.
In a conversation about the international community living full time in Moshi and its seemingly effortless ability to adapt, one of my friends pinpointed something crucial. Our adaptation comes from our ability to identify normalcy in our environment, and to draw parallels between the unfamiliar and the familiar.
For example, recently I have had the responsibility of going to the markets in search of supplies for our piggery (yes piggery is a word). It became a source of stress as I anticipated the need to map out my surroundings, know which market and which stalls to go to, know what prices to ask for and how to bargain for them (in Swahili), etc. I was dumbfounded as to how I would find these materials; the markets are overwhelmingly cluttered and my Swahili is still at a toddler level. I could have easily let these intimidating factors stop me and given up the responsibility to John or Gama.
But once I dissolve the idea of something as “foreign” or “unfamiliar,” once I come to see it as a part of everyday life and relate it to myself, I find myself able to go so much further. I am able to connect to the people I pass every day, the people that are working hard for their families and studying hard for their futures. This task that seemed so stressful slowly became easier as I saw the market through a lens of familiarity.
I continue to push myself to see through this lens as I adjust to living and working here. The past two months in Moshi have been a long process of understanding the impact of my role as I get accustomed to the culture and language. There have been so many times when I have felt a Tanzanian could do the job so much better, when I have wondered why I am here, halfway across the world from many issues in my own country. I think it’s a common feeling for those who work on an international level, and especially after recent weeks, that feeling was amplified to the maximum.
But as I form connections here and build foundations on shared beliefs, I am reminded of the value in our collaboration. Our lives are becoming increasingly global and connected on more and more levels. In order to thrive, we must delve into our work side by side, equipped with a desire to fully understand each other. As I work with the team of people here in Moshi, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to understand how deeply connected I am to them. I know that when I go home we will still feel like neighbors.
Working here has also reminded me of what it really means to dream. Our project will bring sustainable income to White Orange Youth, yet it is at its raw beginnings. The process has shown me the importance of keeping faith and working tirelessly, even when the end goal seems out of sight. As I work alongside John, I am humbled by how much he dedicates to his dream. He works long hours and through the weekends, balancing our farm project with school outreach, conferences, youth group meetings, and a beautiful family with two young kids. His dedication to White Orange Youth and its goals of creating a safe space for youth, educating them about sexual health and life skills and eliminating HIV/AIDS makes it clear that he will not stop until his dream of a stronger future is fulfilled.
Recently the White Orange Youth group had the opportunity to take a day trip to the Materuni Waterfalls. For many of them it was their first time there, and their excitement was contagious. I joined them as they splashed through the water, climbed the tallest rocks they could find, and posed for pictures with their arms reaching towards the sky. At the end of the day, once again, I thought of all the people in my life who have taught me to dream. I hoped the sheer happiness of this day would remain in their memories as a reason to dream big.
As I work alongside Pastor James, Madame Beatrice, and James Kirima at St. Timothy’s School, I learn about the dream that has pushed them to invest their lives in their communities. Pastor James and Madame Beatrice have dedicated themselves to the children around them, always brewing new ideas on how to expand the reach of their education. I have had multiple conversations with James Kirima about the village he grew up in, and his dream to make water more easily accessible to the people there. I am inspired that the path he is taking now, as a Mama Hope East Africa Advocate, is directed towards achieving this goal.
One day James and I asked some of the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. I took mental notes of what each of them said until the list of dreams grew too long to remember, and I started writing them down. These students have big visions. Doctor, pilot, police officer, professor, engineer, singer, politician, president, radio presenter, business woman, lawyer, pastor, painter, accountant… to name a few. After each student said his or her dream, James and I asked each of them to stand up and say what they needed to study in order to achieve this dream. Before we said goodbye, we huddled together and reminded them never to forget these visions.
Afterwards, James explained to me how much he believes in the power of dreams, and the importance of always having someone there to encourage you. I think he must have read my mind or snuck into my computer and read this post before I shared it.
“To live a dream” in the way I am coming to understand it means to dedicate your life to the needs of your world, in whichever way you choose to define it. It means that you sit down next to someone everyday and try to watch the world through their eyes. It means you get up everyday and you keep working towards more progress, and nothing brings you down because progress means you are bringing more and more people with you.
To learn more about how you can contribute to the dreams of White Orange Youth and St. Timothy’s School, please visit www.classy.org/marisatanzania.