There is a calm in Tanzania that, over time, seeps deep into your conciousness. It happens so slowly that you swear it was always there. Without a doubt, it is the greatest gift this country can offer.
Hakuna Matata. Amna shida. No worries.
Today we started our Directed Research Projects. We all awoke and crammed into the dining hall at 7am to grab our breakfasts and lunches and leave by 7:30. The room was a beehive of tension. Breakfast wasn’t ready until 7:15… apparently the kitchen didn’t get the early breakfast memo. As expected, chaos ensued. People running, pushing, whining. My group got our stuff together, jumped in our cars, and realized we had a broken GPS and were missing our professor… twenty minutes later he arrived, giving us enough time to find Yohana to fix the GPS (he can do anything, I swear).
We arrived at our starting point an hour and a half late, waited another half hour for our professor to find our guides, and then spent another hour wandering around in confusion. In short – we started our vegetation plot transects three hours later than planned. The whole of the morning I felt strange, uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out why.
We fumbled through the day struggling with our equipment, the terrain (we basically bushed whacked 5 kilometers up and down three hills), and communication with our guides. Mid-afternoon we breached the last hill to the marker that signified we had finished our very first transect. Not nearly what we had hoped for the day but an accomplishment nonetheless. But our professor, instead disappointed with the few plots we had completed, was utterly thrilled. When I looked up from the ground at the world the strange feeling that had hung around me all day escaped in one, big, satisfied sigh. There is nothing comparable to a hill-top view of an African valley, in the rainy season, in the sun. Rolling farms and forests filled landscape with vibrant reds and greens. The sun glimmered off all of the rain coated foliage. Sunflowers smiled from every field.
Stress, I realized. That was the feeling I could not shake all morning. A feeling I have not experienced in a long, long time. When I looked at my professor’s face I almost laughed – how ridiculous. I thought back through the morning, through breakfast being late, my professor being late, the late drive, the late start. I realized that the only ones stressed had been students – and the whole time it was completely unnecessary. At first I considered the contrast in reactions as just a difference in the perceived importance of time, but the more I thought about it the more holistic it appeared.
Amna shida. Don’t worry. Pole pole. Slowly, slowly.
Nothing happens fast in Tanzania. This calm is apparent in time values, as already observed. It is shown through disregard for appearances and etiquettes. Grown men wear pink crocs and sweaters with flowers on them. Dress pants are obviously okay for soccer. Holes are more a factor of indifference than poverty. You should expect public presenters to answer their phones in the middle of powerpoints. It is totally acceptable to pick your nose during a conversation, or spit your watermelon seeds onto the table during lunch. It is apparent in resource sharing – people share food, clothes and other possessions like they were always community ware. The concept of ownership is skewed. I could go on and on.
None of this is a result of laziness, rudeness or aloofness – Tanzanians are the hardest working, kindest and most observant people I have ever met. It is simply because worries are reserved only for things that are important. Africans do not waste energy on the trivial. It does not matter if you are late, what clothes you are wearing, how you eat your food, or what you accomplish. What matters is if you are okay, that you are empathetic and patient, and that you work as hard as possible – everything else you need will fall into place, in time, in time.