Lessons Learned in Karagwe, Tanzania

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This past spring, Joanna Keen traveled to Amizade’s site in Tanzania to spend 12 weeks serving and learning with our community partners in Karagwe, Tanzania. She shared with us her reflections, experiences, and adventures in a blog. Here is Part II of her Journey!


Don’t misunderstand me when I say living by myself in a foreign country was not too difficult; yes, the aspect of being there without other Americans was not as hard as I thought it would be and I enjoyed it because I was more able to involve myself in local relationships, but in general, living in a foreign country is an everyday challenge! Especially during your first year when you are just trying to learn how to survive. Speaking in a second language every day, constantly second guessing non-verbal communication cues, being stopped on the streets because you stick out like sore thumb, and walking the line of building genuine relationships but being a nice person is hard work! I often returned to my hotel room after a seemingly normal day extremely exhausted because these little worries and occurrences add up! Living in another country is a challenge, not your story book,Hollywood type of challenge, but a confusing, realize things a few days later, pull-your- hair out, humbling type of challenge that all becomes worth it on the days you grow and learn something new. In fact, I kept track of all the lessons I learned during my 8 months in Tanzania and logged a total of 60!! I cannot share all of those with you in this blog post, but I would like to entertain you with at least a few and can you guess what the first one I wrote was? Every challenge is an opportunity!

• A Lesson from the Culture: Greetings are good! On average, Tanzanians value greetings more than Americans. This sounds beautiful and all until it starts testing your speedy-get- things-done American behavior and you have to sloooow down the say hi to not only your friend but the gardener, the shop owner, your neighbor, and many others. You slow down to talk with familiar faces in street, slow down to acknowledge someone before jumping into the business of the day, and slow down to send a “whats up?” over text-message to your friends every once in a while. As much as sometimes these greetings may seem shallow and slowing down is not natural to me, I soon found greetings worth it as I realized that a simple greeting sends a “Hey, I’m still here for you!” message to a friend you have not talked for a while, acknowledges the value of the person in front of you over the business of the day, and opens doors to new and beneficial relationships.

For a fast paced society, greetings may feel inefficient and sacrificing of productive work, but they can continue old or create new valuable relationships.

• A Lesson about Travel: In order to learn and gain a better understanding of the million questions you have about your new environment, you must put yourself out there, meet people, and engage yourself in experiences even when they may be uncomfortable or scary. OK, obviously some wisdom and discernment is needed for this one; I am not saying try everything! But in the beginning, I was scared to build relationships with people and sometimes even avoided interactions to avoid being stereotyped by my skin color, being taken advantage as a foreigner, or yes, even being asked for money. But the more people I met, the more I engaged in conversations, and the more I partnered with people, whether it was just looking for an item in the supermarket or starting a project with someone, the more I learned. These interactions taught me how to peacefully deal with our differences, to better understand where people are coming from, and helped me build a more diver mental picture of Tanzania.

• A Lesson about Myself: You will probably learn more about yourself than anything else. Being in a new environment with new people makes you realize what you thought were external issues, are really internal issues. While you have talents and many things that you may excel at, you may not be the master of all things that you thought you were. I won’t bore you too much with my personal issues except to say that I have a LOT of room for improvement in my patience, communication, and stress handling skill. If you are looking for some self-discovery, do something different.

• A Lesson on Development: The lessons I learned about development were probably some of the most important and probably will have the most impact on my life, most of what I learned about development is more of a philosophy than a lesson, and like any philosophy is full of controversy. I am still learning and changing my perspective with every experience. After 8 months of living in Tanzania and 3 months of doing a community project, I would say one major word that comes to mind of what I saw as most important in development is Empowerment.

I see empowerment as the tool needed to help community members become the helpers rather than remaining the helped. Empowerment means utilizing the talents and abilities already present in a community, and developing those skills. It is the development of already present skills that enable community members to become more self-sufficient. Acknowledging the minority voices that are often overpowered, giving in a way that maintains the worth and dignity of the receiver, are all necessary tools when ensuring long term impact and sustainability.

This goes for any country, and I could write a whole other blog post on this subject-contact me if you ever want to discuss more in depth or share experiences!

• A Universal Lesson: Be grateful. When I was grateful for my challenges, I was much more motivated to face them. Yes living in another country has difficulties, but it is an opportunity. While I have returned to the U.S. and back to my routine, sometimes Tanzanian life seems more “normal” to me than U.S. life – so now I have started a new list of lessons learned – U.S. edition! Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of my lessons learned further – all of these of course stemmed from a story! The longer I am in the states, the more I want to make sure I do not lose what I learned from Tanzania.
I would just like to give a last shout out to all of those that made these 8 months possible: thank you to my supporters for putting in a good word in for me to receive the Boren scholarship, my friends and family for their patience, and understanding,  and my Tanzanians friends for showing me love and family when I was far from home.

I have already begun to miss the fresh juices, house invites, pace of life, and most of all, the many conversations! Mungu akipenda tutaonana tena marafiki zangu.(God willing we will see each other again my friends).