This blog entry is part of an ongoing series from Amizade’s semester Service-Learning course in Tanzania. Today’s entry comes from Juan Escudaro, a sophomore philosophy and psychology major from Duquesne University.

Honesty and “Productivity” Didn’t Fit In My Backpack

The screams of the crows outside my window woke me up; I was a bit disoriented and my head felt as light as an air balloon. It was a Sunday morning and I was feeling the punishment from having too much fun the night before. My room was a warzone; a combination of clothes, readings and books covered the floor all the way from my bed to the door.

This is not an unusual sight given that I’m not the most organized person, but after a week or so of not cleaning up my room (or at least shoveling all to one side) even I was starting to feel uncomfortable and ashamed. As I scrambled through my room while putting on a pair of jeans and a shirt, I decided I would come back, clean my room, and catch up on work after breakfast. On my way to breakfast I bumped into Fahim and Joyce who were planning to accompany a friend to the river. After hesitating to change my plans for the morning I decided to join the crew. I figured it would be about 3 hours there and back which would still leave enough time to clean my room and study after we returned. Plus the day was beautiful and the walk to the river is always worth it.

Half an hour into the walk, feeling the gentle touch of the breeze and the newborn sun as we walked down the mountain towards one of the most beautiful sceneries I’ve experienced, I was happy with my decision. Once we got to the river our friend, Phillip, whom we were accompanying to the river said a couple of words in Swahili to Fahim and Joyce and in a few instances we were taking off our shoes and crossing the river. All of the sudden a three hour trip turned into a unexpected journey to Phillip’s village, which was a good forty minutes across the waterbed river. I usually don’t mind unexpected journeys. On the contrary, I truly enjoy when I’m thrown out of the monotonous path of routine and into the fascinating uncertainty of the unknown. However this time the pressures of my responsibilities were really getting to me. I knew that if I didn’t get back to Misha before 3 I was not going to have any time to finish my work nonetheless clean my room. This meant that I would have to stay up late after the party or wake up in the early morning to try to finish up what I had to do before going to work. In my head, I played with all the possible outcomes as we found ourselves eating muhogo, drinking chai and preparing ourselves for church. It was a combination of friendliness and persistence on our friend’s part and good manners as well as curiosity from my part that we ended up sitting in a church around 10 kilometers from Misha after eating in our friends house.

In church the priest as well as the congregation seemed perplexed by our presence. Understandable since we were in a small village far into the bush where not many mzungus pass by and less who stop for Sunday morning mass. Not a soul could fit in the small house, it was so packed that made me think half of the village was in the room. As I was sitting in the first row of thin wooden benches my bare feet touching the dry and silky hay that covered the entire floor, the priest was enthusiastically addressing his clergy in Kinyambo? Kinyambo is the tribal dialect of the Kagera region. Even tough I understood nothing of what the dialect I knew the priest was talking about us because of the choreographed manner in which every single person decided to look at us. As he kept talking I glanced at the watch of a men standing next to me and it was saa sita, six o’clock, which converted to one o’clock conventional time. In Tanzania saa moja asubuhi meaning one o’clock in the morning is for us 7:00 o’clock in the morning, this is so because the majority of the country is agriculturally oriented therefore they mold their time keeping to the sunrise and sunset. For me is very interesting to see how time, a concept so engrained in our consciousness that we consider it to be universal and even natural can change depending on the socio-economic structure of a country. Anyways I expected to be back by now. I decided not to let it bother me so I zoomed back at the priest who after a few laughs from the congregation addressed us in English. He asked for us to introduce ourselves and then asked us about our perceptions on Mungu (God) and Yesu (Jesus). There was I a nineteen year old kid who doesn’t believe in organized religion or God struggling to decide if to be honest with my ideas or force myself to say a couple of corny and genuine words about how Jesus is in all of us and how God loves us all the same. Looking at the faces in the room, all waiting for my mouth to open I decided to say a couple corny words about God and Jesus. After another hour and a half the mass ended and we were heading back to Philips house to say goodbye and thank you to his family. On our way back to his house I couldn’t stop thinking about what I said in the church. Should I have been honest? Or should I have been mindful of the people who attended the service?

After saying goodbye to Philip’s family we started heading back. He was coming back with us to Kayanga since he was going back to work the next day. As we were exiting the village Philip decided to visit and say goodbye to a friend of his whom we had meet earlier in the day while eating in his house. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, by now I had given up on the idea of studying and cleaning my room before the party so I was fine with the visit but by this time Fahim who was also going to the go away party was starting to get anxious. We reached his house and sat down with him on his house/bedroom floor. He took a couple of sodas out of a bag and offered them to us. I had not drank a single soda since I decided boycott them about four years ago. So there I was with another existential dilemma on my hands, to drink or not to drink. After a few thoughts I decided to open up a bottle of coke and join the rest of the group. As I took the first few sips I felt a rush of joy and satisfaction, not because I missed the taste of soda, but because I realized that this is what it took for me to brake that promise I’ve made my self so long ago. Sitting there in a room with two new friends I’ve just met in a beautiful village over the river which I had no idea existed and probably would have never knew I’ve I decided to study and clean my room, drinking my first coke in years after declaring for the first time in years my believe in God and Jesus I remembered why I appreciate spontaneity, contradiction and uncertainty (why I travel?)

On the way back to Kayanga I was thinking about how different the day would have turned out to be if I had been honest and “productive”. Back home influences and pressures from school, family, friends, and religion restrict our freedom of playing with out beliefs and tendencies. If it were for honesty and productivity I reckoned that I would have decided to finish schoolwork over a hiking trip and I wouldn’t even think about going to church to accompany a friend. On the other hand being free from most of these pressures and restrictions, dishonesty and “unproductivity” allowed me to enjoy and grow from the culture and its people. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about the honesty that allows us to establish sincere conversations and relationships, which has its rightful place in every situation, I’m referring to the kind of honesty that assert our beliefs and ideas trough decisions and actions. In other words by religiously acting in accordance to a preconceived set of ideas and beliefs we tend to blind ourselves from different and new realities and possibilities which can challenge and modify our notions and personality.

Interested in spending your Spring Semester serving and learning with Amizade in Tanzania? Applications are now being accepted for Spring Semester 2013! Apply Now!