Expanding “life’s network” with a summer in Tanzania

KT contributor, Jacob Hoytema, spent the summer working in Tanzania and we asked him to share a bit about his experience with KT readers.

“What am I doing here?” is a question I asked myself a lot in Tanzania. Not out of regret or anger, but wonder. I’d be riding on the back of a motorbike, feeling the breeze roll off the green Uluguru mountains; or wandering through a busy market, buying carrots and bananas that were just picked yesterday; and I’d wonder how my little life in Ontario had led me so far away. Being conscious of colonial history and dangerous modern trends such as “voluntourism,” what was I really hoping to get out of these three months?

A mentor of mine used to say that young people should spend time in the developing world — significant time, living time — so that the experience could make an imprint on their outlook. I wasn’t interested in the one- or two-week “spring-break” style of volunteer trips I had seen others do. But immersing myself in another culture, staying long enough to grow small roots, attracted me. I signed up for the Uniterra volunteer program and left for a summer internship in the little city of Morogoro, Tanzania, helping in communications for a local organization there.

I used to think that the usefulness of such a trip would be in getting to see how the other half lives. In reality, it’s something much more tangible than that. (I also think that this is a Western misconception about life in third-world countries.) I did indeed see some terrible socioeconomic conditions. But this was not at all a tour of tragedy.

What defines my travels for me, and what I miss most dearly, is the opportunity to know and befriend my Tanzanian colleagues. Tanzanians are the real-life version of the “nice Canadian” ideal: always welcoming, always sympathizing, always kindly laughing along with you. They shared with me things they knew I never had in Canada — breathtaking vistas, delicious local food, and the beautiful Swahili language.

Now when I read about Africa online, I feel like more of an expert just for having been there. I now have a face to put to these news stories — the face of my Tanzanian friends.

Ottawa is closer to the world than any other part of Canada. People come here to represent their countries to us, while our politicians and civil servants build our international relationships with them. Our city’s young people have the opportunity for a positive influence on this sphere, and our future, if we take the time to build more bridges and friendships with other cultures.

Generation Z has their fair share of things to worry about: the tumbling snowball of climate change, the global resurgence of fascism and the subsequent peril for human rights, as well as old problems of health and resources. All of this is supposed to be at its ugliest in the developing world — and yet, my trip has made me feel heart-warmth so much more often than despair. Tanzanians are a part of my life’s network. Now I bring that connection back with me to Canada. My generation is going to face a lot of challenges. It feels good having more friends to help.

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