In a recent National Annual Report for the Arthritis Foundation (2007), I read an interview about an osteoarthritis patient like many of us. She said "I was somewhat forcibly living in solitude with my disease. I felt I was a "failure" and had a loss of independence due to my lack of stability and balance -- I was robbed of things I value and fear due to my fear of falling."
I understand. I felt that way more than ever in Africa!!! In SPITE of mobility concerns, there were many simple joys for me. Reading a book on a cool summer day with a rooster pecking at my feet (remember EVERYTHING happened outside)! Awakening to the Muslim "Call to Prayer." Waving and smiling at elderly ladies in their doorways and kids playing in the dirt as I'm driven to work. Not having to decide what to wear each day (away from home-base, I was required to wear long skirts and tops or long dresses -- I only had 2 skirts and 5 tops so my decision was easy!) My bed was made daily for me. All food was gloriously fresh and healthy with fruit every meal and tons of just-picked vegetables. I met many new friends from all over the world (Curacao, England, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Tanzania, and of course the U.S.) I FINALLY knew enough Swahili to survive most anywhere in Tanzania.
I also learned many things about me -- some good, a few not! I liked living in a world not totally controlled by a clock, but it could drive me crazy too. I enjoyed watching the guys in prison begin to like themselves in addition to farming, Math, and other vocational skills. This was the first time I've ever been treated as "elderly" -- average life expectancy here was only 50. I was also treated as very LARGE, ie. fat, definitely NOT my favorite thing! I missed hot showers, haircuts, cheddar cheese, bright light bulbs, drinking tap water (and brushing my teeth with it too), pickles, shops with regular hours, and Ibuprofen.
I learned that I can become irritable when physically tired, and downright grouchy when in physical pain. In Tanzania there was no such thing as schedules or time commitments and it was hard for me to remember TAB (That's Africa Baby). When I'd call to verify a pickup time for that day's photography shoot and hear "Pole(sorry), how about next weekend?", I wanted to scream! I had this sort of thing happen several times with different drivers, so I HAD to remember TAB! I also have to admit being taken on "short walks" by guides and being frustrated when that walk was far tougher -- of course if you're 20, 6'2" and have non-arthritic joints -- those short bits became 4 hours for me. I was covered with dirt and scratches, drenched in sweat and ached in places just recently discovered!!!
So my adventure with three months of contrasts in Africa is over. It was the most exciting, but also the hardest thing I've ever done in my life! I had wonderfully happy experiences and things that totally devastated me. I wanted to live there forever, but, at times, wished I'd moved home early. I STILL love Africa in spite of the challenges. I KNOW that I'm a better and stronger person for having done this. I KNOW that I was working where I needed to be. I was given a unique opportunity to make a positive difference in many young lives and I'm grateful. I KNOW that I really care more than ever for my special friends and family who helped me realize my dream!!
Ahsante sana Africa---------Mama Pati
Published On: October 01, 2008