November 2022 Issue

Time in Tanzania

Zoe Sellers

As we ducked our head under the cloth that hung from the door we were overwhelmed with Tanzanian hospitality, “Karibu! Karibu!” The smell of gasoline and burning trash seeped through the small window. Umi sat across from me with a shy smile. I returned a nervous one. While working with the Women’s Encouragement and HIV/AIDS Foundation (WEHAF) was both my first internship and first time outside of the United States, I quickly adjusted. However, two weeks later I conducted my first home visits in the residential areas outside of the city and the culture shock I expected during my first day suddenly hit.

Umi was one of the many home visits I conducted as an intern in Tanzania, but she was the most memorable. Her two young kids ran in and out of the room as we exchanged greetings, but they were quickly shooed away. The community is unaware that Umi is HIV positive and as she suffers with this disease, she also suffers by keeping it a secret. The social stigma around HIV prevents her from having a network of support, even from her own children.

As our translator reluctantly told us about her work at a local club, tears began to roll down Umi’s cheeks and the room became quiet. As we sat quietly for a moment my eyes traveled to the small window above Umi. It looked out onto the clothing line that held the day’s washing and a bright red polka dotted handkerchief swayed in the light breeze. After a few more minutes of talking with Umi we gathered our pens and notebooks and made our way to the door, “asante sana!” We walked single file down the side of the railway track. The cool morning air began to fade into a heavy afternoon heat. I balanced one foot in front of the other as the railway track became a bridge. Below, women bent over scrubbing mismatched dishes.

Looking over my notes from the day it was overwhelming to see the large scope of issues that face these women: poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDS, social isolation, substance abuse, lack of resources and opportunities. Naturally, I began thinking of ways I could solve these problems entirely. Every possible solution seemed like a band-aid on issues with extreme consequences. While struggling with this idea, I worked with another intern from the Netherlands on a GoFundMe. The purpose of the fundraiser was to provide families with monthly food packages. Taking HIV/AIDS medication without food causes stomach aches and a number of other side effects. Our goal was to simultaneously combat the issue of hunger and medication side effects.

By my last week in Tanzania we had raised $800. After packaging oil, beans, rice, flour and porridge we returned to the residential area with a group of eight interns and delivered food packages to ten families. During the last delivery I was relieved to set down the heavy bags I had been carrying, but as I did so the mother began to cry and thank us as she had been without food for two days. It was at that moment that I realized the importance of small steps. For weeks I was only thinking of large-scale solutions and not only was this completely unrealistic, it was quite harmful. The food packages we delivered that day were not a permanent solution, but for a few weeks ten families would have food and be able to take their medications.

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