During my last month here in Tanzania, I had two excursions in order to experience some famous aspects of Tanzanian culture.
My first was to the beautiful island of Zanzibar. There I experienced the enthralling, open food market in Stone Town and went on a scenic Zanzibar spice farm tour. I not only enjoyed these and other typical tourist activities there, but I even more so enjoyed meeting many people from the Tanzanian island.
Through colorful conversation I even discovered the fun fact that Zanzibarians love “Watoto wa Obama” (Children of Obama, or the term they currently use for Americans) as he is half Kenyan and they feel akin to him, with Kenya being Tanzania’s upstairs neighbor.
My final excursion to the Ngorongoro Crater, in Arusha, Tanzania, surpassed my expectations as well. The safari I went on in the crater was a life-changing experience. It lasted a full day, from 7 in the morning to 9 at night, and granted me the opportunity to revel in the beauty and uniqueness contained within Nature.
Staring eye-to-eye with zebras and marveling at how each and every single one is uniquely striped, my awe of God as the original artist and the most original masterpiece-maker of all time strengthened. The panoramic, mental image I took of the lions, elephants, ostriches, and other wild animals on the beautiful savannah lined by different species of acacia trees is forever stored in my ‘Greatest Memories’ file cabinet.
With all of this fun behind me, my final two weeks in Tanzania proved to be successful as the production of the “Spanner Box Set” prototype was completed. This prototype serves as a simple machine model that exists for the accessible and simple storage of wrenches, which now will be installed on all technical/agricultural machinery produced by the University of Dar es Salaam’s (UDSM) Mechanical Engineering Workshop.
By way of the lengthy design and fabrication process of this simple machine, I discovered a phrase that describes the beauty of engineering succinctly: Engineering gives individuals the ability to transform intangible dreams into tangible reality.
After dreaming up an idea to help solve a problem, it was wonderful to slowly see a mental image turn into a solution that others could touch and use. It was a blessing to live out the engineering process for those six weeks: participating in the process of a solution as it became animated from sketching paper, having a formidable purpose and function of its own that inspired others.
A few other mechanical engineering students studying at UDSM who also begin their second year in the fall shadowed the production of the prototype, and it was extremely humbling for these students, my international peers, to be intrigued by the designs and drawings – even to the point where some asked to have hard copies. Knowing that I was a part of the creation of something that helps people my senior is humbling in itself, but being able to simultaneously inspire my peers was an even greater delight.
In another cultural aspect, many of the people here whom I came to know now consider me one of their own, ‘Ubungo’ (Tanzanian). Although, I have only a basic mastery of Swahili after the two months spent abroad, this compliment proves to me the importance of language and cultural knowledge gained through firsthand experiences.
Surprisingly enough, many of these people expressed their hopes for my return to Tanzania, and this too made me realize that this type of cultural/abroad experience is the first step toward facilitating sustainable change in other environments. One must first establish him/herself as a trustworthy and culturally mindful individual, one whom people will miss in their absence and appreciate in their presence. Knowing that I still have so much to learn about the culture and language, I am egged on by all these comments to continue to learn the language so that I can someday return to Tanzania – or as my favorite UDSM security guard calls it, “[my] home.”
So, in the past two months I have grown leaps and bounds: spiritually, academically, mentally, and the list goes on, a life-changing experience birthed by the miraculous blessing of the Boren scholarship. Of course the growth did not come about without some mosquito bites, trying times, and emotions mixed within, but it was all worth it to be able to say in retrospect: “When I was 17 years old I lived in Tanzania, Africa, for two months, invented a simple machine and created a prototype for functional use. I learned the basics of the Swahili language and Tanzanian culture while gladly being a national ambassador of some sorts, disproving many common misconceptions about Americans as I, too, broadened my perspective on the world, all things considered.”