Lade, Tanzania

Lade is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering and mathematics in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with a minor in art in Meadows School of the Arts. She was awarded a Boren Scholarship to study in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where she will be taking an intensive Swahili language and culture course at the University of Dar Es Salaam while doing a mechanical engineering internship.

Looking back on Tanzania: my far-away “home”

Spice farm tour in Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

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.

In the Hamamni Baths, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

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.

With the Deputy Manager of the Technology Development and Transfer Center at the University of Dar es Salaam and the completed spanner box set prototype.

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.

Preliminary sketch of the spanner box set

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.

Spanner box sets will be installed in these chicken feed mills

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.”

Goodbye lunch with my Kiswahili teachers and roommate

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.”

With the staff and mechanical engineering workshop crew at the University of Dar es Salaam

My wonderful host mother

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Culture shifts: My first month in Tanzania

I’m at a fish market in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

Culture is not a classroom concept; culture is an experience, a necessary firsthand look into the way things are and once were in a certain region of the world.

Being surrounded by Tanzanian culture as I learn the Swahili language has not only augmented my learning rate and capabilities of and in the language, but it has also made me recognize characteristics of cultures and the gaps that inevitably exist between one culture and another.

My roommate in my home stay here on the University of Dar es Salaam campus is a senior college student from California. Wherever we go and whomever we meet, we are welcomed with the Swahili greeting “Karibu” countless times. However, the reality is that no matter who you are – Caucasian or African-American, as we are  – the blatant and prolonged stares you get as a foreigner are ubiquitous and surprising at first. Pedestrians, drivers, motorcycle riders, female, male, young, old – everyone stares.

The chicken feed mill in the Mechanical Engineering workshop at the University of Dar es Salaam. I conceptualized and am fabricating a prototype of an apparatus for the mill that will hold the spanners (wrenches) used to loosen and tighten the mill’s sieves. The apparatus will be affixed to the mill by welding.

Coming from a culture that is beautifully diversified and heavily speckled with individuals from cultures all over the world, I find that foreigners aren’t as much of a spectacle or a main attraction in the U.S. as they are considered to be here.

The staring versus the incessant welcome greetings we receive, filtered through our American perspective, cause us to see elements of Tanzania culture as conflicting. Staring in American culture is not considered “welcoming” at all. I’ve come to realize that culture is not as unadulterated as the study of language and semantics. It cannot always be translated literally and oftentimes simply cannot be harmonized as different cultural viewpoints come into play.

Culture is a tricky concept that is sometimes full of contradictions, similarities and differences. It is experienced by spending time with locals like my Swahili teachers and host family and co-workers. It has opened my eyes that the people in this country and most likely other Third World countries are unaware of the existence of poverty, unemployment, widespread disease, crime, and the other genuine harsh realities of the American life. All Americans, with no exaggeration, are considered to be wealthy in the Tanzanian cultural paradigm – wealthy and lacking any issues or problems.

This realization makes even more pressing my penchant for having as many firsthand cultural experiences as I possibly can in my lifetime. The misconceptions of the American culture that I have heard – from unbelievable to comically ludicrous – make clear to me my own preconceived notions about African culture. Some have been debunked, and others confirmed, proving that cultural awareness is a two-way street.

Frankly it is unfair to assume that life is either a utopia in one place or the complete opposite in another without experiencing the reality of the environment for oneself. Although there may be some truth to cultural stereotypes, they should never be generally applied. Culture should never be made into a secondhand story or tale; it is something that has to be lived in order to discover and comprehend all that it truly is.

At the Kaole Ruins in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

No doubt, my new cultural experiences have brought about a greater appreciation of the simple things in my native culture, like the English language itself. I have never realized and appreciated how nuanced and complicated English is to learn as a foreigner, in comparison to a more straightforward language like Swahili. And other simple things – like timeliness and the fast-paced, organized-ahead-of-time mentality that I’ve now realized is most likely only a Western thing.

The intense language and cultural experience that I have had in the last month and will continue to experience for the next four weeks has been supplemented by an engineering internship  – an experience of a lifetime here at the University of Dar es Salaam. I have recently begun working in the Mechanical Engineering Workshop, fulfilling one component of my internship under the guidance of the Director of the Technology Development Center.

I am working to implement the complete manufacturing process – from the design stage to the ultimate production – of a prototype of a simple apparatus that I conceptualized/conceived in order to make the jobs of the workshop workers more efficient as they fabricate different types of mill machines. The process of fabricating this prototype allows me to use my newly acquired skills of AutoCAD, welding, metal cutting/bending, and etc. in a conveniently practical way.

I also have had the opportunity to observe the legitimacy of bureaucratic formalities due to the lack of provisional infrastructure maintenance and supervision. This, along with my hands-on, interactive engineering experience, have augmented my passion. I hope to work in Third World countries using my engineering education and hopefully a plethora of cultural and language experiences to help decrease instability and invigorate nations toward steady progress.

Overall, the cultural experience thus far has been profound in more ways than one. It  has blessed me with innumerable memories and stories that have given me an alternative paradigm through which I now view the world.

In my Kiswahili classroom with my Kiswahili teachers.

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