I was recently talking to my parents about the logistics of my journey back home and my father asked me “When do you leave home (Iringa)?” I quickly replied “Never!” because I am in complete denial that I have to leave this amazing place I’ve been living in. However, this text, and my imminent departure, made me stop and think about what exactly has made this Tanzanian town feel so much like home. I met so many amazing people, ate so much delicious food, and saw some to the most beautiful places imaginable. I laughed and (happy) cried more than I have in my entire life. I even saw three baby lions! These memories will last a lifetime and fill many conversations during holiday festivities back home, but they aren’t the things that best encapsulate why I am so sad to leave.
When my group and I first arrived in Iringa we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. So we did what most American college kids do and we ordered pizza and watched Netflix. For some reason we were watching and episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. (The reason was definitely that forced everyone to watch it because it’s my favorite show) In this episode the guest, Brain Reagan, is talking to Jerry about how he thinks the most amazing parts of his life, his best memories, happened just after he had butterflies in his stomach. He said he likes the feeling of having that nervous feeling, because that’s how he knows something great is about to happen. This idea has stuck with me since watching that episode four months ago. I think my time in Tanzania has proven this theory to be true. My favorite moments here, and the moments that are the main reasons I will forever call Iringa home all happened just after I felt butterflies in my stomach.
The first moment happened on a rugby field of all places. The director of my program told us about a weekly touch rugby game and invited us to go with him. My friend and I agreed to go, even though neither of us know anything about rugby. As we sat and waited to be picked butterflies filled my stomach. I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know what to wear, and I’m not the least bit athletic. Why was I going to play rugby?? I turned to my friend and said that if our ride forgets to pick us up we shouldn’t call them to ask for a ride, we should just skip it. She agreed. But then our ride showed up and they explained the rules. And then we arrived at the field and were greeted by the other players who are a mix of expats and Tanzanians. (Lots of different accents) The rules were explained to us once again and we were assured that it was okay to make mistakes. And then we started the game. It was amazing. All of the sudden I was running around with people from all over the world passing this ball around (backwards) and having the time of my life. As the game went on I the sun started to set. The mostly dirt field started glowing orange and the trees surrounding the field were covered in golden sunlight. The boulder covered mountains that surround Iringa lit up in in the day’s last light. It was breathtaking (the vista and the running). I stopped for a second and looked around to take in the moment. “I’m really out here” I thought to myself. Since arriving in Tanzania everything had been so busy and exciting and confusing and different, but here I was just living my life in this new amazing place. Tears welled in my eyes, but there was not time to be sentimental, I had a rugby game to win!
Since that first moment I have had numerous more. One was swimming in a natural pool under a waterfall and looking up and seeing the water come flying towards me. Another was riding a bajaji for the first time with my friends and trying to give directions to the driver in very bad Swahili while the sun was setting over a beautiful field filled with kids playing soccer. But my favorite moment happened during my homestay. After a long day of research, I returned to my house looking forward to taking a nap. This plan was interrupted when some of my host siblings came knocking on my door. They told me we were all going somewhere and that I needed to come with them. I had no clue where they were taking me (they told me I just didn’t understand the Swahili). As we walked down a path behind our house I realized we were going to church. I could hear the beautiful singing before I saw the building. My oldest sibling took me into the church as sat me down in the front row. I tried my best to follow along with what was happening. I was handed a bible in English but I couldn’t understand what verse we were discussing because they would announce the numbers so fast I couldn’t keep up. I pretended I found the verse and was reading along with them. I nodded a lot. When they said Amen I said Amen. I was trying my best but I was extremely confused and nervous and I was sitting in the front row so everyone could see me!! After what seemed like forever the service came to a close. The congregation stood up and started singing and swaying. I stood up and started awkwardly swaying with them but I didn’t know the words so I couldn’t join in. After the second song ended I was hoping the service was over, but the third one started. However, unlike the first two, this song I could sing! The lyrics were just “Hallelujah” and “Amina” (amen in Swahili) and the melody was easy enough to pick up. So I stood there and I sang and this beautiful song, swaying, surrounded by 100 Tanzanian women. I have never felt so full of happiness and peace in my life. Tears filled my eyes as I sang the song at the top of my lungs. Here I was, a regular college kid from Alabama, singing a Tanzanian worship song in a tiny village surrounded by strangers, feeling inundated with complete bliss. This was a moment.
My time in Tanzania has come to an end, but this place will always be my home. Iringa I love you with my whole heart. Thank you for proving to me that the best parts of life happen when you least expect them.