It’s getting to that point in the trip where people are starting to talk about the h word: home. While I still have four more weeks on this amazing continent, I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that my global health fieldwork in Tanzania will be ending next weekend. Leaving Dodoma is bittersweet as I feel like I’ve just gotten into a groove here. I feel so comfortable walking around town, admiring the fabrics and bustle of street life, and my relationships with our nursing students and the people of Mkonze are still budding. This experience has opened my eyes to how long it takes establish a new home abroad. My time in Tanzania really makes me want to spend more than six weeks in a foreign country at some point to truly establish a home in a culture different from my own.
Storti (The Art of Coming Home, 1997) argues that there are three hallmarks of home: familiar places, familiar people, and routines or predictable patterns of interaction. I feel that the first two hallmarks have been achieved, as I’ve gained a deeper than tourist-level understanding of Dar es Salaam and Dodoma. My cohort, Alex, Dr. Naughton, and the MUHAS students and faculty are my kin here. I’ve absolutely loved growing close with everyone and I can’t wait to see where these relationships go after the trip ends. However, the routines or predictable patterns of interaction have been harder to nail down, and I attribute this to the culture in Tanzania. For example, the nursing students have been taking longer and longer to get ready each morning. We arrive around 8:30 AM and they usually aren’t ready to go until 10 AM. I’ve learned to embrace this hour and a half of downtime, but at first it was really frustrating to be waiting around when I knew we could be doing meaningful work. On the other hand, we’ve had some days go so late into the afternoon that we don’t even have time for lunch before the daladala comes to pick us up. I always end up exhausted and hungry, so I’ve learned to bring plenty of food and water, as well as things to fill the plethora of downtime we have each day.
Every morning I wake up and shed my expectations because each day in Tanzania has been different, but I think this is what has made my time so enjoyable. I’m learning to stay in the moment, be flexible, and be a little less uptight about the concept of “being productive”. It took two weeks for me to warm up to Mkonze, and now I see truly how long fieldwork can take in these types of settings. Many months and years must be dedicated to projects like the ones we are pursuing, but I’m extremely grateful for this small two week taste of what my future in global health could be like.