Friday, March 27, 2015

Eat, Pray, Change

Travel changes you.  And the longer you travel, the more profound the change.

Eat, or not eat 

It is 3 a.m. on Saturday morning in Stone Town, Zanzibar.  I've had parts of this post brewing in my brain for a couple of months.  I knew from about 6 months in Africa that my body had certainly changed.  A 55 pound weight loss left me with energy to spare, which I needed every joule to make it through the day, and into the long nights with friends.  When I moved to Nairobi, the demand for that energy tripled or quadrupled -- there was night life, not just sitting with friends bullshitting over water.  Alcohol with pretty good taxis, a thriving expat community and my German housemate Silke, demanded a level of energy I don't think I ever needed before in my life, even in university.

So there's the more energy change -- not a good thing, Martha, but a great thing.  And I could go on ad nauseum about how your perceptions and understanding of people, of poverty and the politics of it, of the lives of the poor, etc., change and you change.  But no one wants to hear yet another person who has returned from their foreign study/gap year prattle on about this.


During my time in rural Uganda, the poverty of the people I worked with was stultifying.  Families of 6 or 10 or more living on about $400 USD per year.  I had and still have no true comprehension of how they made it work.  The school fees alone for the local average of 6 children per family consumed about $200 of those dollars every year, not including the uniforms.  If the family purchased the uniforms, then the children lived and played and worked in the uniforms because it was the only clothing they had.

For most of my life I have prayed in one fashion or another.  To those who read my Facebook ranting, it is probably a surprise to you that I do this.  I have a love/hate relationship with the God of Christianity and it is an understatement to say that I find organized religion the anathema of any relationship with God that it purports to extoll.  But, nevertheless, I find myself praying for understanding of life's events and people most of the time.

But when I came to the community of Kapuwai, Uganda, this encounter with the stark reality of life shook the foundation of everything I believed about issues of faith and belief in God.  In the worst of circumstances of life, the people of this community praised God and prayed to God with a sincerity that I had never seen in my life and my usual prayer for understanding abruptly changed.

I didn't pray for understanding of others anymore.  I began to pray that I would do nothing to destroy the one source of hope these people have in their lives of nothing but the worst suffering.  I became less sure of my belief that there was an all-powerful and all benevolent God, not that this belief had ever been sure in my life before.  But I knew I would be damned if I would take away the hope and the joy that their Christian faith brought them.  Others' joy became more important to me than my own beliefs to the extent that I censured myself on expressing my own beliefs to anyone but a very small minority of very close friends.

I don't know or even believe that prayer changed me, but seeing living and sincere faith certainly changed my prayers.

Change, at least from the outside

Sometimes travel can change a stranger's perception of your nationality.  You read that correctly.  When you travel internationally, because the rest of the world is so truly hospitable, people learn greetings in as many other languages as they can so they can make you feel at home.  If you are a taxi driver, it is good business to greet potential passengers this way.

Case in point:  I arrived in Zanzibar Thursday around lunch time.  After unpacking a few things, I headed to lunch at Mercury's Bar and Grill.  It was close and since I was in Zanzibar, I felt I owed the  spirit of Freddy Mercury a little homage.  The owner of this restaurant purports to be a childhood friend of Freddy's (more likely, I think cynically, the primary tormentor to a young gay boy during a time that didn't allow you to be gay).

As I walked to Mercury's sporting my new Jackie O. sunglasses and a smart dress, red lipgloss and heels, a row of taxi drivers are lined up under an impossibly large tree trying to solicit passengers.  As I approach, the first driver hops off the hood of his car and looking directly at me, raises both his hands in the perfect gestures of an Italian and shouts "Grazi!!", "Ciao!" and "Grazi" in rapid fire succession with all the gusto and sincerity and hope he can muster to win a passenger during the off season.

Mama mia, I have changed.  Cincin to me.

Channeling my inner Italian

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Revised: Sunday morning, 1:33 a.m.  Still in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania and I realize I have finally been to a place in this big world that my husband has not visited.  Next, hopefully Arusha, Mombasa or Masai Mara National Park (Charles has been to all of these).