When we first arrived in Tanzania, the area was in the height of the dry season. The grass was parched and yellow, the baobab trees looked like they had been planted upside down with bare branches arching towards the sky, and crevices ran over the dust-choked fields as a lasting reminder of places where water had once flowed. We choked on heat and dripped sweat, and, when we weren’t studying or participating in field exercises, we quenched our thirst with frozen mango juice as we lounged in the sun. It was not until late October, while on an expedition to Serengeti National Park, that we had our first encounter with a true African rainstorm.
We had had our faces dusted with brief, unappealing mist and withstood painstakingly brief showers, but, it was in Serengeti National Park, while we raced down a road with the tops of our cars down, that the sky finally opened up and unleashed a downpour that soaked into our bones and flooded our hearts. Months later, this first rainstorm is still my favorite memory of Tanzania, a fact that has rendered my friends and family back home confused every time they asked me about my experiences abroad though my fellow students understood instantly without need for words. Looking back, I think that I have a better understanding of why rain remains deeply symbolic of my entire experience as a School for Field Studies student in Eastern Africa.
Being so close to the equator, the seasons in Tanzania are dictated, not by fluctuations in temperature or the relative distance to the sun, but by the patterns of rainfall. This first rainstorm marked a significant change as Tanzania entered into the short rainy season, just as stepping off the plane at Kilimanjaro International Airport marked a change in my own life. It was as yet unknown how this change would play out. It was unknown what exactly awaited in the coming three months, but, good or bad, I had no choice but to face them boldly.
Certainly, there was bad mixed in with the good. Five minutes after the torrential downpour in Serengeti National Park, one of the Land Rovers slid into the ditch and we spent the next hour cheering for our drivers as they worked to maneuver the vehicle back onto the road. But, despite this almost assurance of negatives as well as positives, the moment change occurred, the moment the heavens opened up, we tilted our heads to the sky, opened our mouths, spread our arms like wings, and greeted the unknown.
There was a lot that I learned in Tanzania. I studied conservation agriculture as a climate change mitigation strategy, observed numerous animals in their natural habitat, and learned a passable amount of Swahili. Most importantly, however, is the personal growth that began the moment I decided to become a School for Field Studies student and extended throughout my stay in Tanzania. More than anything else, Tanzania taught me to be brave. This wonderful opportunity taught me the value in taking chances and following your heart, though your head may disagree, so that, while you may get soaked and catch a cold from laughing at the rain, you may also gain the irreplaceable memory of spending an hour laughing with your best friends and feeling completely at home in a foreign place. You may get to see a sunset splendidly spread across the sky or get the chance to help somebody else. But, to reach any of these outcomes, you must first be brave enough to embrace change and enjoy the constant revolution of your own life.
So here’s to Tanzania and here’s to the ones who made such a wonderful experience possible for me and here’s to never being stagnant, but constantly changing, constantly evolving, and constantly laughing in the rain.