The last day of seventh grade came to an end, and my classmates talked about summer plans—tanning, swimming, beach trips, etc. Meanwhile, I was worried about getting my tetanus shot! That summer I traveled to a small village in Tanzania with my grandfather and my dad.. We stayed in the town of Iringa and made the trip to the village each morning by jeep. The dusty drive brought me to a place that was different from anything I had seen before or since. There was a one room schoolhouse with a chalkboard. There were two large fire pits with hanging pots for cooking. A few huts made out of dried grass were scattered around the area. The resources were minimal. One day on the way to the village our bus driver suddenly stopped, leaped out of the jeep, and brought back a dead snake. “Black Mumba!” he repeated several times, excitedly. The Black Mumba is a very poisonous snake. The driver was excited because he planned to cook it for dinner. Lesson 1: Those who have less, waste less.
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As we emerged from the jeep, everyone gathered around my grandfather—he had visited the village often to teach the students about well drilling. My grandfather offered to show me around the village, and I was eager to explore. I saw the women’s shacks, the “bathrooms”, the drilling equipment, etc. My grandfather said this village needed the well urgently because the nearest source of fresh water was two miles away. The villagers often used a nearby stream instead. I was shocked to see that it was not a stream at all, just a large puddle of collected rain water. It was brown with dirt and had a scent of cow manure. Lesson 2: Clean water is a luxury, not a given.
The next morning it was time for work. On this trip my grandfather was constructing a supply house and getting started on the new well. I was eager to help, yet I noticed that the other girls were not involved with the construction—they sat around the fire cooking ugali or served water to the boys. I’ve always preferred a shovel to a cooking spatula, so I decided to work on the supply house. I began clearing dirt for the foundation of the building. I felt eyes staring at me. Suddenly two of the boys took my shovel away and pointed towards the other women sitting around the kitchen area. After a few failed attempts to acquire another shovel, I went to join the women. Lesson 3: Women’s roles can be very limited in some places.
One day I took a break to wander around the village with my dad. I brought along a few presents for the kids. We handed out cookies to the first kids we saw, and the smiles on their faces made me want to give them everything in the world. Word spread quickly, and within minutes we were surrounded by a large group of children. The presents ran out, but the kids stuck around. One kid had a homemade soccer ball (made out of plastic bags and shoe string), so we played a quick game before returning to the construction area. The children of the village endured many hardships yet they were still able to enjoy life without all the extra things that Americans take for granted. I hoped that by being a part of my grandfather’s water project, I would at least be able to help provide them with fresh water. Lesson 4: The gift of water is the gift of life.
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