Any extensive trip abroad can be tiring. You experience a different culture and a different way of life thousands of miles away from friends and families. It seems that these feelings can be amplified during intense volunteer experiences in developing countries. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but the everyday wear and tear of working and living are amplified in that experience.
We find that sometimes our stress and emotions can be slightly blown out of proportion while we are working here. We are in a different place and away from our social support systems. It is incredibly hard to get away and unwind from the daily stressors of hard work, experiencing a different culture, and missing friends and family. It feels selfish sometimes, specifically because of the unvarying and ubiquitous poverty, but, just like with any job, we feel that we need to relax and take care of ourselves for a few hours each week.
We learned a very valuable lesson from The Blue Sweater that we referenced in our blogs about Rwanda. The author reflected on her final day in Kigali. At the time, she felt guilty because she and a friend drank champagne and ate expensive food. Her friend told her,
“I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense on one level. We’re working with the really poor, and you and I couldn’t be more privileged in relative terms. But don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. If you were at home, you’d celebrate with champagne. If you want to remain happy and alive in this work, you need to reconcile this part of who you are and understand the inconsistencies with the work you do and how it all fits into your whole way of being.”
We’ve taken this to heart and realized that we have to be good to ourselves if we want to continue to try to do good in the world.
While we do not have the money for expensive champagne, we have found several inexpensive outlets that revitalize, reenergize, and honestly make us feel at home. We go to a local coffee shop, the Union Café, and have a latte or cappuccino for 2,000 Tanzanian Shillings (tsh), or about $1.33. See the photo below for a view of the coffee shop and the delicious coffee we drink! We also bake brownies or make a meal that reminds us of home, such as a bagel and egg sandwich for breakfast. These things may seem simple, but they truly help us recuperate after a trying week.
One thing we have recently discovered that has helped us take care of ourselves is watching movies. To use the internet in Tanzania you pay by the megabyte. We simply cannot afford to download large movies or TV shows in the name of relaxation. Deb, the friend we visited in Rwanda, gave us four movies to watch whenever we have free time. She has been volunteering for six months in Rwanda and said that watching movies really helps her unwind and get ready for the next day.
We decided to give it a shot. On Monday this week, we had power in the evening. We made our dinner and watched Men Who Stare at Goats. It was an extraordinary experience to be able to relax and “let go” for a few hours! The movie is pretty good, too!!
To be able to sit on a couch, eat a nice meal (rice, beans, and a fajita mixture on top!), and watch a movie is such a privilege. We truly take the simplicity of the moment for granted when we are at home. It was so nice to be able to get into a movie and escape our thoughts for a few hours. Once the movie was over we felt relaxed and reenergized for the next day’s work!
It was such a great experience we decided to do it again!! Yep, we were blessed with power in the evening twice this week, so we decided to take full advantage of it! Again, we made dinner watched a movie. We watched The Last King of Scotland, which is a movie about Idi Amin, who was a fierce ruler in Uganda in the mid to late 1900’s. It was a pretty intense movie, and we would recommend it to anyone who is prepared for an educational, yet tough and serious film.
Even though it was a very powerful film, once it was over, we felt rested, relaxed, and reenergized for the next day. Our minds were able to escape the moment and be free from our droning and consistent thoughts. It is so amazing what something as simple as a coffee or a movie can do for our mentality and disposition while working here. This experience is so intense at moments and it feels so amazing to be able to let our minds rest for even an hour or two.
We hope that once we return to the United States we will continue enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We hope that simple things, such as a coffee or movie in the evening, can rest our minds and reenergize us for the next day.