When I first came to Dar, everyone said that my two months would fly by. And damn it, they were right. As Peter drives out of our neighborhood, past Coco Beach, and into the airport parking lot, I marvel at how quickly time has gone. Consistent with the human condition, I long for more. For more morning walks past Kimweri’s fruit stands; for more Ubongo Kids afternoons with excited watoto; for more nights like last night, dancing to the beats of Bongo Flava and American hip hop, busting the weirdest moves and laughing with new friends and being totally, ridiculously free.
Walking across the tarmac and into our propeller plane — a mix of longing, sadness, and gratitude. Dar es Salaam has been wonderful to me.
I came to Dar and wanted to learn about social enterprises and international work, but I also wanted to learn more about myself. I had three questions. What does it take to run a successful social enterprise? As a foreigner, how can I contribute to Ubongo’s work? What place do I have (if any) in Tanzania?
For now, these are the answers.
· Q: What does it take to run a successful social enterprise? A: It takes the remarkable ability to adapt and a willingness to learn about everything — financial models, education trends, investment terms, production servers, and television in Tanzania. Mostly, it takes tenacity. Business can move slowly and unpredictably in Tanzania. (It took Ubongo 9 months to receive their business license, 2 months to get new windows installed, and 6 weeks to receive a tax audit from an overdue consultant.) I saw Nisha and Doreen exercise a combination of persistence, patience, and humor as they got these things done.
· Q: As a foreigner, how can I contribute to Ubongo’s work? A: By listening, and by changing my thought processes to fit the organization. When I first joined, I was tempted to respond to tasks instinctively — designing user tests like I had in my d.school class; creating a social media strategy like I had with Stanford Marketing. But to do more helpful work, I had to pause and remind myself that there was so much I didn’t know about Tanzania, Dar, and Ubongo. I believe that my work was much better when I just listened.
· Q: What place do I have (if any) in Tanzania? A: I’ll always be a foreigner in Tanzania. Wherever I walk, shouts of “China!” and “Mzungu!” will follow, and I’ll never truly relate to the experiences of my neighbors. But I still feel a sense of community, from the Ubongo team and my wonderful roommates and the boda boda driver I met two weeks ago. I still feel like I can belong here in some ways, even if Tanzania is not my original home.
What else have I learned, beyond these quesitons? So. Much. Too much to cover in one blog post. I’ve realized the joys of doing instead of planning — the most beautiful moments of my trip happened when I was without any plan. I’ve learned to be patient with myself; meaningful progress comes pole-pole. I’ve found happiness in being alone and independent. I feel more centered and more capable than I was two months ago. And I hope that I can bring all of this with me, wherever I go after Dar.
“Welcome to Kilimanjaro.” Our plan begins the descent, the high peak of the mountain towering over the clouds. Tomorrow, I start a 7-day trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The week after, I meet Marie-Laure in Paris for the rest of September.
To friends and family at home — thank you for all of your support, and keep the Facebook messages coming! I’m excited to see you in October J. To any friends in Europe — we should link up and hang out. And most importantly, to my friends at Ubongo and in Tanzania — asante sana! Thank you so much for welcoming me, and for helping me grow more than I could have imagined.