Friday, June 27, 2008

Back from Bongo

Hey guys! It's been another long time, but I've been really busy. I had an incredible week in Tanzania (alias Bongo), which was actually almost two. Then I had to catch up on work stuff here and now I finally have some time for blogging.

My original plan in going to Tanzania was to visit some friends who I used to work with for an international organization called Pole to Pole Leadership. I won't go into that whole story here but suffice to say that our project did not work out in spite of a great deal of time and effort on the part of the international staff of volunteers. Four of the more dedicated of them rebounded by coming together to work on some other smaller projects and hope to start their own organization called EarthLasts?. They are currently on a biking expedition across Tanzania (check out and stopped to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and hold a small conference, or summit, at the summit. 
No, it wasn't really at the summit, but close enough. It was in a hotel in Moshi called Kindoroko, at the very top floor of like six and it took about ten minutes to climb up every time we went. We spent the better part of three days in that "Summit Bar" after I arrived on Tuesday almost two weeks ago. Present were expeditioners Dave, Jon, Aukje and Angus, from New Zealand, England, Holland and Canada, Marius from Lithuania, Myself, and later in the week, several local East Africans.

The first day, on which I arrived at 7am after two days and a whole night of... lets say interesting... busriding across Western Tanzania (I don't recommend it by the way), we started with a bit of a Pole to Pole debrief. It was very interesting because when the project went down, I was ready to move on, and I did. Others had a much harder time letting go, something I did not realize at the time. We moved on to talking about the EarthLasts? idea, and prospective and current projects, other ideas, experiences etc. It was good getting to know each other again after most of a year. For me, it was also really amazing to be a part of that group again. The energy those guys have is infectious and ... refreshing. Even though they understand a lot about global issues, they are not down or cynical about it, but excited and dedicated to doing their part. I found myself feeding on it, because after you experience those seemingly insurmountable things like poverty and disease and violence with your own eyes it is easy to lose that mentality. I wouldn't say I dispaired but I was just a lot more cynical and critical than I once was. The week reminded me of what we say at the Red Cross: I cannot do everything but I can do something; I will not refuse to do the thing that I can do.

On the second day, we filmed a short movie about the whole Pole to Pole experience poking fun at all the shortcomings and problems and remembering some of the fun things we did together. It was really really fun, and I can't wait to see the finished product. I will post the link as soon as they have it all edited and finished. My friend Bobo also came to visit me from Mombasa which is right across the border from Moshi. He helped us with the filming and got to know my friends, who he got to like very much. I'm sure he was infected with the crazy, fun energy the same way I was, not something you get from every Mzungu tourist who comes to East Africa.

On Thursday, the workshop day, the seven of us were joined by five local Tanzanians from an organization called "Trainig for Life" that counsels and teaches young people to make the most of their careers and lives. The six Mzungus conducted a series of workshops during the day on leadership, global issues, etc. Some highlights were us writing down the barriers to our goals and breaking them with our bare hands, singing in New Zealand Aboriginal language, listening to everyone's hopes for the world in the next twenty years, trying to make a paper house with a partner using one hand each, and discussing how our individual actions affect the world and ways of maintaining integrity. 

For me, the most incredible thing was having such an international group. People from four different continents and seven different countries, two of which are third world. When you talk about global issues with people from home, you cannot help but maintain a limited view based on your own country's perspective on the world. When you get many of those limited perspectives together, you really get something new. I did a variation on a workshop I learned at the Red Cross called Building a Culture of Peace. When I asked people to come up with international examples of themes of peace like acting out against injustice, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, etc, we got some very interesting stories of African politics and conflicts from the locals. I tried to explain that we have to adopt those themes in our own lives before we can expect world leaders to do so. We got a great story from a girl in the Tanzanian group who had just finished climbing Kilimanjaro with her friends and how they had all supported and encouraged and even carried each other up to the top and what that had taught her about the importance of helping others in your life rather than living for yourself. Similarly, a leader who leads for his people rather than for the power of it - who has a statue built for him rather than building one for himself, will be the more valuable and better remembered in the long run. We talked about the concept that one man's rebel is another man's freedom fighter and the complexities of building peace as well. I think we all learned a great deal from the day and I'm hoping we'll all stay in touch and keep the international community thing going.

Ahh, this always happens. I have to go. But I'll be back in town in a couple days and I'll finish about my week. Always too much to say. There's more about that day, written by all of us, at (remember the older stuff is at the end). Talk to you soon!

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