By Sam Lohse
(Originally posted at The Open Window Exchange October 17, 2013)
LOCATION: MONDULI, TANZANIA
Twenty four people
On an adventure.
Nineteen thousand three hundred forty one feet of climbing.
Run back down.
Two snakes at the park
In our hands.
Hundreds of school girls
Singing to God.
Thousands of zebra
Hiding each other
Five huge lions resting
In a tree.
One hundred and twelve eggs.
Twenty four people
As a Biology major, my world is dominated by numbers – concentrations, time, amounts. It makes sense to create an experiment and then carry it out and report the numbers, the facts, the story. But are the numbers ever the whole story? No, obviously not; and my research-based trip to Tanzania taught me that lesson like no traditional class in college could.
Sure, we tested ourselves by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, then we tested our hypotheses on game drives in the Serengeti, and then we saved more than 100 turtle eggs from the tides, but these numbers – hundreds and thousands – were not impressive to me in the end. The impressive number turned out to be one. Her name is Rachel, and she attends the MaaSAE Lutheran Girls Secondary School in Monduli, Tanzania. We spent five days with these girls at their school, and it was the most meaningful part of the trip for me. Many of my classmates got to know other students very well, but I chose to befriend Rachel because she was shy, not unlike myself.
At first glance, Rachel was another girl in the crowd with extremely short hair, bright yellow shirt, forest green pleated skirt, and a fiery red sweater. She is about my size with a similar introverted personality, but she was much more poised. She didn’t smile too often, but when she did it was infectious. We spent our whole first day together walking with the group around the school finding flowers, trees, and insects.
We spent the following afternoon at the school walking to the local market. This market was the Monduli market, not the markets we had seen that had souvenirs for tourists. This market had fruit, meat, clothing, household items, and more. Think Target, but laid out on tarps in the dirt.
On our way to the market, Rachel and I talked about the differences between the United States and Tanzania, and while I don’t remember specifics of the conversation, it doesn’t matter. Part way through the walk, Rachel grabbed my hand, and we held hands the rest of the way to the market. This is a signal of friendship in their culture, and it meant more to me than anything she could have said.
Now, as I recall this memory, I am reminded of the hardships these girls have gone through or are facing. The imminent possibility that many may be forced into marriage before completing school, the fact that only the top few performers will be selected for colleges, and the limited school supplies that they have. But I am also reminded of the infectious laughter of these girls, the amazing work ethic they displayed, and the joy of learning we saw in them.
This visit at the school was one of mutual learning, and that is what made it so amazing. We were there to help them learn how to do outdoor research projects, but what we learned from them was much greater. I learned that I don’t need a shower every day, I learned that simple acts can bring about days and months of happiness, and I learned that human interaction is worth more than the largest number I know.
Samantha Lohse is a senior at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She is studying biology, chemistry, and psychology and is currently applying to optometry school. She traveled to Tanzania on a monthlong May seminar trip in 2013 and studied ecology, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and spent time at the MaaSAE Girls Lutheran Secondary School. Sam attended the C2C fellows workshop in Portland, Oregon in April 2013.