The MIT Public Service Center requires all fellows to write up a few documents about their experience. I thought the reflection article really was something that I want to remember, and to also share with others. So here it is!
Name: Shirley Fung
Department: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Course 6)
Year: Summer between senior year and first year of my Masters
Fellowship Supervisor: Amos Winter
Partner Organization: Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre Wheelchair Workshop
I really don’t know if an article is enough to describe the experience I had when I lived in Tanzania for a month. I miss it a lot there, the surroundings, the people. I made many friends that I’ll never forget. I have never been treated with such great hospitality. Even though many people there don’t have all the material goods we have here in the States, everyone was very happy, and was so peaceful.
I lived in Moshi, which was a small town, mainly dependent on the tourism industry since it is conveniently located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The town was small, and almost everyone knew each other. Everywhere I go, people would say hi, and asked how I was (and the conversation would go on for a few minutes until I have to tell them that I’ve got to go to work). Not sure if it’s because I am a foreigner, but they always enjoyed meeting me. In contrast, people here would normally avoid tourists. Everyone there knew their neighbors, but whereas the States, you can easily live somewhere for years, and never greet your neighbors (and for some reason the American society thinks this is okay). Not sure why Americans live in a place where they fear their neighbors, when this is far from true in Tanzania. From that point on, I have changed my way of how to treat people around me.
I had a big culture shock not when I arrived in Tanzania, maybe it reminded me of my visit to the rural areas of Beijing when I was younger. The town reminded me of what it was like to live in Hong Kong when I was younger. It was nostalgic, being reminded of what my childhood, really. But when I got back to the States, I was shocked by how much unnecessary stuff we have. Grocery stores, large office supply stores like Staples… We have rows and rows of all different kinds of the same stuff. A stationary store I visited in Moshi was probably the size of a small bakery.
When I did a small market research in Moshi, I had forgotten to bring gifts for those who participated. As I was giving out the survey, I also gave out pens so that they can fill them out. I dug in my backpack, and I was able to find close to 20 pens to give away to everyone! Honestly, I take for granted how many different kinds of pens I have, when I probably only need maybe 4-5 pens. We just have such an abundance of things that we don’t need. Then the question is, what’s the harm of all this? To be honest, I enjoy having the choice of 10 different kinds of paper towels at the store, or 100 different kinds of gel pens in 200 colors, or notebooks that come in hundreds of kinds and types. It’s quite amazing that developed countries have advanced so much over the years. I have to say it’s quite an achievement. But looking back at the fact that I was able to live comfortably without most of the unnecessary goods, I just think that people should really be more giving, and realize that not everyone are so privileged to have all that we got here. Give whenever we can!!!