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The following is a guest post by Mohammad Zia who traveled to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in January 2011 and lived/volunteered with Muslim orphans who were infected with HIV. If you would like to share your story about volunteering in a Muslim-majority country or region on the AUA Volunteer Voices blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 am is the current time. Back home in the U.S. it is about 10 pm. After spending my first day in Dar Es Salaam, I have realized that the nine hour gap in time zones is one of the many differences between Tanzania and the United States. The living conditions in the orphanage are worse than I expected. The temperature hovers above 90 degrees even at night and the only protection against the heat is a slow ceiling fan in my room. Also, the bathroom has a toilet but no sink, tap, tub, or showerhead. In order to take a bath, I use a small cup to scoop water from a pale and rinse my body. Another interesting process is brushing my teeth. I have to use only bottled water when brushing my teeth and rinsing my toothbrush.
The light in the bathroom does not work so I have to use a flashlight when I use the bathroom and it can be difficult when I have to hold a flashlight and use the toilet. Dar Es Salaam is close to the ocean so it gets very humid, especially at night. I woke up this morning in a pool of sweat. I am eager to take a shower but I am waiting for the sun to shed its light on the city so I can use the sun’s light while I take a bath in my lightless bathroom.
Despite all its materialistic limitations, Dar Es Salaam has really put a smile on my face. What the city lacks in amenities, Dar Es Salaam makes up for in the form of hospitality, culture, and optimism. The people here are curious, talkative, and content even though they are living without even the basic resources. The orphans here have shown me sincere love and appreciation, which has kept me going despite the culture shock and lack of amenities.
The majority of the food here consists of plain rice and lentils. There is no meat in the daily diet and the rice and lentils are a part of both lunch and dinner. The lack of protein has affected the physical appearance of the children. The oldest children, Hassan and Hussain, are sixteen but they look like they are about twelve years old. The food is plain, but I have enjoyed every meal so far because of the hospitality and family atmosphere around dinner and lunchtime. I am excited to get the day started so I can learn more about the young orphans.
I just returned from downtown Dar Es Salaam where I enjoyed dinner with the orphans and a few Tanzanian fashion designers and business men. The owner of the orphanage has worked extensively on social entrepreneurship in the region. Since yesterday was my birthday, the owner and I decided to take the orphans out to a nice restaurant for a tasty dinner. The children really enjoyed the food. It was a rare occasion for them because the meal consisted of tandoori chicken and warm bread.
The kids absolutely devoured the chicken and they loved eating the birthday cake. The orphans were all smiling because they were in an atmosphere so different from their home. They all sang happy birthday and the children consistently wished me happy birthday throughout the day. Watching the children eat the fresh bread and chicken was the best birthday gift I have ever received in my life.
A quiet, motionless stare is directed toward me from the lazy wings of the fan at the front door. I am sitting towards the entrance of the orphanage because the power is out and it is moto sana (very hot). I just put down my hand towel after wiping the rivers of sweat that are flooding my face. The warmth around is reflective of the warmth inside my heart. I feel accomplished and enriched after this morning. I opened the donation suitcase that I brought from America and the children loved the coloring, writing, and reading supplies. We spent hours painting and drawing self-portraits. I really enjoyed watching the children draw and the most heart-warming part was the chalk drawings that the children made. The children were very excited to use street chalk for the first time. They probably had a million ideas of items to draw but they choose to draw a portrait of rafiki yangu Mohammedy (my friend Mohammad).
The street chalking drawing activity was one of many moments here when I experienced genuine, sincere appreciation from the children. After drawing, we sat together and we worked on math problems and addition. As we worked in a room without power, the temperature rose dramatically. I was without an air conditioner, a fan, or even a cool breeze. However, I soon realized that I had something even more important than any materialistic amenity. I had a group of children around me who were genuinely loving and considerate. I began to feel cool air flowing towards me and as I looked up I saw young Hasan and Anwar fanning me. As I smiled, another young orphan wiped the sweat off my face with a small towel. The children were worried that I would leave them if I felt uncomfortable so they did everything they could to help me stay cool. I truly felt the immense amount of appreciation in the hearts of the children.
Tune in on Monday to hear more about Mohammad’s Journey in Tanzania.