In 1982, I first visited the little Filipino town where I would spend the next two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. The jeepney driver heaved our giant suitcase onto the jeepney's roof, where it lay unsecured and surrounded by bags of rice and coconuts. My (now) ex-husband asked, "Won't it fall off before we get there?" The more experienced volunteer who was escorting us said, "The first rule of physics in the Philippines: Nothing placed on the roof of a moving jeepney ever falls off." That turned out to be true. As did many other seeming breaches of what I'd previously believed to be immutable laws of physics. I think that when the people living in a place (e.g. Americans) believe in an orderly universe governed by rigid rules, that's how things will go in that place (e.g. America). But I also think that the Filipinos' common disregard for the rules of physics actually negated the rules of physics in that place.
You always hear people (e.g. international aid workers) say things like, "A.W.A. Africa Wins Again." This is the version of a disordered universe with fluid rules that is found in Tanzania. You can keep trying to plan ahead, working out what you hope for step-by-step. But things don't stick where you put them in Tanzania. Plans don't come to fruition. But you might end up with something more interesting than you'd planned.
I arrived in Arusha, my fifth trip to Tanzania, in March, 2010. I planned to stay for three months, then bring K2 with me back to America. Instead, I stayed in Tanzania until June, 2011. I'd come full circle in my thinking and considered myself an expat American living in Tanzania. I was busy putting this plan in place, step by step. I rented a house. I bought a car. I learned to drive on the left in the crazy Arusha traffic. I found a few friends. I lined up a job and applied for a work permit. The immigration officer told me to leave Tanzania for a few weeks unless I wanted to pay $400 U.S. for an interim residence permit. That seemed like a good time to visit America and take care of some financial tasks rhat had been waiting for me.
I arrived in Utah, planning to stay for five weeks. The financial matters turned out to be more complex than anticipated, and I realized I couldn't finish in five weeks. My mainstay friend in Arusha, Anna, emailed that she was returning home to the U.K. At five weeks, K2 asked me not to return yet, because he wanted to work nearly continuous treks on Kilimanjaro for a few more months. I agreed and planned to return at the end of October. Then the house I'd rented shortly before returning to America started crumbling, even though it was brand new, and K2 moved out, and into a much more modest, local-style bachelor apartment. Then my beloved Suzuki Escudo began demanding repairs, starting with a water pump and ending with complete engine replacement. At the end of October, K2 asked me again not to return because he wanted to continue working on the mountain.
So, it's AWA, and my best attempts to put a plan in place unraveled thread by thread as soon as I left Tanzania. So now I'm feeling less the expat and more the tourist, hoping to visit Tanzania again, but not sure when.
But I have been enjoying my time back home in America. I've loved reconnecting with my friends. I've luxuriated in my wonderful house and reliable running water and electricity. I've had a ball wandering the western U.S. through the summer and fall.
And so, coming up in my next post...