Tanzania is one of the world's poorest countries. If I could, I would leave the luxuries of this American life behind and call East Africa home.
In 2003 I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania with Siouxland Tanzania Educational and Medical Ministry (http://stemm.org) on a mission focused on educating the poor and providing free orthopedic surgeries to children. While there I fell in love with everything -- the people, the culture, the language, the children.
While in Arusha, our team worked at the Huruma Orphanage, located outside the city. It was there we met Rehema, a little girl who captivated the hearts anyone she came in contact with. She was the first person I met who had AIDS. My love for this endearing child overcame all fear of the disease. A few months after our team returned to the states, we learned Rehema had passed away. But for me, her memory lives on. As does my dream to return and provide whatever help I can to those living with the disease. In this video, Rehema is the little girl in a blue sweater who makes funny faces at the camera. She also dons a pair of fashionable sunglasses and can be seen blowing bubbles in a checkered dress.
As one of the world's poorest countries, Tanzania actually has a respectable tourism venue with attractions like Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park and the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar. Still, many rely on agriculture for income.
Tanzania's urban poor live in congested, overcrowded residences where water, electricity and waste management are unreliable. But it's in rural areas where the majority of impoverished people live -- about 85 percent, according to the United Nations. Our team visited one of these areas. Located just outside Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania is the village of Nyamusa. At the time of our visit in 2003, they had no running water. To bathe, we used rain that was collected in rain barrels.
No matter their plight, Tanzanians are amazing people. Friendly, generous, genuine. Of course, the country is plagued with its fair share of corruption, which we saw first-hand on multiple occasions. However the majority of my experiences were enjoyable. In fact, I loved Tanzania so much, I did not want to return home. I remember thinking, "If only I could hide somewhere in the airport and not get on that plane!"
I may be American. I may love the red, white and blue, but my heart remains in East Africa.