As you know, I was recently in Tanzania, Africa, with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and Uniterra as a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship. I was mandated to complete communications work with a small-scale farmers group based out of Moshi, Tanzania. My mandate was supposed to last 3 months, from May to August. What a lot of people don’t know is my reason for my return home.
I want to start by saying, Tanzania was incredible. The things I saw and learned about a culture worlds apart from our own are indescribable. Anyone who has been to such a different country can attest to that. Having to load your own “luku” (electricity) when your meter runs out is not something I was expecting, or even prepared for. Walking to the corner of the street to buy fresh fruits from the Mama’s was also an interesting experience. At one point I was able to buy a watermelon, 3 mangoes, 2 avocados, 2 carrots, a bushel of bananas, and passionfruit for the equivalent of 9$ – not a feat that you could accomplish in Canada.
There was a lot that I wasn’t prepared for though, and anyone who knows me knows I tend to over-prepare for things. But I wasn’t prepared to be sexually harassed in a group, nor was I prepared for the anxiety attack that followed suit. See, this encounter brought up some pretty hard memories, and I felt helpless and isolated. Then again, you would too if you were in a foreign country, essentially by yourself, with no means of self defense. I am lucky that what happened did not escalate. I am lucky that I did not retaliate and put myself in danger.
The men who touched my back, shoulder, hips and *almost* my butt saw no reaction from me, except moving away, in which they followed. I was in a group of people, and this advance was still made. I think it is important to note that even in a group, you aren’t fully safe. Safer than being alone, yes; but still not safe. Not the way we know it.
When the customs in a country are so different from your own, how do you react to things? You don’t want to make a big fuss about it, but you don’t want to stay quiet. I am a riot – I don’t keep my mouth shut about things that bother me, but I had too. So I did what was best for me in that moment.
I made the decision to move away from the city I was placed in for fear of my safety, but was told that finding more work would take up to 6-weeks, and I had already been there for 3. 9 weeks without something to do when you are only there for 12 is not something I wanted to do.
UOIT, WUSC and the QEII program were very accepting and accommodating. They booked me a new flight back to Toronto for less than a week after I reported the incident. They got me into contact with a counselor who finally put it into words. He said to me, “Jessica, you were assaulted. In a foreign country.” Putting it into words made it real; it made it raw.
I’m not sharing my story to gain pity. I don’t want recognition, or people messaging me saying “you are so strong” or “you are so brave”. I’m not. I am using my voice for the hundreds and thousands of girls, boys, women and men who are assaulted every day, in their home country or elsewhere, who don’t feel like they have a voice.
I have no regrets from my time spent in Africa, nor do I regret coming home early. I do plan on returning in the future, and maybe giving it another go. Never fear your ability to go on adventure, even if there are things to fear while on your adventure.
Your world traveler signing off until next time,