My early return from Africa

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,

J xo

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Up, Up and Away.

More than 12 hours ago (for me, at least; it is 1100 in London, England), I waved goodbye to my amazing boyfriend as I stepped passed the invisible line that is airport security and into the fate of the next 48 hours: travel, travel and – yup, you guessed it – more travel. Within 48 hours from 6pm, I will have seen the inside of 4 different airports; and 3 countries that is not my own. As I sit here in London Heathrow Airport sipping a latte and fighting the urge to close my eyes for just 2 minutes, I feel strangely at ease. Except for the fact that when I went to the coffee shop and asked for a regular coffee, they asked if I meant a latte. We are not at Tim Horton’s anymore, Toto.

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It’s a cloudy day in London, England.

In the weeks leading up to this departure, I was facing a mix of excitement and nerves; I very often thought to myself “what the heck am I doing??”. I second guessed my ability to do this, and especially for 90 days. My thoughts ranged from “what if something happened?” to “what if something went wrong?” to “what if I don’t accomplish what I am supposed too?” and “what if I love it so much I don’t want to come home?” And then I realized – it’s okay if something goes wrong, or if something happens, or if I suck at my job, because I am strong and I can get through it. I’ll be safer, I’ll work harder, and I’ll get stronger. It is so surreal to be doing this. But, I think the weight of what I am setting off to do is finally sinking in, and it’s a heaviness that I now embrace with open arms. I am setting off, more than half way across the world, to make a difference. There is something very calming about that. Even though I am not 100% sure how this mandate will play out, or if it will be anything like I have imagined thus far, I do know it will be great.

My boyfriend has been more supportive that I ever could have hoped, and I find myself thanking the universe for bringing me to him. He has never failed to tell me how proud he is of me for setting off on this adventure. 90 days is a long time, but I know he will be right there at the airport the second my flight touches ground, welcoming me home with open arms and the smile I have come to love.

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This goodbye was only a “see you later” – thanks for being an amazing man.

My stay in London will be short lived; in less than 12 hours I will be on my next flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then onto my final destination in Tanzania.

Bring it on, Africa.

J xo

Living among the lions in AFRICA

When I was preparing for my exchange to Sweden last year, I heard about the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Diamond Jubilee Scholarship. I remember being in awe of it’s’ recipients, thinking I would never have what it takes to be awarded with that opportunity. I didn’t think much else of it, finding satisfaction that I was going out on exchange and that I didn’t need the QEII experience – until one day, I decided I did.

In November of 2016, the applications for the QEII came out. I applied, thinking that the worst thing that could happen was that I wasn’t selected. Fast forward to December, where I found out I was chosen as one of the recipients for the summer of 2017. The next part was trying to choose a place to complete my 90 day internship.

Africa has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. In fact, Facebook recently notified of a post that I made in 2015 about trying to find an experience in which I could travel to Africa and volunteer. Fast forward 2 years later, and that dream is finally coming true.

With my QEII experience, I chose to complete with the World University Service of Canada, CECI and Uniterra. I completed a Skype interview with the team from Ottawa and Montreal, and was told I would know in 10-15 days if and where I would be going. Let me tell you – those were the longest 13 days of my life. This morning, I had an email in my inbox offering me a position in Moshi, Tanzania, working as a Communication and Documentation officer for Mtando was Vikundi vya Wakulima Tanzania-Kilimanjaro.

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Moshi, Tanzania – with a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This is the first step on my journey. My first step as a QEII recipient. My first step as a humanitarian. My first step in my dream to Africa.

Africa, I’m ready for you. See you in 6 weeks.