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A True Exchange Tanzania to America and back

A reflection by Alison Sever:

I first met Herman in 2008, during my Global Routes teaching internship in Tanzania. I was assigned to Nkoarisambu, a very small, dusty ward near the end of the road that drives straight up the 15,000 ft. volcano, Mt. Meru. I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and suddenly found myself a biology and a math teacher for first-year secondary school students. Every day I dirtied my collared shirt on the dusty walk to school, past the corner stores and carpenters, the corn fields and the squealing children, bananas in my belly. My co-intern, Scout, taught English and French, and we usually made our morning walk together.

Herman was among the sea of faces I peered out at nervously on my first day of class. He was a quieter type, but just from looking at him you could tell how hard he was thinking. I knew he knew the answers more often than he made clear. He consistently aced his homework assignments, and as the classroom became more comfortable, he began to reveal his understanding of the material. He began to approach me after class, asking for extra homework exercises to work on, or questions like how a helicopter works. As a teaching intern and a student of Tanzanian culture I knew that many of these students were lucky to even be in secondary school in the first place.

As the rains cleared and the weather warmed, my students and I became more familiar with one another. They insisted I teach them some Spanish after class and helped me as I struggled to speak Swahili. One day, for a creative writing activity about dreams and the future, Herman wrote something I’ll never forget: “If I will not become a professional football [soccer] player, I want to study in America.” It was on the day that our serious conversations began. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Herman had already found a special place in my life.

Two years after I left Nkoarisambu, Herman arrived to JFK airport with his own passport and US visa, ready for a month spent on a full scholarship at a summer camp in Maine. That July, he learned to swim, to mountain bike, and made friends from all over the world. He spent time with my family, went to the dentist, and grew an affinity for french fries. And to this day, Herman still asks me about some of the people and places he met that year, and shares with me stories from that summer.

It was during my recent trip back to Tanzania that the details of Herman’s background became clear. I met members of his family, learned that his uncle had scraped together every penny to keep Herman in school by relocating him to a new district, one of the relatively few with a nearby secondary school. Over the past four years, our families have molded, they have intertwined. Won over by his story, his drive and his charisma, dozens beyond me have been taken with Herman and his story.

When I wake up in the morning and don’t want to go to class, I think of Herman and his surefire drive. When I stroll downtown and ask myself where I want to grab a (delicious, homemade…) snack before work, I think of Herman’s breakfast, the plain slice of bread he’s told me about and the margarine spread if he’s lucky. When I get in my car, make my spring break plans, stress about not having time for exercise: all of these moments are full of Herman. He is my little brother now, my inspiration, and my friend.

Right now Herman is taking standardized tests and preparing for his college applications; he has considered studying to be a doctor, a teacher, and most recently, an electrical engineer. But American scholarships are hard to come by and logistics are tough. He still has a year and a half of high school left and a long road of college applications. Of course, the future is mysterious for Herman, but there is no doubt that we have made a lasting friendship and intercultural exchange that I never could have dreamed if I hadn’t gone to Tanzania with Global Routes in 2008. He has supporters and friends all over the world, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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