From my journal, a month after returning from Tanzania:
I showered two days in a row this week. This is nothing too notable for me normally, except it’s the first time I’ve done that since May. In Tanzania, my roommate Sarah and I agreed from the beginning to shower every other day and not on the same days. Our host family never asked us to; they were well off relative to most other host families. We could tell because they had hot water during the evenings and a flush toilet instead of a squatty potty. I remember asking Sarah whether she thought it was difficult for them to afford hosting students. We knew that they never would have told us even if hosting us was a financial burden to them. Regardless, we strove to be conscientious of the water and electricity we used just in case.
One memory sticks clearly in my mind, though… a memory at the market in Arusha the first time Baba (“Dad” in Swahili) took us to Pizza Point. We had just finished some shopping at a local market where Baba’s cousin sells her crafts. We got in the car to head back to the restaurant for a nice dinner, still ecstatic about our finds at the market– souvenirs for ourselves and our friends at home. It was then that our host brother asked us whether we found the prices in Tanzania to be high. We told him we did not; after all, spending anything more that $10 for even a nice wooden carving or painting was high in Tanzania. He seemed embarrassed as he told us that their family finds the prices to be very high. We tried to cover, saying it was only because American prices are much higher, or because the exchange rate was so good, but truthfully, that was not the case. Yes, both of those things were true, but the full truth includes much more. The fact is that we see those prices as low because they are such a small fraction of what we have.
If I ever felt remorse for the years I spent considering my family “average” on the income scale, it was this moment. Knowing the lights will come on when I hit the switch is a luxury I take for granted all too often. I can start dinner on the stove without fear that the power will be cut soon and I will have to switch to charcoal. I can shower for an extra minute or two without concern that my water bill will be too high to afford. Even when I am a “broke college student”, I am wealthy beyond imagination. My experiences in Tanzania led me to reexamine my budget, and I can confidently say that while my perception of the value of money hasn’t changed, my idea of where it belongs has, and it doesn’t belong in my hands. I am blessed to bless others, and my host family teaches me that lesson again every time I think of them.