Profoundly Unprepared

I wish I could recall when the utter absurdity of that initial trip revealed itself. I was dropped off at the airport by taxi, not wanting to disturb my family in the wee hours of the morning. We had taken the oldest children, then eight and seven, for a week of sleep-away camp just the day before. I had scheduled a full calendar of babysitters and play dates for the youngest (four and two), prepared a freezer full of homemade meals, and laundered and organized every article of clothing in the entire house. I had even tucked surprise gifts in the children’s sleeping bags and beds—African themed stuffed animals no less—and penned a love note to my husband and a farewell essay to my children just in case I didn’t return and they were left to be raised without me. Somehow, miraculously, I had even found the time to pack the necessary gear and gifts for our 12-day adventure.

When I found myself standing in line at the airport at 4:00 AM—with an assorted group of university deans and community leaders, all en route to rural Tanzania, at my invitation—the whole thing felt strangely surreal. Each time we boarded a flight—all three of them—I tried to reflect on the journey that lay ahead but instead completely succumbed to the selfish pleasures of solitary travel. There I was with over twenty hours ahead of me alone with no children, no chores or household duties. My travel companions were nowhere in sight. I had a new book that I had carefully selected, a TV screen on the seat in front of me, and a fuzzy pillow and blanket set that I had bought especially for the trip. It was a fantasy come true and I remember thinking that even if the trip ended with one of those plane rides, it would have been a glowing success in my eyes.

We eventually landed in Dar es Salaam and while I deplaned feeling well rested and relaxed, I knew that I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead. In retrospect the magnitude of my lack of preparedness was extraordinary. I had never been a scholar of African history or cultures, and despite my best intentions I had found little time to listen to the Swahili Rosetta Stone cd, study the guidebook, our think about goals for the trip. My efforts had focused entirely on getting my house and family in order, getting to the airport, and getting en route to Tanzania.

I chose to see my “openness” as a good omen. The Sisters had invited us to come learn about their plans for Kitenga and to embrace the beauty and hospitality of their country. They had promised that once I visited Mara, my namesake in Tanzania, the partnership would evolve and the vision for the women and girls would be realized. For me this was enough, but I was not alone. With me came six important people who had found the time and resources to join me on this journey in search of meaningful engagement opportunities for themselves and their respective departments. My own travel had been supported by the president of the university—my then boss—who had believed in the vision for partnership and the opportunities that it could generate. 

“So much at stake, so much to gain,” I thought to myself, feeling the weight of my luggage and my own uncertainty. I searched for my colleagues in the sea of tired faces and together we moved toward Customs to declare our intentions.


Dr. Mara Huber is director of the Center for Educational Collaboration at the University at Buffalo, and co-founder of the Buffalo-Tanzania Education Project (BTEP), a multi-faceted community collaboration with Kitenga Village in the Mara Region of Tanzania.

Categories: Airports, Airplanes, Trips

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