Welcome to part two of our Ripple Effect interview with Anna Strahs Watts, blogger, gluten free baker and avid traveler. To learn more about Anna and her amazing adventures, visit her blog A Girl and Her Backpack, where she chronicles her experiences overseas and how they have changed her perspective on the world in which we live.
Can you share one of your favorite experiences from your trip?
Probably when my students first started calling out to me as “Teacher Anna Banana.” They knew my name on the first day because we were introduced, but a couple days into class we were reviewing fruits, and I explained that ‘ndizi’ (Swahili) means ‘banana’ in English, and that “Anna Banana” rhymes and so it’s my nickname at home. So naturally, it could be my nickname here too, and if you want, you can call me Teacher Anna Banana.
After we had this talk, I would be on the floor, working with Umi or Yesca, and then Nickson or Hamimu would call out, “Teacher Anna Banana!” so that I would turn around and give them some attention or check their papers. Hearing their little six-year-old-voices call out my nickname from behind me was pretty cool.
What was it like traveling on your own? Were you nervous?
It was awesome! There’s something really cool about grabbing your backpack and maneuvering through a new-to-you international airport solo. It really makes it your own experience. I wasn’t nervous, in part because I knew that Cross-Cultural Solutions was going to meet me at my final destination, Dar es Salaam International Airport. If I didn’t show up they would know something went wrong and they would have come looking for me.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your trip?
The language barrier. I was lucky enough to have had some free time before I left, so I was able to spend a full month with Swahili Rosetta Stone. While we became great friends, I still only landed in Africa speaking beginners Swahili – maybe even a little less than beginners. I knew enough to scrape by, but if I had been able to study Swahili for six months rather than just a month I would have been more fluent and better able to communicate, especially with the kids at school. Still, knowing the numbers and the colors and the alphabet and things like that got me pretty far as far as the school day was concerned. Most volunteers don’t have months in advance to become acquainted with the language, so this is a problem most of us face.
Communal living is also something that required some adapting. During my stay in Bagamoyo there were never less than 40 volunteers living, eating, sleeping, and working together. While we all mostly got along, there’s bound to be some rifts and clashing of personalities when a bunch of strangers live together. Just look at how successful reality TV is. Yup.
What is the ripple effect of volunteer travel on your life?
The foremost effect is that I went back and did more volunteer travel!
Really, though – volunteer travel has helped me see beyond my everyday life and everyday bubble and keep things in perspective. Actually getting down and getting dirty in another culture and way of life helps you realize that we’re all just a very small part of a much greater world.
In daily life I’m less wasteful, especially as far as food is concerned. (I actually eat the leftovers in the fridge now!) I take shorter showers, I don’t buy crap I don’t need and instead I’m saving the money for another volunteer trip. I’m sharing my experiences with international voluntoursim at girlandherbackpack.com, and on Facebook at girlandherbackpack. I came back with a greater understanding of the world around me and I’ve been able to share these experiences with friends and family, which increases their understanding of the world around them as well.