Want to Join the WHE Family? – Read this post!

This blog post is intended for Western students interested in future Western Heads East Internships! I think the number one thing this internship caters to is a love for travel and desire for experiencing new people and cultures, in addition to wanting to gain work-experience abroad. The following post has application tips and insight into what you should expect as an intern:

  1. The application is a fairly straightforward process, and is found on Western’s portal for global experiences: Atlas, in addition to the application questions, you will also have to submit your resume and a cover letter! I would recommend highlighting reasons why you want to participate in a WHE internship and how it would impact your life/future career goals…
  2. The WHE program can cater to students of all faculties and even students who are wishing to gain experience in a field that isn’t necessarily their degree of study: Even though I am a Health Science student, I got many opportunities this summer to work in more of a business/public relations role which was very cool! Be open to trying new things and expanding your skillset!
  3. Make use of as many Scholarship opportunities as possible both from Western International and your respective faculty, a lot of upfront costs can be covered through these funding opportunities… https://www.uwo.ca/international/learning/go_abroad/funding.html
  4. MY NUMBER ONE TIP FOR STUDENTS CONSIDERING AN INTERNSHIP ROLE WITH WHE: REACH OUT TO PAST INTERNS!!! Their firsthand experiences are invaluable in deciding whether this internship is right for you – Feel free to message me anytime on Facebook, email or even in the comment section of this blog post – The interns from past years were very helpful to me this summer, and I am very grateful for all their input in answering my questions, so I would love to be able to do the same for future interns!
  5. The 90-day WHE internship commitment seems long, but once you get accustomed to life in your host country, you’ll be wishing you had more time for travel —-On that note, plan out trips and things you’d like to do while you’re in that country in advance; since you’re so far from home, you might as well take the time for travel! This year we found time during weekends and added an extra 8 days after our 90 days of work to travel to Serengeti, Moshi/Kilimanjaro, various parts of Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.
  6. There will be many opportunities to get out of your comfort zone – Embrace the challenge! Whether it is work-related or not: Being in a different country with new people that you just met can be intimidating at first but opening up and making new friends will make this experience all the better!

MICELLANEOUS TIPS:

  1. Bring a USB stick/hard drive with you, WIFI is not reliable especially if you need to send an important document to someone right away, trust me you’ll be wishing you had one in those moments!
  2. Hand-washing laundry is a pain: bring stain remover sticks to make your life somewhat easier!
  3. Don’t be discouraged by changes in initial goals – or slow timelines; find ways to put your energy elsewhere when things don’t go as planned – TRUST ME, it will happen! If anything, take advantage of the fact that you’re in a new country where there are a billion new things you could be doing at any given point in time!
  4. Pack light – this way you have room for more souvenirs to bring back home and you will probably only end up wearing half of what you pack! Your friends and family will thank you for it later too!
  5. TRAVEL as much as possible!
  6. Impromptu meetings often work better in Tanzania than planned ones – just show up and see if they are available to talk! On that note, be aware of TFT – Tanzanian Flexible Time! Also try to learn as much Swahili as possible, even though you often will be working translator it’s nice to be able to communicate somewhat on your own as well!
  7. Find EXPAT friends: Not only will they know the city you are living in better and have recommendations of things to do/places to eat; they also provide good company 😊
  8. Even though I already mentioned this – I’m going to say it again: REACH OUT TO PAST INTERNS for literally any questions, concerns or even just to learn more about WHE and internship experience…

Thanks once again to everyone who supported me this summer, and asante sana to all the wonderful souls in Mwanza, who I already miss dearly. And if you are still reading this post and want to learn more – please do reach out at: iahmed47@uwo.ca!

HOME SWEET HOME!

Hello friends! Summer has officially ended, and another school year has begun just like that. Which means I back home, safe and sound. It is also my last year of my bachelor’s degree so you could say that almost everything I do on the Western campus feels bittersweet. It’s odd not knowing exactly where I’ll end up in the next year or even in the next eight months I have left at Western, but I am excited to one day look back and see how everything turns out, despite the current state of unknown.  

Since I wrote my last post, I’ve had the longest and craziest past three weeks. We first spent 4 days in Dar es Salaam where Nareesa and I enjoyed the busy and much more developed city-life that Tanzania has to offer. Some of the highlights of DAR included eating all the good food at KT/AT shop, Blue Tea Room and Mambos Grill and visiting Coco Beach, a hotspot for many of the locals. Attending the wedding with her relatives was also very fun and it reminded me of being back home and going to summer weddings with my family. Unfortunately, the last night we were there; I got very sick and was up all night vomiting. The worst part was that the next morning we had to wake up very early to take our ferry to go to Zanzibar.

Our first stop in Zanzibar was Stone Town, luckily the ferry ride there was smooth, and I was feeling much better already (must have been some 24-stomach-bug). Stone-town had a European ocean-side charm and although very touristy, I would still highly recommend going for all the historical sites, Prison Island where you can see hundred-year-old tortoises and Forodhani Gardens which is basically one huge night market filled with the best Zanzibar pizza, coconut milk popsicles and shawarma among other cheap eats. The night market was made even better by the fact that we were there during Eid Celebrations. After Stone Town we headed up north for the nice beaches and more local areas of Zanzibar (in Paje and Nungwi). After Zanzibar, we were home-bound and I think as much as we all loved our time in Tanzania, we were also ready to be home after three long months.

Tips for Zanzibar:

  • Although the ferry is cheaper option compared to flights, if you get sea-sick easily, I wouldn’t recommend the ferry just because the waters are super choppy especially on the way back
  • If you aren’t interested in windsurfing, do not go to Paje because the sand will blow in your face, when you sit on the beach; we also experienced one sleepless night when we could hear loud and clear screaming outside of our hostel room which was more than enough for us to not want to revisit this area, although I’m sure this must have been a wrong-place, wrong-time situation
  • If you go to the Full Moon Party: expect a chill family-friendly atmosphere at a very nicely decorated resort in Nungwi: buy food in the surrounding area before going in, as it’s much cheaper

Despite returning home, my internship obligations for WHE have continued; I’ve been very busy these past few weeks working on my Final Report, creating my Poster Presentation for the annual Africa/Western Collaboration Day and prepping for my Exit Debrief Interview. In addition, I have evaluation forms, final reflections and of course these final blog post updates to complete. I also have to make edits and revisions for the WHE article that I recently wrote, which will now also be published in Western News! School has also started and it’s been a whirlwind of adjusting back to life in Canada, spending time with my family and friends, wrapping up internship project goals while also heading back to school and other commitments…. However, I am very excited to see everything come together within the next month, and also very grateful to be surrounded by all my friends and family again!

Here is a link to the first article I wrote about the WHE 2019 Research Study that we interns conducted this year: https://international.uwo.ca/whe/news/2019/undergraduate_students_from_western_and_brescia_strive_to_make_probiotics_more_accessible_in_east_africa.html?fbclid=IwAR3NiT0ceFBC3phFUq7USgHO6svYOKULsBjO3je2-UdcjWMJ77Bq_-n7xs8

Stay tuned for one last post!

FINAL NIGHT in MWANZA!!!

So, my flight out of Mwanza is somehow TOMORROW… This creeped up on me very quickly, and I actually got very sad while packing up my room earlier today. But I still have a lot to look forward to before heading back home! Firstly, we have planned a short 4-day trip to Dar es Salaam for some good food and a WEDDING – Nareesa’s uncles sister’s daughters…. Very common for Desi (brown) Families to invite EVERYBODY to their wedding, so I am very excited for this. I also have lots to do tomorrow before leaving for my flight which is at 9pm; so, the entire day will be spent picking up last minute souvenirs, saying our last goodbyes, finishing up smaller tasks for Mikono Yetu, etc.

After our DAR trip we are heading to Zanzibar to meet up with Amber and Sara for another 7 days of travel time and relaxing. I am most excited for the beaches and views that I know Zanzibar is famous for, there is also supposed to be lots of yummy food and fun activities to partake in. There are still some other final things I have left to finish for the WHE Internship like the Final Report and A Poster for Africa Collaboration Day, but right now it is time to leave Mwanza, and so I have been reflecting on the busy and adventurous summer I have had. I am very proud of myself for pushing myself out of my comfort zone, trying new things and also overcoming some challenges that I didn’t think I’d face.

Lastly, I want to say a special thank you to all the wonderful people I met this summer both from WHE in Canada and locals from Tanzania who have helped make this summer one of the most out-there experiences I’ve ever had. I will update my blog one last time when I’m back in CANADA (in just 12 short days) reflecting on the whole experience, giving tips for future interns and so on, so STAY TUNED for that!

12 more days in Mwanza?!?!

Hello, hello!

Where has the time flown? I can’t believe this internship is nearing an end ALREADY… As such this post will be short and sweet, as I have lots of writing to do the next few days! Some quick updates: WE FINISHED CONDUCTING OUR RESEARCH STUDY!!! Last week was one longggg week, but we managed to survey and question 150 participants in the Mwanza area to evaluate the acceptability of probiotic fruit juices/porridge in comparison to probiotic yogurt. All the data has been collected, but has yet to be analyzed statistically to determine whether or not probiotics juices and porridge can be used as a viable alternative for Yogurt Mamas who have been faced with the challenge of finding affordable and good quality milk. Another 150 participants will be surveyed at the Kenya site in Juja at JKUAT university very soon. I will post a link soon to a news article, written by yours truly, on the background story and main purpose of our research study.

On another note, after being in Mwanza, Tanzania for almost 3 months without getting sick at all, this past week and a half has been quite rough. Things are finally looking upwards, but I am praying that I don’t experience similar symptoms when we go to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in just 12 short days. The next week and half will be spent wrapping my research project at Foundation Karibu Tanzania, meeting with officials at SAUT for updates on allowing more students to be involved with the campus yogurt kitchen, and attempting to finish up final administrative tasks with Mikono Yetu, as well as working on my Final Report and last few Reflection pieces as requirements of the WHE program.

I can’t believe I will be back in Canada in less than a month, it is all very bittersweet, but I am very excited for my upcoming travel plans as the summer comes to an end. Kwe heri for now and asante sana for joining me on all my adventures! 🙂

TRAVELLING IN TANZANIA: An exciting week and a half!

Jambo marafiki zangu,

What a crazy past week and a half it has been. We started off the month of July with a bang as Sara, Amber and I ventured off to the Serengeti for the weekend; I can honestly say that this trip surpassed all my expectations. The highlights were witnessing a lion eat a zebra literally right beside our car, watching the early morning sunrises and evening sunsets that are million times more beautiful when overlooking the endless plains, camping in Ngorongoro crater and seeing the millions of stars shine big and bright in the night sky before tucking ourselves into bed in our sleeping bags inside camping tents (all pictured below – photo credits to Amber for the stars).  

During our game drives, we got to see elephants, giraffes, zebras, baboons, ostriches, lions, wildebeest, gazelles, impalas, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos and many other smaller creatures and birds up close. We only missed out on seeing leopards and we saw just one rhino that was only somewhat visible through our guide’s extra-zoom binoculars. Overall the Serengeti was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, despite minor hiccups like our car breaking down and also having to wait for some time at the entrance gate to get our permit into the National Park (the Serengeti photos below are all credited to Amber’s amazing camera and photography skills, which beat my iPhone-quality pictures by a longshot)!

After coming back from the Serengeti, we received some AMAZING news from Maimuna: our research study had finally been approved by the Tanzanian Ethics Board, NIMR, and the 10 000 FITI sachets stuck at the border under scrutiny of the Tanzanian Food and Drug Authority (TFDA) had finally been released! This meant that Nareesa and I were about to get a whole lot busier since we still had a lot of preparation and planning to take care of prior to executing our research study in the upcoming few weeks, and I also had to continue on making improvements to the current sachet distribution system for Mikono Yetu. This was complicated more by the fact that in three days time, we had also planned a 4-day trip to Moshi since we had decided to take a break from our various other projects, especially since our ethics approval had been put on hold for so long… who knew that we would get approval right before leaving Mwanza for our little get-away?

FRIENDLY TIPS FOR THE SERENGETI:

  • Negotiate the price, if you look hard enough you can find some companies offering 3 days, 2 nights in Serengeti/Ngorongoro Crater for about a little over 500 USD per person (I also think this amount of time is more than enough to see all the animals and enjoy all that the Serengeti has to offer)
  • Bring eye drops for the dust, especially if you have contacts and also bring your eyeglasses to give those dry eyes a break!
  • Bring hand and face wipes, again for the dust and if you are camping make sure to bring warm clothes for sleeping!
  • Have LOTS of bug spray on hand!
  • Bring card games for when you are waiting for your cook to make dinner!
  • Expect a very bumpy ride: After 3 days of game drives, it can get a bit tiring!
  •  Don’t expect the cleanest public bathrooms, you may also have to go to the bathroom on the side of the path if you have a small bladder like my roommates and I! Also don’t bank on showering until you get home…

In Moshi, we spent our first full day climbing up to Mandara Hut on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and although the hike up was much harder than expected, the trees looked as if they were part of a tropical rainforest and we got to see some amazing views. The next day we went to swim in some hot springs 1.5 hours out of town, getting there was quite the journey but also very fun since we took public transit and figured out how to get there on our own. On the way there, the Rickshaw driver also let me drive for a bit on the way back which was very cool, but also quite difficult. Our last day we went to Ndoro Waterfalls where we hiked and went swimming, we visited the Chagga Museum/Caves and saw a coffee/banana plantation site when they showed us how they make organic and local drinks. We also bought our first souvenirs in town and also got to eat some really good food in Moshi (the coffee and Italian food here is much better than it is in Mwanza)!

FRIENDLY TIPS FOR MOSHI:

  • You can find some really cheap hostels that have free WIFI and breakfast: Nareesa and I stayed at the Climber’s Home which was in a really central location and was about 10$ CAD per person per night
  • Take a dala-dala to the hot springs and then a rickshaw – it is much cheaper than hiring a guide!
  • Go swimming in the waterfalls, even if it is freezing cold – it is an experience to be had!
  • Make friends with people in the hostel to go out for dinner with and also to explore the town!
  • Even if you are not feeling your best – go climb part of Mt. Kilimanjaro anyways, unfortunately the day we got to Moshi, my stomach took a turn for the worst (not uncommon during my time here in Tanzania), but I pushed myself to go anyways; partially because I had already paid but also because I really wanted to have this experience – in the end, I would say it is worth it because of the incredible views… Just make sure to pack lots of Pepto-Bismol, Gravol and Immodium!!!
  • Also pack light for the trip to Mandara Hut, it is actually steeper and more challenging than you would think and added weight from unnecessary things in your backpack does not help! Enjoy the workout, but spare yourself a sore back 🙂
  • Moshi is a great place for souvenirs: start your negotiations really low so that you have room to work up to the price you REALLY want to pay (I got some beautiful paintings, coffee and some small painted dishes for friends/family).

The past week has shown me how much more there is to Tanzania, apart from the city of Mwanza, where I have stayed for the past 2.5 months, and it has made me all the more excited to travel more at the end of internship (we are thinking of going to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar). But first, I have just under a month of wrapping up projects/initiatives and I am absolutely amazed at how quickly this summer is passing. After finishing our work, we have a week and a half of traveling and just like that I’ll be back in CANADA! It is all very bittersweet, but I am excited for all that is coming… Stay tuned for updates on the results of our research study, and wish us luck on a very busy upcoming few weeks in Mwanza!

it’s almost SERENGETI TIMEEEE…

Hello friends,

Very quick update… I AM GOING TO THE SERENGETI… TOMORROW MORNING.

AHHHHH. This is my first trip to another city since coming to Tanzania, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve heard only the best things about this experience and I can’t wait to see the lions, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest and hopefully cheetahs and hippos up close! One of my best friends who visited Tanzania a few years ago, also told me that the stars from the Serengeti are literally OUT OF THIS WORLD SO I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE IT ALL FOR MYSELF.

Also this past week has been crazy busy, I did a bunch of guest lectures at SAUT university in front of some really BIG classes. Honestly before this trip, I didn’t know if I had it in me to speak to such a large group of people, but I actually found that it was easier for me to speak to classes of 400-500 students compared to smaller ones of 100-200 people. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the best photos/videos of me doing the actual lecture, but possibly next week I’ll get the chance to do some more, and I’ll make sure to get some photos so you can see the university lecture halls, and the many many students that fill the lecture rooms!

I’m also very happy I got the chance to work on my public speaking skills as it’s something I’ve always wanted to get better at. After the lectures, a bunch of students asked me questions in-person and also over email, and I had so much fun answering their questions. Part of me wonders if I could be a professor or continue to be a guest lecturer sometime in the future… WHO KNOWS?!?!

Anyways it is time for me to finish packing and then get a good night’s sleep as we have an early start tomorrow morning.

Usiku Mwema! And see you next week with new updates and hopefully more photos 🙂

Reflection Post #1

If interested… give my first reflection post – a read!

The topic of this is post was in response to the following question:

Reflecting on the challenges you have faced during your internship so far, how has your own privilege impacted the way you reacted to or addressed challenges? How are you practicing self-reflexivity relating to your privilege?

        As a foreigner in a country where the colour of my skin, my clothes, my language and even my mannerisms all make me stick out like a sore thumb, there are a few things I have learnt during the past six weeks in Mwanza about the term’s “privilege” and “self-reflexivity”. Whether I’m walking down the street and someone outright calls me “Mzungu,” or I’m at the market and someone tries to sell me a watermelon for triple the local price, or even the day I got pick-pocketed (don’t worry it was only 2000 TZS); I have learnt the importance of stopping and thinking for a moment before reacting. My initial reaction is often teetering on frustration/anger because clearly some of these incidents are not the nicest interactions that one could have, but then I am reminded of who I am, where I am from and how that plays a role in how I get treated in place where I am the one who is “different,” or an “outsider,” if you will. 
          The more challenges I face, the more I recognize and acknowledge the many layers of privilege that I have simply by being someone who has the means to go halfway across the world to a country where almost nothing is the same as back at home. From the weather, the daily interactions, the food, the music, the language, the gender and workplace norms, and even the hustle and bustle of the busy streets: there have been a lot of things that I’ve had to get used to. In one of my recent blog posts, I wrote about getting used to the water running out twice a week, cold showers, a-not-so-cold fridge, slow WIFI and not always having easy access to all the foods I would normally would eat at home. Although at first these things may have seemed bothersome, I am very well aware of the fact that these are problems that I am lucky to have as there are many people here and in other parts of the world who don’t have access to these things for much longer than I can imagine. For that reason, I am actually very grateful and I am avoiding the urge to complain about these “first world problems,” that are in hindsight very minute adjustments.
        Similarly, from a work standpoint, I have had to adjust to the pole-pole (slow) processes that influence the work that the other interns and I have to get done during our three and a half months in Mwanza. For example, we are still awaiting ethics approval from NIMR which oversees all the research in the country before we can begin our Sensory Evaluation Study which has been put on halt since we arrived, even though it was supposed to be one of our biggest internship goals. It is also commonplace for scheduled meetings that are supposed to start at 9am, to actually start sometime closer to or even later than 11am. Incidents like this can at first be disappointing, but I am also somewhat used to this type of laid-back work lifestyle from previous experiences working in communities that have very different timelines compared to that of typical fast-paced communities like we are used to in Canada; here they call this phenomenon “Tanzanian Flexible Time (TFT),” and last year when I was working on a reserve in Northern Ontario it was called “Rez Time”.  
        Another workplace challenge that the other interns and I have faced, are a few cases where we have had meetings with organizations who assume we are able to donate lots of money to help out with operations or put on large-scale events just because they see that we are foreign travelers which gives the impression that we are able to act as donors. Our main translator, Kato, has been extremely helpful in these situations by explaining that we are simply university students who have the ability to listen to their needs, collaborate and brainstorm solutions to key challenges, and also attempt to find other means of funding for them, but in no way are we financially capable of giving out money of our own. 
         Before coming to Tanzania, as I was packing my almost overflowing suitcase my dad had said to me “It looks like you are packing all of Walmart to go with you, but when you get there you will see nothing, but the simple life,” and he was right. The life here really is simple and the more time I spend here, the more I become conscious of the luxuries’ children growing up in places like Canada have in comparison to the children who grow up here, and in other countries like Pakistan where both of my parents grew up. Yesterday, we had a meeting with a girl’s empowerment group called the Eagle Movement, which was started in 2017 by Mikono Yetu. When we asked some of the girls what the challenges they face as they grow up here in Mwanza, the answers ranged from having to keep up with their studies even though they often go to school hungry, having to balance school, work and doing all of the house chores because of cultural norms, or not being allowed to go to school at all because of financial barriers or parental restrictions. These are the daily problems that the majority of the young girls here face, and not to say that some kids back in Canada don’t go through similar struggles, but the normalcy of this for so many children in Tanzania alone is really eye-opening. 
       I want to end this reflection post with two sentences that I found on a previous WHE interns’ blog that really resonated with the theme of this reflection post: “If English is your first language, if you are from a high-income country, if you are white, able-bodied, straight, educated, male, if you are able to travel, and especially if you are ALL of these combined, realize you are privileged as F. You were dealt a Royal flush in the card game of life1.” Although I don’t perfectly fit the description above, I acknowledge the layers of privilege that I do have and as a result I understand where the people of Tanzania are coming from when they treat me differently. On a final note, I strongly believe that this is the basis of practicing self-reflexivity which is extremely important in being respectful of other cultures, especially when travelling and working abroad. 
1https://www.thepinkbackpack.com/lessons-learned-in-tanzania/