I lived a life much like any other twenty-something female in America. I went to school, I went to work and I tried as hard as I could to have an exciting social life. But in the midst of it all, I was struggling to push back feelings of stress that affected my daily life. I had credit card debt I was drowning in trying to pay off with my small salary. I was being pressured to save for the future, but it often became choosing between my future self and my current self who wanted to go to brunch, go to happy hours, and take road trips. My future self almost always took the back seat. I was stressed about my grades, my relationships, my car, my living situation. Almost anything that could be stressed about, I had it down. When I learned I would be moving to an Eastern African country alone for an opportunity with the Peace Corps immediately after college, I had sorts of stress associated with that. What would I pack for this two and a half year journey? What if I forget something really important and I have no way to buy it in Tanzania? What will it be like living alone and how am I going to make friends?
It wasn’t until being outside the United States for some time before I realized that stress is not a global concept. We don’t have to live our lives in a way where we are constantly trying to push for something else, something better. A better job, better grades, better clothes, better things. We don’t always have to be pushing for more. More success, more money, more friends, more material items. These things have been engrained into my brain as places to focus my energy as an American citizen.
I was stressed about making sure I brought all the necessary material items to have what I thought was necessary for a life of comfort. I spent hours at clothing stores to make sure I had clothes that were stylish and culturally appropriate. I spent months making sure I had all my ducks in a row so I was prepared to live this mysterious life across the world in Africa, with people I knew very little about.
I had every opportunity to sink; to throw away all my preparation for these two years and return to my very privileged life in America. But instead, I thrived. I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life with very little money, no electricity, no running water and a very limited knowledge of the local language. I took it upon myself to live life like the people of Tanzania; to learn the simple joys of a slow life and being a part of a community.
The people of Tanzania live in a way that is so admirable and many Americans can learn from. Material items take the back burner in almost every instance. Resources are not taken for granted because people know how valuable they are. People care more about buying food, supporting their community, and getting to know their neighbors on a deeply personal level.
Tanzanians wake up every morning at 6 AM when the sun comes up and begin work on the farm, in the shop, or around the house. When they run out of things to do or get too tired, they often sit in the grass or at a stool indoors to rest and enjoy a cup of tea. There is no stress about what needs to be done today because there is always tomorrow. There is a phrase that is very popular across the country which is “kuwa uhuru” or “be free.” Whatever you feel like doing, that is what you shall do.
Tanzania is a country where people will spend upwards of ten minutes just greeting each other, strangers included. Greetings tend to include inquiring if you are in good health, if you are in peace at home, where you are headed, where you are coming from and what you plan to do for the rest of the day…to a complete stranger. Tanzanians want to get to know each other which eliminates the anxiety of being alone, even in a situation where I’m the only foreigner for hours in any radius of my village.
Every feeling of stress I had in America has almost disappeared since living in Tanzania. I am not stressing about how much money I have because I know what I have is enough. I am not stressed about making friends, because I live in a community of people whose automatic response to a foreigner is to welcome them and not to judge them. I am not stressed about the material items because everyone here lives without them. I’m not stressed about driving or maintaining a vehicle because people don’t drive them here. I am so fortunate to live the life I do. I wake up when I want to and go to bed when I want to. I can fit every material item that I care about in a small backpack. I am surrounded by people who care about my well-being because they know I care about theirs in exchange.
In a world where I was convinced I needed to look for some other material item to alleviate the constant worrisome thoughts in my head about something going wrong, I have learned the best medication is changing my environment.
Live a life where what you have is enough, where you thrive on human connection and not things. Spend time alone, either because you have to or because you want to, to get to know who you are without the pressures of society. Get to know people who live completely differently than you do and learn to appreciate a different way of life. Put yourself in a situation you could have never imagined yourself. Flip your life upside down, even just for a little while, and see how it changes your perspective. Stress doesn’t have to be cluttering your life. Take a chance on yourself and see how far you really can go without the limits of typical American culture. Take a chance on yourself and be free.