Eds. Note: This is the fourth and final in a series of dispatches from 3L A.J. Frey. A.J. is taking part in W&L Law’s International Human Rights practicum, which includes travel to Tanzania to research a human rights issue. This year, the students are researching labor and employment and workers’ rights, with a special focus on women in the workplace.
With no one around to talk to my hand automatically, reflexively really, reaches for my phone. I check Twitter. “@LaurenConrad: I love all the colors in Dar es Salaam. Perfect for inspiration for my spring color story.”* Before I have time to ponder the fortuitousness of the fact that LC and I may have been (were?) in Tanzania at the same time, I hear, “Tall latte for A.J. at the bar.” I put my phone away. I have to go get my coffee.
Yes, I am officially back in America.
The striking thing about being back here is not how different it is from Tanzania, where I have been for the past two weeks. It’s how easily and immediately I re-acclimate to the comforts of home. I have welcomed with open arms all the things I told myself, while in Africa, were the unnecessary trappings of a coddled first-world life; things I should try to do without when I returned home. Well, I have news. I am possibly less idealistic than I initially anticipated. I like fast internet, and I like it on my phone.
All this is not to say that I wasn’t profoundly impacted by my time in Tanzania. I was. My experience in the city of Dar es Salaam is a lingering memory, latched to my brain with sharp little hooks of sight, smell, sound, and taste. I learned so much there and was so affected by what I saw that I have a nagging feeling I benefitted much more from my time there than the people we were actually there to help.
I truly hope that the time that we spent in Tanzania, as brief as it was, will be worthwhile to our hosts at WLAC and the community they serve. With the recent buzz surrounding the Kony 2012 movie, there has been a lot of skepticism in the press about the role of Western NGOs in places like Africa. As a part of a student group, we were not playing exactly the same role as a typical humanitarian mission in a developing country, but there’s no doubt that our goal when we arrived in Tanzania was to contribute what skills and knowledge we could to aid our local partners in their work.
In the end, for myself at least, I felt as though the learning experience was worth more than we could ever hope to repay. Our goal now, as we return home, is to make sure that the things we learned are put to good use and that we are able to turn our observations into a solid, factual, well-written report that will be used by local and international advocates for labor rights in Tanzania and elsewhere. Our travels have come to an end, but the real work is just starting. Now we have the chance to put the things we learned there into practice and use them to benefit those who were willing to share so much with us. It’s a challenging task, but one I think all of us are committed to doing well.
So long from Lexington, and thanks for reading.
*No, for the record, I don’t follow @LaurenConrad, and I’m @avalonjfrey on Twitter if you’re wondering.