Epiphanies during diarrhea in Tanzania

Every two years, I come to Tanzania and experience a massive epiphany mid-diarrhea.

Truly, it’s something amazing. I’ve heard of Silicon Valley CEOs experiencing strokes of genius as they fast, or enter a specifically heated sauna, or even utilize the power of crystals…but I’m telling you, nothing works better than diarrhea in Tanzania every two years. If anyone has Jeff Bezos’ contact details, leave it in the comments. I want to share this with him.  

This is currently my 8th trip to Bukoba. I used to come here every summer, after starting SHARE in Africa in 2008, but when school ended and ‘the real world’ began, we had to dial back the trips to be every two years. It’s truly a grim thing that real jobs don’t have summer break like school does.

We stay at the Hekima Girl’s School when we’re here, which has spotty internet (at best, on certain days) in a very specific area in the computer lab. So, basically, no internet.

It’s really the only time of the year that I unplug for a week or more. I mean, honestly, I don’t think I could go a day in New York without my phone. I’m serious. Not even that I’m addicted, just that with Uber and Google Maps and Apple Pay I mean…you end up using it a good amount daily.

So, because I don’t have internet on my phone, I spend my time thinking (and having diarrhea). Quiet contemplation while I year for constipation.

(Sorry, the rhyme was right there, and I’m a 6 year old).

When you’re left without distractions, without the internet, and without a tether to everyone and everything, you start to think about things you’ve never thought before.

I find myself missing and wondering how certain people are doing. Some of them are not surprising, but some of them are. I like to think that if I miss you while I’m in Tanzania, you’re on my short list of people that I really, really care about. (Bridget, of course, is top of mind).

I also find myself selfishly wondering if people are thinking about me.  

It’s been 3 days without internet. That feels like 9 weeks. Are people worried that I’m missing? Do they feel a lack of me in their life? Am I an enriching enough person to have their presence be missed? Oh god, are some people enjoying me being away?

But these are just the things I think about at night. During the day we are walking around the campus, discussing future plans with the Sisters and teachers, having young children from the nearby village come up to us and introduce themselves, speaking with the students and hearing about what they want to be when they graduate. It’s amazing. My mind only thinks about that. I find myself always incredibly happy when I’m at Hekima.

Since we last visited Tanzania, two years ago, some things have changed in my family. My sister got married, and moved to Denver. My brother was stationed overseas, came back, and got engaged. I moved to New York, but that’s not really a monumental change.

And maybe it’s just the curse of being the youngest, but I find myself thinking fuck, I’m far behind. I’m in last place. Oh, shit. Of course, my brother is engaged at 31, and my sister is 30, and I’m 26, but the rational mind doesn’t listen to that. Instead I think well it’s different for women than it is for men. Men thrive in their 30s. I need to lock someone down soon before I turn 28!  

The thing is, I’m not even desperate for marriage right now. I’m not even hungry for a relationship. Maybe in a few months I’ll get out there, but I’m currently taking time to just deal with a slew of trust issues and try to focus on finding people who…are good? Don’t lie? Have never cheated before? It’s hard thing to find. Almost all of my friends have cheated in their relationships, and I consider them good people. I’m starting to think that cheating became recently popularized like a social media app, and 98% of people in 2019 are just all doing it. Whatever, blog post for another time.

But considering that I’m not yearning for marriage, I think I’m just yearning for a life stage. You graduate high school. You graduate college. The only next life stage is getting married. And then having a child. And then another. Even if you move to a new city, or get a dog, or find a new job, it really isn’t considered a life stage.

And I suppose, people are measured by their success in life based on how many of these ‘life stages’ they’ve gone through in a certain amount of time. It’s like, you check the list of “Things to Do in Life” and if people have done enough of them, you consider them A-Okay in My Book!

But no one asks the follow up questions, you know? Sure, you’re married. But are you happy in your marriage? Is it going well? Is it what you thought it would be? You just had a baby! What is life like now? How are things? You can tell me if you’re tired and cranky, that’s okay.

And, I mean, sometimes people do ask the follow up questions – but you have to answer “fine” and “great” to every one of them, it’s just expected.

The stages things like are “Have a job” and “Be in a relationship” and nothing like “Have high self esteem” or “Love what you do for a living” or “Volunteer often” or anything of the sort.

I moved across the country, and started a new job, and ended a relationship, and created my blog, I made new friends, I traveled, I did improv. None of those are life stages.

I fought with my noisy upstairs neighbors, went to Michelin starred restaurants, got scammed by a psychic in the West Village, fought with a hobo on Houston street, developed a crush on my CEO, did a fair amount of karaoke, played with coasters for 75 minutes on a Saturday, found the best laser tag spot in the city, snuck into a pool in Brooklyn and became a regular at three different bars. None of those are life stages, but I loved doing them.  

And honestly, doesn’t it sound so much cooler to say “I fought with a hobo on Houston street” than “I got engaged”? I mean honestly haha, maybe to some it doesn’t. But to me, I think about running around a beautiful apartment in Greenwich Village for an hour, making up games that involve tossing coasters across the room, and it’s a great memory.

Best of all, too, making a game with coasters will never be something that you’ll regret in 10 years but then be locked into because you have children, and a house, and a life, and an entire future that is locked and loaded, and you can’t modify it in any way.  

I think it’s all in perspective. When people ask me what’s new, or how life has been lately, I’m going to stop saying “the same” or “nothing new”.

Sure, I haven’t ‘checked’ a new Life Stage box. But I did find the cutest little restaurant in the East Village, saw a surprisingly good horror movie, had some way-too-expensive lobster rolls with a friend, and made peace with my upstairs neighbors (and then the peace was broken an hour later).

God, doesn’t that sound so much better?

This is a new, guys! I think I just wrote my first ever semi-positive blog post? Chills, honestly I have chills. Or maybe that’s my diarrhea coming back. But at any rate, I actually made myself honestly feel better by writing this. Hell fucking yeah.

Well, I think I’m going to call it a night. Mainly because the glow of my laptop screen is attracting mosquitos and I already have enough bites as it is.

And to anyone who currently is far away from a new Life Stage, join me in this newfound mantra! How has your life been in the past year? Take a second to think about it, but don’t write down the big things. Write down what you remember the most, the wacky crap you did, the thing that made you laugh so hard you peed you pants, you know…that stuff. God I’m so damn uplifting right now I feel like I’m writing copy for a tampon commercial. Do you guys like the new Shannon? The super positive one?

Anyway, these bugs are really starting to gather. I’m off!

Until the next one,

Shannon McNamaraComment