By Edna Kilusu, VI Form
A Journey More Than 7347 Miles: From Tanzania to the United States for High School
I am always smiling! However, so much that is hidden behind the smile on my face.
I was born in a traditional mud wall house in a Maasai Boma village, surrounded by bushy mountains of rural Northern Tanzania. In the fall, brown dust fills the air and blankets are blown everything. Despite the beauty of the Maasai community, I had to walk long distances on dusty brown roads to get to school, to get to town, and to get to the market.
At home, the girls work on the farmland, do all the laundry by hand, cook, fetch water, collect firewood, and clean the house. Girls do not have enough time to study or prepare for the national exams, so they are often considered to be not as smart as boys.
Four years ago, I made the tough decision to leave my friends, my family, my culture, and my country to attend St. Mark’s School. At that time, my dad was sick, which made the decision more difficult for both my parents and me. I was the first person in my community to leave and study abroad. As a child, I never thought of attending school after grade six because most of the girls in my community were forced to marry as teenagers. Going to boarding school seemed like a dream.
At St. Mark’s, I was thrown into a completely different world. So much was new. The towering brick buildings and campus felt large compared to my community school. We were the ones who go to different classrooms, instead of the teachers. Walking around, everything was green and lush, and nothing is like the dusty brown color of home. I have never seen leaves change to such beautiful oranges, yellows, and reds. In winter, the air felt cooler, and snow froze into ice on my feet when I walked and slipped in my flip flops.
Nothing was like home: not the people, not the language, not the environment, not the food, not the social life. I did not know how to use a microwave. I did not know how to use a laundry machine. I did not know how to navigate the campus. I did not know anyone. I felt as though I knew nothing.
As English is my third language other than Maasai and Swahili, it was isolating to not be understood. I was too nervous to speak up in class and ask my peers for help, fearing that they would judge my accent. My fellow students knew more than I did, and they could culturally relate to plays by Shakespeare in a way that I could never. When I had free periods, I often go back to my room andcriede. In fact, in my first year, I spent most of the nights in my room, crying. In Tanzania, I was an outgoing person. Here, in this new place, I was only the shell of the person I had been.
For the past four years, I spent my time with one foot in Africa and one foot in America. It has been really hard for me to balance the competing identities. I am an African in America and an American in Africa, and there are times in which I feel like nobody understands what it is like to be me. I often feel as if I am disappointing my mother because I am no longer the same Maasai girl I was before. Sometimes, I feel that I am unable to be the person St. Mark’s hopes I can be. When I put too much pressure on myself, I often find myself unhappy.
This school has been incredibly generous with its support, yet the transition was still tough. Every school year in my journey was new and unexpected. When I finally felt comfortable in this community in my sophomore year, I broke my ankle when I was playing basketball, a sport that raised my confidence on campus. In my Junior Year, when I was more than halfway through this journey, I lost my dad, who was my biggest supporter. My Senior Year was supposed to be the best year of my St. Mark’s experience since I get to be the oldest student on campus. However, I was scared by the college applications, thinking that I would not have the option to stay and study in the United States after leaving home. This supposed to be the end goal for me.
But the good, the bad, the ups and downs are the dots that connected me to who I have become. I would not have done it without the support of the St. Mark’s community. Growing up, I believed that boys were smarter and stronger because that is what I was told. At St. Mark’s, however, I gained a sense of independence and a clear vision of who I could become. As my English improved, so did my comfort with American culture and my sense of self. I have become more open-minded and more aware of global differences and similarities. I learned that it is okay to be different, and I have accepted myself.
St. Mark’s was a risk worth taking and a journey worth leaving Tanzania to embark on. Since healthcare is one of the biggest issues in my community, I want to study international health in college and use my education to start a women’s health clinic in my village. My dream is to help my community so that I can be a role model to the younger girls in rural areas of Tanzania.
Despite the complexities of home, such as the season of long rains and the absence of running water and electricity, the natural beauty and the unity of the people is something that I miss. I hope to bring my experiences back with me. I chose to come to the US despite worrying that I would not succeed. Four years later, I am about to attend my first-choice college and find a way to make a real difference in my community at home.
Edna Kilusu is a VI Form boarding student from Lendikenya Village, Tanzania. She plays basketball, enjoys traveling, and likes meeting new people.