When our LTP crew arrived in Arusha, we were collectively quite a heavy bunch. After all, our suitcases were stuffed to the brim with supplies intended to carry out a not-so-dainty objective: to provide dozens of schools, hundreds of teachers, and thousands of students with enough equipment and understanding to practice photography in their classrooms.
Surely, one might assume the trip home would be a simpler, lighter affair. But lo and behold, on departure day, we arrived at the airport again with bloated baggage, again sweating the weight limit.
And who could blame us? After eight weeks of adventure and Arusha living, we had accrued quite a collection of African treasures.
That final day we bode farewell to Tanzania, bearing oddities of all sorts: plaid tribal blankets like those worn by the area’s fierce Masai warriors, swords like those they supposedly wielded to ward off lions (or so the market vendor would have us believe), bangles and boxes bought at intersections of narrow, winding alleys in Zanzibar, shells collected on the island’s bleach-white beaches, yards of kanga fabric printed with traditional African patterns and pity Swahili phrases—in short, if it was beaded, carved or batiked, chances are it made its way into one of our suitcases.
Everything we carried seemed to simply gush with delight: “It was exotic! It was exciting! We were there!” And we lugged it all back—desperate for tangible evidence of this summer we summer spent oh-so far from home.
But I remain convinced that far more important than what we each brought back is what we collectively left behind.
We left a burgeoning program – Literacy Through Photography- a whole year stronger and more developed. We left a group of highly devoted teachers with a real grasp on the LTP concept as well as access to cameras, printers, film, paper and more. We left pictures and visual aids on walls that were once bare. We left with friends and homestay families who had once been strangers.
And we left literally thousands of children- many of whom had never touched a camera before–with the ability to create beautiful images. What’s more, we left them fully capable of repeating this process on their own, without any help from “first world” visitors. As of the city of Arusha continues to develop, photography is becoming an increasingly important and accessible form of technology. As LTP students, these children might just be poised to be ambassadors of this phenomenon.
These are the things we truly want to show our friends and families back home. And, unfortunately, these are things we couldn’t stuff in our carry-ons if we tried.
It’s obvious: the things we will cherish most about our DukeEngage experience aren’t the ones we bought at the market, aren’t the things for which we haggled with street peddlers, and isn’t the stuff we had to declare at customs. It’s the people we encountered and the change we might just have affected.
And although I’m sure I’ll indulge in some souvenir show-in-tell, I hope that I can find a way to express how I really feel—that our project, our summer, our group are so more than the sum of our mementos.