Alumna loves Tanzanian experience: analyzing health policy, going on safaris and teaching Uno

(Photo used by permission of Williams)
Emma Williams, ’15, center, poses for a photo with her host family at a gathering for Cornell students and their hosts near the end of her trip. From left to right: Mama, Zaynub (Emma’s Cornell roommate in Tanzania), Emma, Baba and brother Claus. “They were some of the sweetest, most open-hearted people I’ve ever met,” Williams said. “Zaynub and I managed to stave off the homesickness for almost the entire trip because our family always made us feel at home.”

Emma Williams, ’15, attends Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Williams participated in a two-month program, from the end of May to the end of July, in Tanzania as part of her global health minor. She traveled with 14 other Cornell students, as well as a few teaching assistants and professors.  


Q: Why did you choose to go to Tanzania?

A: It seemed to fit perfectly with my interests.

I spent the first month in a health-policy analysis course at the district medical college in Moshi. I was in a class and also (participated in a) case study research group with Tanzanian fourth-year medical students, as well as some fellow Cornellians.

It was an intense amount of work for one month, but definitely worth the time and energy.

(At) the end of the four weeks, my group submitted a 27-page case study on the barriers to family planning usage in the Tanzanian context and gave a presentation on our findings at the college.

When I wasn’t working on the case study or at the college, I was exploring Moshi, visiting with the Tanzanian students and spending time with my homestay family, a family of five (who lived) just down the road from the hospital, along with a Cornell roommate.

During the second month, I volunteered at Light in Africa, a children’s home near Boma. The children ranged in age from babies to adolescents. Some had mental or physical disabilities.

In addition to playing with the kids, I would help out by taking sick or injured children to the hospital and assisting the social workers on site. On the weekends, I would return to Moshi to be with my homestay (family) and check in with the Cornell group.


Q: Which places did you visit?

A: My home base was Moshi, where I stayed with a local family.

Moshi is very urban, and there is lots to do. There were a lot of great restaurants and shops.


(Photo by Williams)
Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance, snapped along the road behind Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC), where Emma Williams’s class met for the first month. “This was actually the first time we saw the mountain ‘out,'” Williams said. “It was always kind of shocking when we saw it because it looks like it’s right next to you and you can’t really believe that you haven’t always been able to see it.”

One of the best parts, though, was the view of Mount Kilimanjaro. On most days, you would swear the mountain didn’t exist, but then the clouds would part and Kili would just be there!

Boma is where the children’s home is. It had a pretty busy town center but was much more rural than Moshi. I loved the fields of sunflowers that went on for miles!

As a group, the Cornell students and some of our Tanzanian peers also went on weekend excursions to do more touristy things.

We went on a tour of the coffee farms at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, where we got to see the entire process of making coffee. As someone who really loves caffeine, I found that especially exciting.

The next trip was a day hike of Mount Kilimanjaro itself. We hiked about 20 miles from the entrance of the Marangu route to the first base camp, Mandara hut.

Then, we went on a safari at Arusha National Park, where we saw some beautiful giraffes and lots of monkeys.

At one point, our safari car was about five feet from a gorgeous giraffe that was just chilling and eating some leaves.

(But) that was nothing compared to our final excursion, which was a two-day safari of Tarangire National Park and Ngorongoro Crater.

I can’t even describe in words how beautiful these landscapes were, and seeing animals (in their natural habitat) that I’ve only ever seen behind bars or on paper was absolutely amazing.

By the end of the trip, we had seen all the “Big Five” animals: giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, leopards and rhinos (Though the rhino was so far away, it really just looked like a rock.)


(Photo by Williams)
Zebras from the Ngorongoro crater. “Someone told me they stand this way so that no other animal can sneak up on them,” Emma Williams said. “I haven’t fact-checked that, but I really hope it’s true!”

Q: What was your favorite place to visit?

A: My homestay family was so wonderful that, in a way, their home was my favorite place to visit. I felt so close to them.

But in terms of the trips we went on, I think it would be a tie between Tarangire (National Park) and Ngorongoro (Conservation Area).

Zebras are my favorite animals, and they are also one of the most abundant animals in the parks we visited!


Q: What was your least favorite place to visit?

A: I don’t have a least favorite place to visit. I honestly enjoyed every place I went and wouldn’t take back any of the experiences.

The mosquitoes in Boma were much worse than those in Moshi, but the weather was a bit cooler.

And the people I met were always very kind and welcoming no matter where I was, whether I was just passing by on the street or staying in their home.


Q: What was your favorite activity?

A: The safaris. They were such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Most of my favorite memories from those two months, though, were made with my homestay or out with friends.

Those relationships and friendships really mean a lot to me.


Q: Did you get to talk to any local people?

A: Yes, almost constantly! As I mentioned, I was living with a homestay family for most of the time.

We had a mama and baba (mother and father), two sisters and a brother.

My Cornell roommate, Zaynub, and I won the jackpot with our homestay placement because we both really loved our family, and we all got along very well.

Our mama would teach us how to cook (or teach Zaynub how to cook while I watched), and we got Baba hooked on playing Uno.

We would watch movies on my and Zaynub’s laptops with our siblings or play cards.

(Our siblings) would guide us through the market, helping us haggle prices down.

I also really appreciated the times we would just have conversations with our family. I was somewhat surprised at how open they were with us and how willing they were to discuss our different cultures.


(Photo used by permission of Williams)
Emma Williams, her host sister Sia and Cornell roommate Zaynub at a market in Moshi, Tanzania. “We were shopping for khangas, which are these beautiful printed fabrics that women use for clothing or even as towels,” Williams said. “On each khanga there is a saying in Swahili.”

Aside from our host family, there were plenty of opportunities to speak with local people.


For the first month, we were in a course with Tanzanian medical students, many of whom we became quite close with. We would go out for dinner with them or meet up in town on the weekends even after the course ended.

I also spent a lot of time with the children at Light in Africa during my placement there and got to know the director, a British woman who has been living in Tanzania for about 18 years, pretty well.

It’s also hard to walk down the street without talking to people. Everybody is very friendly and welcoming.

My skin color makes me stand out as a “mzungu” (white person/foreigner), so there would often be a Tanzanian or two joining our group to converse with us and usually trying to sell us things while we walked.


Q: How did you learn to speak Swahili?

A: As part of the preparation for this program, all the Cornell students were enrolled in a one-credit Swahili course during the spring semester. We learned some conversational basics.

While most people spoke at least limited English, I was always very proud when I was able to carry on a conversation, however brief, in Swahili.


Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned?

A: In an academic sense, working on the family-planning case study taught me so very much. It shocked me how similar the barriers to family planning being faced in Tanzania currently are to those faced in the States over the last couple decades.

For instance, religion and culture came up in almost every stakeholder interview we did. Misconceptions and misplaced fear over side effects of birth control were common among women because of inaccurate information or horror stories being spread. The women didn’t have enough background information to separate fact from fiction.

Women in the United States faced (and still face) these deterrents, especially with more long-term forms of contraception.

On a more trivial note, I also learned that the chickens that are wandering around during the day actually go home at night! They’re like outdoor cats. It totally blew my mind.


Q: Would you want to visit again?

A: Yes, yes, yes!

Zaynub is actually planning on going back at some point to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and I’m hoping to tag along with her. I probably won’t be doing that hike, though!

By Héloïse Schep 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email