Newtown Resident Travels To Tanzania, Finds A Sense Of 'Home'
Newtown resident Ethan Cox recently reflected on everything he learned while traveling to Tanzania with The Experiment in International Living program over the summer.experiment.org.
"The program came to my school," said Ethan on Wednesday, August 23, "and I signed up to get information."
The Experiment in International Living provides summer abroad programs for high school students "who want to connect deeply and engage meaningfully with the richness and complexities of another country. Participants explore the host country through hands-on experiences in local communities and through the lens of a specific theme," according to the program's website,
Ethan is entering his junior year at The Gunnery, a college preparatory school in Washington, Conn.
After learning about the program at his school and applying, Ethan said he received an e-mail a few weeks later. The e-mail explained he had won a trip to Tanzania, Mexico, or Ireland. Since he won the opportunity to travel with a group of other students through the program, Ethan said he only had to cover some expenses.
"Then I chose Tanzania out of those three, because I don't think I would have ever chosen to go there before," he said.
The trip's focus, Ethan said, was to learn about wildlife, ecology, and culture. The traveling students also spent about a week learning Swahili while in Tanzania.
In a report Ethan wrote after his journey, he commented, "I spent a week living with a poor family from the Chaga tribe in the village of Machame, where I felt a sense of community in the face of adversity that even a town as cohesive as Newtown would struggle to match."
Ethan traveled from July 17 to August 5 with 14 other students from around the country, and the highlight of the experience was staying with the host family in Machame, in a jungle at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.
"The whole thing was so crazy," Ethan said. "I had never been to such a poor place... It was pretty amazing. I had stayed with a family once before in Ecuador with my dad, but this was totally different. I did the chores, I cooked, I cleaned, I fed the cows, pigs, chickens, [and] got water every morning. They didn't have running water. They did have electricity."
The amazing part, Ethan said, was how the family "just took me in."
On arrival, Ethan wrote in his report, "I was surprised to discover that my home-stay father, James Ndanshau, had recently undergone surgery. Only weeks before I arrived, 'Baba' - Swahili for dad - had the majority of his leg surgically removed at the closest hospital, which was two hours away, due to complications related to diabetes.
"This was obviously devastating news to my new family, since their livelihood depended on raising livestock like cows and pigs and harvesting mangoes, avocados, bananas, and coffee beans," Ethan continued. "Much to my surprise, the Ndanshaus welcomed me into their home anyway. I soon found that my [home-stay] father's misfortune was not just my [home-stay] family's burden to handle. For the whole week, neighbors from the village came through our 'nyumbani,' or home, to visit Baba in bed.
"I was so surprised that [the family] still had me, but they said they thought it would help. It made him happy to have me. It was so warming. I never felt such quick acceptance into any community," said Ethan.
He was nervous before he went on the trip, but he also knew he had traveled enough with his family - mother Hannah, father Rob, and brother Sam - to be able to navigate any situation.
"My parents have done a great job with making sure I am comfortable with traveling," said Ethan, "but there were some kids who had never been on a plane before."
Tanzania surprised him in some ways.
A Different Place
"Tanzania was so amazing, because everywhere we went was so different," said Ethan. "It looked like a completely different country, different place in the world. There were deserts, there were jungles, [and] mountains. It was pretty incredible."
Ethan said most of what he learned from the trip came from his experiences with his home-stay family, like respecting everything he has, the opportunities he has available to him, and the people in his life.
"Just seeing how much... everyone got along so well at the Machame village, which is where my home-stay was, was an amazing experience," said Ethan.
While in Tanzania Ethan said his travel group camped and visited Tarangire and Ngorongoro national parks. They climbed part of Mount Kilimanjaro, went on safaris and saw zebras, hippos, rhinos, lions, and elephants.
"All the animals you could possibly think of," Ethan remembered.
The group also completed a day of community service while visiting the Hadzabe tribe, Ethan said, and built a hut. On another day the group planted trees. Ethan said he hopes to return to Tanzania one day to finish climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
After returning home, Ethan also wrote about another experience in his report.
"I went to church with one of my [home-stay] sisters, Jacqueline, and, although the sermon was completely in Swahili, I was given the chance to stand in front of the entire church and introduce myself with the few words I had learned in my Swahili class," Ethan wrote. "I told them about the place I had come from, which though very different from Machame, also prided itself on a strong sense of community and helping each other."
Machame was different from Newtown, Ethan acknowledged, but it was where he spent the most meaningful part of his traveling experience.
"There was no flagpole to mark the town center, no movie theater, no Big Y - nothing that resembled Newtown on the outside," he wrote after the journey. "But the tight sense of community made Machame feel more like home than anyplace else on Earth."