We’ve been back for three weeks now and all these sharp edges, clean streets, stern but efficient people, and endless days of winter seem at once odd and very normal. Neither of us felt quite like we’d expected to feel back in this hyper-organized and fast-paced world. We thought we’d both feel lost and alienated because it is so fundamentally different from the slow-moving, slow-going tropics of sub-Saharan Africa. But maybe six months was never long enough to become alienated in this way. Although we learned to love our new world in small-town Africa, we never lost our deep-seated connection to these strange, western ways. The ‘pole, pole’ (‘slowly, slowly’) of Africa may have gotten under our skin, but the umbilical chord of home was only ever stretched, never severed.
Yet something about this schism between Switzerland and Tanzania continues to strike me every day. Whether it’s the guarded Swiss children – in Tanzania we passed hundreds of shy but insatiably curious children every day on our way to work, while here they’re taught not to say hello to strangers – or the almost unbelievable efficiency with which official matters are handled – from buying a train ticket to sorting out taxes – I find myself slipping back into this world while trying to retain a connection to our slice of cool and chaotic Africa. I can’t help but to appreciate how organized and predictable life is here, but in many ways it is the cold, polar opposite of a life we came to love and feel comfortable with; a distant world only a 8-hour plane ride away.