(Born and raised in the American mid-west, Ree started traveling at a young age. Some of her favorite places are Madrid, Spain; Phi Phi Island, Thailand; Stonetown Zanzibar and Toronto, Ontario. She currently lives in Arusha, Tanzania and loves eating fresh pineapple year-round.)
My first homestay in Tanzania was with a sweet family in a modest home in Arusha. I like to think it was educational on both sides, as they corrected my poor Swahili and I shared a few American recipes with them, most including cheese and potatoes.
I rented a single bedroom for five months and shared the family’s common bathroom, which surprisingly never caused a clash of schedules for showers or other bodily functions. It was a great balance: I never felt as though I was intruding or inconvenient, and they respected my privacy – except in one instance.
I had begun dating a very nice man who was volunteering with a local school a few hours away from Arusha. I attempted to spend weekends with him in the small village, practicing English or playing soccer with students. To be considerate of my host family, I always informed them if I was expecting to be out late or away for the weekend entirely.
After a few weekends away, my host dad shared an unexpected concern with me.
It was a Monday morning and I was heading off to my office job, just about to duck out the door when “Dad” asked to speak with me for a moment.
In true dad fashion, he was seated in his easy chair and muted his favorite television show to begin what I could only imagine was going to be a serious conversation.
He indicated that I sit and folded his hands together at his chin to set the tone of our impromptu meeting. “I feel a big responsibility for you, as you are staying in my home.”
I checked my watch. I had approximately 5 minutes before I was definitely going to be late for work.
“I have a daughter myself, and so I consider that I am also a temporary father to you while you are here in Tanzania.”
I nodded, unsure where this was going. Had I done something inappropriate?
He continued, “How old are you?”
He nodded in a sympathetic sort of way. “I am concerned about you.”
Oh boy. What did I do???
“You are single, and getting on in years.” He lifted a hand as if to stop me from interjecting. “I know, I know, you’ve started dating a young man. But please be serious: don’t waste your time.”
Okay… so did I or didn’t I do something wrong?
“Is it serious with this man? Because you are not getting younger. I’d advise you to marry quickly; you are in your prime child-bearing years.”
Child-bearing years! Okay, definitely not what I was expecting to hear.
“I think you should take this seriously and do your best to secure your future. You are young, beautiful. You could make him marry you if you just put in some effort. And then, try to have children as soon as possible. Maybe two?”
I stood up. “Okay! Thank you… for… your advice. I need to get to work.” And I ran out of there without tying my shoes.
For the rest of the week, I departed an hour early for work just to avoid seeing my host dad.