How a Trip to Tanzania Helped Me Cope With Depression

In life there are those once-in-a-lifetime events that quickly come and go and, without realizing it at the moment, they have changed your life.

It has taken me quite a while to write this post, but I have written so many times about how this trip to Tanzania changed me that I feel this blog wouldn’t be complete without telling this part of my life.

In mid-2015 I felt quite discontent with how things were going. I was at a place I did not want to be, both personally and professionally. I felt lost in my own life with little choice as to where to go.

Africa had always been one of my big bucket-list items. The first time I almost made it was for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. This wouldn’t happen thanks some of my friends who bailed on the plan, and even though I would check the World Cup off my list in Brasil 2014, Africa still remained a big ticket item for me.

So in January 2016 I gave myself a late Christmas gift and booked a ticket to Tanzania for later that same year.

Then Things Got Worst

As the year progressed things kept going downhill for me, to the point that I hit what I would refer to as a self-prescribed estate of depression. I could barely sleep, could not concentrate, and wouldn’t even talk to anyone…I became reclusive which changed many of my relationships with people, colleagues, friends, girlfriend…many of these for the worst.

I have always suffered from insomnia; sometimes sleeping as little as 4 hours per night, but during this time there were nights where I would not sleep at all. Staring at the ceiling wide awake, I cringed at the thought of having to get up and get through another day where I wouldn’t accomplish anything I felt important for me.

At the time I thought that a new job may do the trick, so I started looking for a new one. I wanted to combine career with my love for travel, so I looked for jobs that would allow me to do just that. Overseas trainer, teacher, you name it. Anything that I could do to get away, experience new things, meet new people, start anew professionally.

But I didn’t find one, and by the time the trip came I was tired and ready for some extremely needed time off.

ARRIVING IN DAR ES SALAAM

I landed in Dar Es Salaam where I spent 2 days. The city was extremely chaotic and, from what I heard, unsafe for tourists (although I never felt in any particular danger). I still went out, got lost in the city, got surrounded by vendors, spoke to people, reached out, sneaked in a church during a wedding…pretty much everything I had not done at home in quite a while (except the crashing a wedding part, I had never done that).

These first two days in a completely foreign land, where I did not speak the language nor where I knew anybody, was exactly what I needed. A quiet evening had me thinking about the hard times I had been going through the last couple of months, and made me realize where I was at that very instant. I was happy and most importantly enjoying myself.

I have always loved to travel. The freedom that it has brought me over the years cannot be emphasized enough. The feeling of escaping what many call “regular life”, the pleasure of meeting new people and making new friends from all over the world is something that only travel has been able to provide. And here I was again, free to make all this happen again.

THEN CAME ARUSHA

If Dar Es Salaam made me realize that I had missed the backpacker life, Arusha literally slapped me in the face with that realization and made me question what I was doing with my life (although that realization wouldn’t really hit until I got back home). I had originally planned to stay in Arusha for 10 days, I ended up sticking around for 3 weeks.

While in every trip I’ve had the opportunity to see beautiful sights, amazing ruins, and incredible landscapes, my best memories of each one of them involve the people that made each trip special.

The Best Hostel in the World: The White House of Tanzania

While searching for a place to stay in Arusha I came across a hostel which had amazing reviews from, well, pretty much everyone. So I confidently booked my stay with the White House of Tanzania in Arusha.

Run by the Jackson family, the White House is everything you want in a hostel. Excellent common area, very cool location surrounded by locals, and A.W.E.S.O.M.E. owners who treat you like family.

At the hostel I met Jorge and Paloma, both working in Arusha for a few months. Not having met many expats before, I became interested in what they were doing and specially for how long. This got me thinking that “maybe there is a way for me to do the same”.

The 3 of us and Johnson, one of the owners, chilled together, went out, and explored for the time I spent at the White House. They were pretty much the main reason why I stuck around for as long as I did.

African Safari

One of the reasons why Africa was on my bucket list was to go on an African safari. This is something that many people actually dream of, but only a few have the opportunity to cross off their list. Being in Tanzania, I was not to miss this opportunity, so I booked a tour with Duma Explorer.

Initially I was afraid I would literally be stuck for 5 days with a family wearing hunting gear, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In the group there was a girl from Montreal (my city) and who was raised near where I lived. She was also working in Arusha and had spent the last couple of months living there. There were also two guys from England and a travel blogger from Canada, Ms. Brunette Jet Set.

Together we formed a really cool team that tamed a buffalo who threatened us during one of the nights out camping, and rode the buffalo into the sunset (actually, we cowardly retrieved behind a fenced area while our guides risked their lives trying to scare the buffalo away…but I like my version better).

The guides, Peter and Godson, helped make the safari the ultimate experience for us. Godson, the cook, would prepare what we called “miracles in the Serengeti”. If Godson could cook with such quality in the middle of the jungle, I’m never accepting a badly cooked meal at home anymore.

In those 5 days we got growled by a lion which almost jumped on our truck, we got surrounded by more lions, got attacked by bats twice in two nights, were terrorized by a buffalo in the middle of the night…still, beats any normal week at the office :).

Volunteering at an Orphanage

The original plan was that after the safari I would head west to Mahale and see the gorillas, but that idea became less and less attractive the more time I spent in Arusha. The people I had met so far in this trip made the thought of leaving very hard, so I decided to stay a few extra days and volunteer at an orphanage just outside Arusha.

I spent a week at Upendo Face Orphanage doing what could be referred to as an attempt to teach English to children 7-years-of-age and younger. As it was to be expected, the more time I spent at the orphanage the more attached I got to the kids and the people running the place.

These kids had some of the most heartbreaking stories I had ever heard. Some had escaped from their home, some had been found in conditions that no human being should ever experience, let alone children. Some were beaten, and worst…Yet, these children still had the innocence and the strength to keep being children. They played with their friends, laughed, ran, and were excited to learn.

The team running the orphanage was no different. They were an amazing group of individuals who always made sure the kids had what they needed to get through the day. I witnessed the hard times they endured to make sure that the kids always had what they needed, and how they were always ready to make sacrifices for the kids.

I was humbled by how resilient these kids and the volunteers running the orphanage were despite the limitations they were faced with every day, and how they kept a positive outlook on life.

My time at Upendo Face Orphanage made me realize that life was passing by and that I could be doing more with it. That I could gain back control and do what I wanted with my life and most importantly, be happy doing it. And that despite whatever hard times I might have had in the past, that it was up to me to find a solution to my own problems, and that at the very end, I could make everything OK.

POST-TRAVEL DEPRESSION

The first few days at home were very good. I was happy to see everyone, talk about my experiences in Tanzania, and about the people who shaped this trip in a way no other trip had ever done. In all of my conversations, the fact that travelers were actually living and working abroad kept coming back, and how I wanted to do this myself.

However as time passed my depression came back. But this time it was different; the sadness I felt was no longer caused by feeling lost, but rather by knowing what I wanted to do and the thought that I couldn’t. I had a renewed sense of adventure, I wanted to travel and see the world, and to experience Tanzania again and again and again…but this time all over the world. But I felt trapped by my work, by life. I had hit post-travel depression.

I had changed, but the world around me had not…and the more I talked about it the more I felt I was being pulled back to where I was before I left. And it was a place I did not want to go there again.

The next couple of weeks were very dark. I hurt people I cared about and took decisions which some may qualify as selfish. Once again I could not concentrate, I could not think straight, the days kept getting harder and harder to get through…until I made the final decision that THAT WAS IT! I WAS GOING TO TRAVEL THE WORLD!!!

AND NOW 

I am two weeks away from accomplishing a dream. I have quit my job, sold and given my stuff away, and all my possessions have been reduced to what can fit in a backpack.

Despite the hard times, the sadness and the decisions I took these last couple of months, I would not have it any other way, because each of those hard moments took me to Tanzania…and Tanzania got me to finally take this life-changing decision.

Since my return, everyone has told me that I “was not the same person since coming back from Africa”.

I disagree…

I am finally myself again.

Tanzania totally changed my life. Are there any special moments that have re-shaped your life? What are your major life-changing experiences?

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