Woman of the Week—Doreen Gahigi

TWB believes strongly in the power of challenging our assumptions, re-thinking what “normal” means, and learning through experience.

Six weeks ago, Doreen Gahigi chose to leave everything that was familiar to her in order to join TWB in Bukoba, Tanzania as an intern. What she embarked on was a challenging journey. She had never left her family before, or traveled outside of her country. She had only a small picture of who and what TWB is, knowing only that she felt compelled by our mission. After a dusty ten-hour ride from Rwanda to Tanzania, she found herself at the beginning of something completely unknown.

Doreen stepped out of her known life—living with family, studying with friends, playing an active role in her church—and stepped in to not one, not two, but three brand new cultures at once. And these three new cultures brought their own languages, customs, and foods. Talk about overwhelming!

Doreen walked into:

  1. American culture, the English language, and American food (which includes a lot of raw veggies, one of the most absurd things you could eat from a Rwandan perspective)
  2. Tanzanian culture, the Kiswahili language, and local Bukoba foods (hello soy!)
  3. The Women’s Bakery culture, a fusion of cultural practices and preferences, 3-4 languages flying around at once, and a whole lot of nutritiously fortified breads

When faced with change or novelty, everyone has an initial reaction. It may be fear, curiosity, shock, confusion, repulsion, joy, excitement, hesitation…anything. It is what we ultimately do with that initial reaction that defines our experience.

Over her six weeks living and working with us, Markey and I watched over and over again as Doreen pushed her boundaries on what was “normal”, on what was possible, on what was conceivable. On a long walk one day, she began telling me about how afraid she had been to come to Tanzania, based on things others had told her. She said she had still been afraid her first week or two, but then, as she continued to live in the community, walk around, shop in the market, go to church and talk to people, her own experiences showed her that she didn’t need to be afraid. She saw, personally, that the mistrust and fear she had come in with had been challenged by what she actually experienced. We discussed how crucial it is to base our opinions on our actual experiences, rather than simply believing what others tell us.

The challenges, frustrations, joys, and growth that have taken place during these past six weeks have been immense, for everyone on the TWB team. And that is exactly why we do what we do. By sharing our cultures, our languages, our foods, our opinions and experiences and beliefs, each and every one of us is constantly faced with a challenge. The challenge is to re-examine what we do or what we think, and why, and to take our experiences to shape how we move forward from there. 

Cheers to Doreen, Woman of the Week, who conquered her fears of water and waves, learned to love raw cabbage, mastered inventory and taught group lessons, and most importantly, described herself as “an empowered woman” at the end of her time here. An empowered woman who would go back to Rwanda and share her experiences so that, over time, others might see things a little differently, too.