I’m not talking about déjà vu, but reunion—with streets you somehow recognize, light that lifts your energy, a language that’s music to your ears, and people your heart seems to remember: a dear cousin, a wise friend, a long-lost beloved son.
To my astonishment, reunion is what happened to me in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. And this is the story.
As an adult-literacy activist, I’m always looking to discover new strategies that benefit the unique needs of adults learning to read and write.
That’s why I joined the International Reading Association. The IRA is the world’s leading organization of literacy professionals, with the mission “to improve reading instruction, facilitate dialogue about research on reading, and encourage the habit of reading.”
The IRA’s great resources enriched my ability to help others at Project Learn, Cleveland, Ohio’s largest organization for adult literacy (and the only one that teaches basic skills for adults who cannot read or write at all).
My adult-literacy activism also got me interested in bibliotherapy—and inspired me to develop Peace Through Fiction, the creative reading method that uses stories for personal healing and community building.
The IRA even has a special interest group called Bibliotherapy and Reading, an open forum for members like me to share “the various strategies and techniques for using this approach.”
All that explains why, one December evening in 2008, I was deeply engrossed in reading every word of the newest issue of the IRA newsletter.
And this paragraph caught my eye:
I had no idea why the city name “Dar Es Salaam” magnetized me as if I were reading the name of my long-lost home.
I continued reading, and learned that…
…which was interesting, certainly, but nothing to do with my adult-literacy work in urban Cleveland here in the Rust Belt.
Then I read this sentence:
I reread that sentence. Stared at it.
I was always looking to learn new methods and strategies—and I had a lot of good resources I could share. What if I went to Dar Es Salaam?
Then I told myself, “There’s no need to go traipsing across the planet to Africa. I should stay home and help fix what’s wrong right here in Cleveland. Just finish reading this article and go load the dishwasher.”
So I read on.
My heart throbbed in agreement: yes, real-time benefits to our students—the universal hoped-for outcome, the goal that unites all literacy workers no matter where we are in the world.
I knew how easily my literacy resources could be applied in African settings—they were designed for that kind of ease. And it occurred to me that I had access to materials and methods my African counterparts did not.
Then I wondered what my African counterparts knew that I did not. What information and inspiration did they have access to, ideas I could bring home to Cleveland?
And as I reread the article from start to finish, these three thoughts unfolded in my head:
I could do that.
I should do that.
I will do that.
And that was the beginning of my reunion with Dar Es Salaam, and with the African people I now call family.
Coming in August: Part 2 – Preparing
Nicole Eva Fraser is the author of The Hardest Thing in This World, released by Second Wind Publishing in October 2013, and I Don’t Think It’s That Simple, forthcoming in Fall 2014. She is developing two new nonfiction projects.