From the Heart of Africa…

Dr. John Patrick Ojwando
Published: July 2018

Before stepping right into the cauldron that is the south Asian sub-continent, Diana Kaswiza George had already made numerous trips, both within and beyond the borders of her expansive east African nation on diverse quests, but as she shares here, arriving in a new city to live and study presents both thrills and chills in equal measures.

Understandably, having completed schooling back in her home country, her relocation that commenced on an uncharacteristically pleasant Dar es Salaam afternoon, sometime in the month of September 2017, would occasion a change that would require some adjustments and loads of getting used considering new ways [culture and lifestyles] that would unfold.

“I would be lying if I say that I had anticipated things would turn out the way they did,” The St. Joseph’s High School, Dar es Salaam alumnus told Aventure. “I guess a positive outlook, welcoming hosts, and the trigger [a career in aviation industry] played a significant part in ensuring uncomfortable moments would not linger longer.”

Much like other students moving into a new city, Diana too had her own apprehensions. But before moving to the University for her education, the bits she harboured about the city of Bengaluru was built around its distinct climate and tales she picked from the diaries of patients who make trips to India on regular basis seeking treatment from her home country. Other bits came from watching pirated Indian movies and serials that dominated local television channels and occasional media reports that found space in the local dailies whenever a misfortune of greater proportion visited the nation.

The scanty details (about the destination) would only serve to make her all the more wary of the trip she had already set her sights on. “I still think about it (settling in) and I can only look up and thank the one above,” she reflects.

Diana did make her move. And the rest, as the cliché reinforces, is history. Things have since got easier barring the initial hiccups. Her life has slowly glided into a more familiar and predictable pattern – attending lectures, going to the library, workshops, wandering around the sprawling campus and chatting with friends.

“I guess it is all about taking things in your stride,” she says. “I am just happy that my goals could soon be realised. But before that milestone is scripted, I am aware there is a task in hand – hard work.”

The first year aerospace engineering student is one of the international students who have opted to trade the comforts of their homes to script careers in their chosen disciplines in a distant land enmeshed in cultures far-removed from their own. “I have met several students on campus from across the globe – from Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Nigeria, Nepal, Bangladesh to mention but a few. Others come from the different states and union territories of India. They are ambitious youngsters and I am privileged to be studying with them in the same campus.”

A recipient of Her Excellency Mama Anna Mkapa Scholarship Award instituted by Jain (Deemed-to-be University) for nationals of the United Republic of Tanzania and now studying for a Bachelor of Technology in Aerospace Engineering at the School of Engineering and Technology, Diana still vividly recalls the days preceding her maiden trip to the city of Bengaluru.

“Those days were fitted with rollers,” she chuckles. “I still cannot recall what else I did during that period apart from hogging, continuing with my preparations for the trip, praying and occasionally spending time with friends and relatives I knew I would be parting company with for a good length of time. In between, I had pre-departure arrangements to contend with, a passport application to lodge and visa interviews to attend at the Indian High Commission in Dar-es-Salaam.” Travel has its own charm, excitement and the feel good ring around it, but that happens if you know it is for a short period. In her case, Diana was answering a call that would take her away from home for a long period (four years) and fitting all that in a single suitcase would have sown seeds of discord even in the mind of a seasoned traveller.

“That thought alone kept me turning over in my bed every night I retreated to sleep,” she reminisces.

Since she has nurtured dreams of taking to the skies since childhood, it is this ambition that keeps driving her to stay the course. For the aspiring engineering student whose arrival was almost pegged back by overwhelming fears and uncertainties, settling into her adopted home has been a seamless transition and a benchmark by which she measures how much she has progressed since the faltering strides she took when she first arrived. Gone are the blank stares, funny questions and awkward moments after her frequent inabilities to communicate what she intended to.

“I could tell that that it would be different the moment I boarded Emirates flight from Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere International Airport destined for Kempe Gowda International Airport, Bengaluru, with a scheduled stopover in Dubai,” she recalls. “My excitement knew no bounds and aboard, I requested for a photo-op with the Emirates Airline pilot assuring him as well that I would soon be joining him in the skies.”

“A lot of things surprise us in life,” reflects Diana. “At first, the diversity in languages, cultures, it is all there and it hits you bang on the face.” The biggest challenge, however, was getting used to the local accent.

“It was difficult to grasp what everyone else was saying and neither could they figure out what I was asking them as I approached the immigration counters at the Kempe Gowda International Airport. I never thought English could pose so many challenges. Things looked different here, yet we have a lot of people of Asian descent who have made Tanzania their home. Then the travel and taking in the scenery en-route to the Jain Global Campus that would be my home. I was really excited that I would be studying here. That was before the spicy food barged in. I am getting comfortable but it has not been easy. I still laugh when reminded of the numerous calls I made home frustrated by my inability to eat the completely different food. Let me say I am getting there now and I have surely stopped complaining (about food). Diana believes having friends around has been instrumental in her smooth transition. The hospitality of the hosts, a neat and well-kept campus and fabulous facilities on offer have also played a role. “Once you begin talking, you can easily shrug off the little irritants and just focus on the objective of your sojourn. Everyone has come out to embrace the newly arrived students. If you ask me today about the initial days, it is all in the past and the big smile obviously betrays the nervousness then. I have been able to go about my studies (without being made to feel like a foreigner).”

So what has she incorporated to be able to cope? Simple: “I have been asking for help when in difficulty,” she says. The roots of Diana’s adaptable traits can be traced back in time. Born on the day women across the globe come together to commemorate their achievements and reaffirm thir commitment to be the change they want to see in the world, she has always taken drawbacks in her stride.

“I cannot say I have been bogged down with hurdles a girl child goes through in the society,” she reflects. “I grew up being encouraged to have belief in my abilities, resilient and steadfast in tackling situations that life keeps throwing up.”

Schooling at different schools did enable her to meet and interact with people from different backgrounds. The trio, St. Joseph’s High School, Marian Girls High School and Southern Highlands Primary School have provided the foundation she hopes to build on. “I have been able to assess my abilities and weaknesses,” she says. The remaining cog in the wheel is the stint at Jain (Deemed-to-be University) that has begun on the right footing.

“The task ahead remains a formidable one but I am equally aware not everything will go as expected. But let me just add here that I am excited to be heading there.” For now, the skies seem to be the only foreseeable limit.