What it Really Takes to Be Away from Home: Surviving Ramadan in Tanzania
In today’s column, Zefanya Tondoan shares a personal story of the difficulty in celebrating Idul Fitri away from home and how it has affected his mental health.
Words by Whiteboard Journal
Four times Ramadan has passed; four times I have celebrated Eid in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. At the end of 2016, I decided to migrate to Tanzania. Knitting dreams, in line with my determination after graduating high school. There is a quote that says, “If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It Isn’t Big Enough.” – this is true. My dream was always to study or work abroad, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought, because deciding to migrate to a foreign country and living here for several years has been quite an emotional journey.
Although I’ve succeeded in achieving the milestone of living abroad, it comes with its own set of challenges. The holidays are hard, my feelings of loneliness and homesickness cause prolonged stress. Not only did I become more impulsive, but I was also easily irritable, and became very depressed. Eventually, it started to affect me physically, I was having trouble sleeping and had some digestion problems. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. After all, I’ve fulfilled my high school dream, so why is it so difficult to feel happy and content? Determined to fix this problem, I finally went to a psychiatrist. Thankfully, the awareness of mental health in Dar Es Salaam is better than I thought, I was able to get a proper diagnosis, and the doctor gave me a prescription for treatment.
One thing I learned from my trip to the doctors was to listen to your body. He taught me some methods I could use to manage my stress and to get a lot of rest whenever I start feeling anxious, tired and overwhelmed. I learned how to calm down by doing a few breathing techniques. The goal is to focus my attention on things that are happening right now in the present moment. Although I have my doctor to thank, I was also able to gain a new sense of perspective from my friends.
The past 2 years of celebrating Eid have been especially different, given the pandemic. Before all the madness occurred, every year during the Ramadan month, my friends (both foreigners and Indonesians) often carry out activities together. Starting from fast-breaking to celebrating the day of victory, Eid Al-Fitr. A plethora of delectable Indonesian cuisines was always available to adorn the moment of Eid in Dar Es Salaam. My Indonesian colleagues in Tanzania have always tried to embrace Indonesian nuances and traditions.
Perhaps, it’s not only challenging for us who are living abroad but also the Indonesians who are at home. Plentiful activities during the month of Ramadan are eliminated. We are trying our best to celebrate this wondrous holiday safely and responsibly. Even though I can’t spend it with my fellow Indonesians, we are still able to maintain good relations. Through a program from my office, I decided to assist in distributing aid such as hand sanitizers, soap, and groceries to many Indonesian homes in Tanzania. This activity marked a turning point for me. It sounds simple, but being able to reconnect with people from my culture helped with the homesickness that I was feeling.
I am grateful that I can still work and make a living to help my family. We may be far apart, but I can still feel their warmth through the voices of my parents, siblings, as well as my friends on the phone. All I wish is for them to be in good condition. Through all the ups and downs I felt this year, I reached an epiphany – I have been blessed unconditionally.