Guest Post: Tori Veltri

Tori Veltri is a junior engineering major.  You can read more about her research project on her own blog:  https://fluidlyexploringourroots.wordpress.com/

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A water tower at a public school in Kinondoni, a neighborhood in Dar es Salaam

It’s hard to describe what going to another country truly meant to the person who traveled, to those who stayed back home. Especially when the place traveled to is as different as you can get when comparing it to the way of life in the United States. It’s difficult to describe the sense of awe you feel when being in the presence of an African safari sunset, how your paradigms shift when a middle school girl tells you she wants to one day be an engineer and wants to hear about your engineering experiences as a woman, or how your heart breaks when you see a little seven year old girl in the street with a baby swaddled in a cloth resting on her tiny back begging for water in the streets. Traveling to Tanzania was one of the most meaningful and indescribable experiences I have ever had. It changed the way I saw my research, myself, people around me, and Africa as a whole.

Being able to conduct field research completely transformed the research project I thought I was going to conduct in Tanzania. I went in with the intention of studying the infrastructure surrounding the current water system in Tanzania. When I got there, it was difficult for me to establish connections with people who could talk to me about infrastructure, so I started to talk to everyday people about the water issues they deal with. I found these discussions far more interesting than anything I would have learned about infrastructure. I allowed the society in Tanzania to shape my research as opposed to coming in with an unmovable, unchangeable topic, which I believe made my research extremely more meaningful in the long run. Conducting my research this way allowed me to see the similarities between the people of Dar es Salaam and the people of Detroit when it came to the types of problems they battled concerning water, which is how my research eventually evolved and became what it is currently.

All of the readings we did in class about ujamaa, neoliberalism, and democracy helped ground me while I was in Tanzania, however, being in the country also changed the way I related to and viewed the readings themselves. In a way it made them real for me. I heard people talking about ujamaa and saw sculptures depicting an interpretation of it at a museum. I also saw the effects of neoliberalism in the country, for example how western music was constantly being played on the radio and as the background music for many restaurants. It turned what I was once reading as ideology into a reality.

I am very proud with how my research has evolved into something complex and potentially meaningful and thought provoking for those who read it. Someday I would like to return to Tanzania to learn about the society’s water purification needs in order to design a water purification system that would be practical and useful for the people there. One of the most important lessons I have learned from my experiences in Tanzania and from my professors in this class is that you have to understand how the people in their society and culture will respond to the infrastructure you are introducing, and accept that it might not be the same as how you respond to it. I want to go back to Tanzania with this in mind when trying to help discover a solution to their contaminated water issues.

Going to Tanzania and conducting field research was an invaluable experience and one that I will never forget. It has changed me as a person and inspired me to grow and think differently about the world around me. I cannot wait for the next opportunity to once again return to the beautiful country of Tanzania and further my research.

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