Please look around and continue visiting my blog so that I can keep you up to date about everything having to do with my serving in Tanzania ! Feel free to email me with questions and please keep me in your prayers!
Matthew Sroka

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What Africa Taught Me about Friendship

I am not a very gregarious person. I have many acquaintances, I am on friendly terms with everyone I know, but I have very few close intimate friends. This is a direct result of my personality. At times, I can be anti-social and often takes me a long time to feel comfortable opening up to people I don’t know. It is not a coincidence, that my closest friends are people I have known for many many years. With all of this said however, one of my friendship and connection happened to be with two people that I spent a mere six months with several years ago, and since then we have a hung out a mere two times.  Yet, the profoundness and depth of our relationship (at least from my perspective) has been rarely matched.
When I had first set out for Tanzania I had little international travelling experience. I say ‘little’ only to be factually correct, though I think it would be more accurate to say I had no experience.  The little experience I had of leaving my homeland involved a cruise trip with my family to the Bahamas and a one-week church youth mission’s trip to Toronto, Canada. This was the extent of my international travels before I decided to go by myself to live in Tanzania, Africa for six months not knowing a soul in Tanzania, or in all of Africa for that matter.
Physically, I was 23 years old, in good health, and I was up for the challenge. Spiritually, I felt this where God wanted me and I was in a good place. Mentally and emotionally, I was as ill-prepared as it is possible for someone to be. 
            I arrived in Tanzania and met all of my fellow missionaries who had also decided to dedicate 6-months, a year or two years of their lives to teaching middle school and high school in poor villages. As I was introducing myself to this group of 9 young men and women it hit me; I thought to myself “What kind of weird person (myself included) would just leave whatever they were doing in America to come work for free in Africa?”  At this moment, I immediately decided that I could not be friends with any of these people because they were either: A) religious fanatics who one could not have a real conversation with because they were too busy meditating on God, talking about God or praying to God or B) mentally unstable. 
            The small group of us went through training together.  Training for Village Schools International (VSI) is intense and extremely stressful. It is fascinating to see how people react to stressful situations and few things in my life have ever matched the stress level of VSI’s training program. Being introduced to a brand new culture, being surrounded by a an unfamiliar language, suffering from a lack of sleep, and having a bad case of homesickness, all adds up to an amalgam of frustration causing oneself to second-guess life decisions that have led you to this point. Some people in the group responded with tears, some anger most remained positive despite the hardships (lending further credence that they were in fact emotionally unstable as hypothesized in the previous paragraph). As for myself, I responded to this stressful situation by retreating into quiet thoughtfulness and contemplation (very close to but not akin to brooding) about how I ended up here. And then there were David and Rachel…
            One of the things that scared me the most about going to Africa was I had to leave my then girlfriend (now wife) Emily. We had grown up going to the same church; friends since middle school, boyfriend and girlfriend since high school, and virtually inseparable since college. Our lives had become so intertwined that it was to the point that I did not know how to function in the world without her. This was actually an argument I told myself for leaving, that I’ve become too reliant on her and this would be a good experience to show and practice self-reliance… stupid.
Anyway, through training Emily was often (okay fine, always) on the front of my mind. And then there were Mr. and Mrs. David and Rachel Bryant. David and Rachel who were so damn in love and affectionate with one another you would have thought this was their honeymoon. And I resented the hell out of them.  Every time I looked at them it reminded me of Emily, or more specifically it reminded me of what I was missing.  And like one who has always enjoyed masochism, I found myself spending more and more time with them.  And the more time I spent with them the more I realized they were my exactly what I needed. Where I was homesick, insecure and lonely, not only did David and Rachel have each other, but also they were both well-travelled having lived in both Europe and America at different points in their lives. And where I was just trying to survive from one day to the next, they were setting up a home and preparing to make Africa their home. Soon, though they were only a few years older than myself, I had forced them to become my surrogate parents while in Africa.  I spent many nights at their house, eating dinner, talking about our pasts, and (most enjoyably) watching episodes of The Office on their laptop. We did not have a lot in common, but by (my) necessity we became the closest of friends. I felt alone and scared and homesick and they took me in and for a least a couple hours a day when I was at their house, I was in a home. And even if it wasn’t my home, it was enough to get me through.
Friendships originate for a variety of reasons. Some originate from common life histories, some originate from common experiences, some originate from convenience, and some originate from necessity. David and Rachel didn’t need me, but I needed them. And therefore, I clung to them with emotional attachment the like of which I had never clung to anyone else. I clung to them like a boy who is lost in a city, strangers everywhere, and then he sees his mother and runs to her and clutches her leg tight, not letting the grip go even for a second for fear of being swept away. David and Rachel were my anchor to sanity, to normalcy, to home, and because of that we now have a bond that is eternal, even if we never see each other again.
Since returning from Africa I’ve had the opportunity to see David and Rachel two times. The first time was at my and Emily’s wedding. The second time was in Hawaii, as we both happened to be vacationing there over the same week.  Both times we hung out there was something missing. I was married and I had my wife, and I had my home, I no longer needed them.  However, we talked and hung out and it was like hanging out with family.  Even though, the situation has changed and I no longer needed them, the bond that we shared was still there. A bond forged through trials and necessity is a bond that is not easily broken.  I haven’t seen or talked to David and Rachel in years, yet I still consider them some of my closest friends, and this will always remain true.

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