ID 373 Final

Study Abroad in Tanzania Conclusion
One must first understand cultural differences and why they are different from one’s native culture to begin understanding the heart of a new country, people and way of life. While studying abroad in Tanzania I found myself studying the language to better learn the tradition and culture of the people, which lead me to view humanity in a different light. Really the best way to study any culture is to live with the people you are studying. While in Tanzania I got the chance to live and learn about the culture of two distinct people, the Waswahili people, also known as native Tanzanians, and the Massai, an indigenous people in east Africa that are semi-nomadic.
One thing that the Tanzanians and Massai have in common is a fluid concept of time. It is their concept of time that stands as a foundation for their culture. Pastor Hafferman puts it well, “You [Americans] have the watches we [Tanzanians/Massai] have the time”. Time is much less of an obstacle in Tanzania and is never something of which I felt like I had too little. If it weren’t for the school portion I doubt we would have needed watches. The same is true of the Massai. The concept of getting children to school on time is still new and foreign.
When I was in Tanzania I realized something about time in relation to conversation. It is sort of frustrating that we Americans have to force ourselves to actually have conversations with people. It’s not an introvert thing; it is ingrained in us not to “waste people’s time”. In all actuality time is often one of the best things we can give someone. We have the mentality that people including ourselves most likely have somewhere to be, therefore conversations should be held to a minimum. We will even go so far to make excuses for leaving if we feel a conversation has gone on too long, even if we have no place to be. In Tanzania things seem to happen when they happen. If a church service takes five hours, what difference does it make? Does one have someplace better to be? Is there some better source of entertainment somewhere else? A habit I’ve gotten into the last two or three years of college is seriously asking myself, “Where would I rather be right now?” Almost always I don’t have a good answer for that question. Which is a good reminder to remain in the moment and enjoy things in the present time.
One way that Waswahili differ in the way they view and use time is in the process of kusaidia (greeting). When a person from Tanzania greets a friend or neighbor into their home it can be a pretty lengthy procedure. In the U.S. we like to stand inside and talk to the person at the door briefly to see what they want. I think this might be a habit spawned from avoiding vacuum salesmen and Mormons. Tanzanians on the other hand have different greeting habits. When they hear someone call out “Hodi” (the equivalent to knocking) the host will respond with “Karibu” then welcome the guest and invite them to come stay inside the house. Once inside the house they will greet each other ask each other about their news and visit about a variety of topics. The host might even offer the guest tea, milk or a little to eat. After the a while the host will walk the guest not to the door, but all the way to the edge of the property or bus station to make sure they have company for the first part of their journey home. This process is known and kusindikiza and it is something that I really want to try more in the United State (weather permitting). The Waswahili will often greet each other in the morning before heading to work to see if their neighbor needs anything. If the neighbor needs help with something the individual will do their best to help them before leaving for the day. You can see how greeting a neighbor in the morning could make some Tanzanians late for work.
Another product of the Tanzanian view of time is how they design their prison program. The prisons in Tanzania are more rehabilitation programs then places of walled-in confinement. I found it strange that when we visited a prison we entered through a gate, but after that there was no surrounding perimeter. I guess inmates don’t try to run away much for a multitude of reasons. First, prison life is a really good chance for them to become more educated or learn a trade before going back into the world. Second, they would get caught. Inmates don’t have anywhere to go and they would be chased down pretty quickly. Third, once caught the inmates are punished as a group. Fourth, the prison has really nice facilities. Although 17 sleeping mats are crammed into a room, the criminals have bug nets and quilted blankets–likely nicer then they have at home. I am pretty confident that Tanzania has better prison system then the United States. I think sometimes in the US our government views prisons as economically stimulating. It supplies jobs, (construction, guards, janitors, etc.) in the prison system and dirt-cheap laborers. Some would even say slavery in the U.S. wasn’t abolished… it just moved to the prison systems. Prisons were originally designed for inmates to have every opportunity to turn their lives around. There is a reason they are called jail cells, jails were originally related to the monastic system. The monastic concept was that a person could get a better perspective on society by being removed from it for a time. For Tanzanians prison is a time for the inmate to re-evaluate the direction of their life and develop skills they can use when re-entering society. I think the US frequently looses sight of the rehabilitation aspect of prison life.
When a Tanzanian sees someone and wants to initiate a conversation they will ask how their news is and shake their hand. This happens with just about everyone you encounter in Tanzania because they have the time to do so. Tanzanians aren’t very big on public displays of affection so they are rarely a part of the greeting process. Even if a man and woman are married you most likely won’t see them holding hands in public. Kisses and hugs as greetings and goodbyes are almost entirely out of the question. The older Tanzanian generation frowns and shakes their heads when the younger generation imitates western culture by greeting each other with hugs. Tanzanians hugs are an odd phenomenon, from a western Instead of hugging Tanzanians have developed a pretty sweet handshake. The more firm and complex the handshake the more eager the person is to greet you. Young Tanzanians see people hug in movies and have tried to simulate the greeting, but it just comes across as awkward. Chumba demonstrated the Tanzanian hug and it was one of the more awkward things I have seen. It involved shoulder contact and almost looked like one person is trying to tackle the other. For many Tanzanians intimate displays of affection such as hugs are best left for the bedroom.
Despite different views on public displays of affection, there is a tradition of respect for elders here in Tanzania. Often times when a younger individual respects and looks up to an elder they will ask for a blessing. In order to receive a blessing they bow their head and say “shikamo” to the elder. The Elder responds to this action and places their hand on the bowed head and says “marahaba” in response. I really miss this process of blessing. Often when I see professors or people I respect in passing I want to say shikamo to them, and sometimes still do lightly under my breath. This process is used frequently in TZ and is a strong indicator as to how much Tanzanians cherish their elders. As Pr. Hafferman puts it, “We are all to quick old and all to late wise”. Side note: There are no nursing homes in Massai villages.
With this tradition of respect in mind Massai children are free to explore and learn about things in a very hands-on and free manner. I admire the freedom and responsibilities the Massai give their children. Some would view the responsibilities faced by Massai children as forcing them to grow up too soon. Massai children help take care of the younger animals while the adults take care of the older ones. Massai children in big families also help raise and baby-sit each other from a very early age. I believe these early responsibilities help prepare the children for their roles in the future Massai community. The life of the Massai child isn’t all work and no fun. The Massai children are left to explore, bare themselves to the world and interact with life in a way that comes so naturally for children. The difference in Massai children’s freedom and our own is that it is consistent. When they are in church, the Massai children experience the service in whatever way suits them. If they want to stand up front by the pastor–no problem, they aren’t really bothering anybody. If they want to run around, go for it, it just adds to the excitement of the service. If they want to get partly naked, well… they might cool off a little from the breeze. This freedom takes place with an undercurrent of respect for elders deeply rooted in each child’s being.
With such freedom come problems for both adults and children alike. Tanzanians have a unique perspective on their lives in relation to their problems. In Kiswahili you can say Kila watu wana shida — People have problems (shida-shit/problems in my mind). You can also say Shida zina kila watu — Problems have people. In Swahili things may have people. Problems can be in possession of people… even going so far as to consume them. I think being able to flip flop the possessives expresses a unique relationship between people and their surroundings. Which comes first the person or the problem? I think sometimes it is a cycle.
The way most Tanzanians face their problems is through hope of greater things provided to them by religion. In Tanzania culture and religion are inseparable. Tanzanians have hope for themselves, their families and their country because they believe in something greater then themselves. To find the defining characteristic of religion in Tanzania one must first understand the meaning of the Tanzanian smile. I think the smile is best described by a blog entry I wrote while in Tanzania:
To confuse the African smiling face with indifference to disparity or merely ignorance is to rob it of its meaning. They know exactly the problems they face. They want change. But to live your life focused merely on problems and what needs to be changed is to rob yourself from the joy that is living. The African smile is a welcoming one, a social one to signify they understand you. They understand that you are a person and have problems too, which is the best reason to celebrate life now, together.
For most Tanzanians religion is a given, even if an individual does not believe the same things, they still believe in something bigger then themselves that gives them faith despite life’s problems. There is a law in Tanzania that prevents individuals from publicly defaming the religion of another group of people. This law is not necessarily a reaction to religious intolerance, but rather a product of the culture and the way Waswahili people live life. Tanzania is 40% Christian, 40% Muslim and 10% indigenous religion. Normally people would think that such a collection of Christian and Muslims would mean constant religious tension. This however is not the case as demonstrated by the life of Luka the Christian evangelist.
One day our group of study abroad students went to put a cross of of Luka’s brother Solomon’s grave. Both Luka and his brother Solomon grew up in the Islamic tradition, but later decided to become Christian. Luka is now the evangelist and apprentice of Pr. Hafferman. He is now the father of Solomon’s children because he is more financially able to take care of them then other members of the family. Solomon died over forty days before the cross planting of cirrhosis of the liver. Solomon was a sort of “Johnny Appleseed” of this area of Tanzania. He was a talented arborist who planted most of the trees here at LJS. Everywhere we go people point out Solomon’s trees. The trees he planted are as much of a memorial to him as his actual grave. Unfortunately Solomon developed a drinking problem, largely because he was separating from his wife, which eventually took his liver. His actual funeral was done in accordance to Muslim customs followed by forty days of grieving. Luka has actually been hosting a good deal of his family extended family at his house during this period of grieving, which I think has been adding to his stress. After the time of grieving was complete Luka and Pr. Hafermann planned a Christian ceremony to march Solomon’s cross headstone from Solomon’s house to his grave to placing there. The entire event was a wonderful summation of the religious tolerance here in Tanzania. It was a really big deal that the Islamic members of the family were open to going to the grave and placing a cross, singing hymns and praying with us. As I watched members of Luka’s family go through the parts of the service I had a hard time distinguishing the Christians from the Muslims. Everyone bowed and prayed and sang and recited liturgy together. It didn’t mean that the Muslims were giving up part of their religion to participate, nor were the Christians giving up the heart of their religion in having Muslims in attendance. It was a family affair, reflecting an ideal amount of respect humanity as large should take note of. Normally Islamic women don’t visit the grave of dead relatives, but I think it had a really big impact on some of them that through this Christian tradition they were able to get closure by visiting the grave. After the cross planting we went back to Solomon’s house and ate spiced rice and beans. We as white Christians visited with and ate with native Muslims. No one felt awkward or threatened.
I have never seen cries in the psalms truly lived out until I lived at LJS. There was a man named Sagin who is a student here who prays in a unique and powerful way. He was learning Kiswahili to be a missionary for the South Korean Church. Every morning one could literally hear this man yelling his prayers to God. ABBA!!!! ABBA!!!! AAAA!!!! In his culture people yell their prayers from mountains so that they can break through the demons and get to God. He wasn’t close enough to my room for it to be a nuisance, but I could still definitely hear it. Sometimes it is inspirational to hear someone pouring so much of him or herself into prayer. It also opened up a lot of conversation about prayer within our little community. Jodie, a middle-aged woman from the US, went into the brush before supper two days ago to yell prayers with Sagin. She said she was very self-conscious about if she was praying/yelling correctly at first, but then got into it more, and at the end of it felt very sad. The South Korean said the first time someone cries prayers to God they normally feel sad afterwards. I think it is largely a cathartic experience, perhaps drawing sadness to the surface, recognizing it, and then letting it go. Jodie has had plenty of sadness in her life, but seems to be in the process of overcoming it and is now is an overachieving lay person here in Tanzania. Sagin’s call to worship can be compared to the Massai men and their rhythmic grunts and moans or the Muslim call to worship. All three involve a loud statement of the individual’s faith. We should not forget that crying out via music, prayer, sports, etc. has its place and can be healthy. Prayer especially has a way of getting at the heart of the matter and can transform the inward stuff as a shared train of thought with God.
There is one instance while living in Tanzania where I probably should have screamed, but was too shocked/saddened to do so. When I was studying abroad in Tanzania last semester death seemed much more real. There are a whole host of things that lower the life expectancy to forty including AIDS and malnutrition that allows disease to be more deadly. While I was in Tanzania I actually two people on the side of the road recently killed by cars on separate occasions. The first was laying face down with his head still on the road as bicycles and people passing by swerved to avoid the body that no longer held life. Cars were used to shield the second body from oncoming traffic, but as I glanced back after passing the barricade I was able to see his lifeless body. Those are images that will never leave me. It is hard to tell if the deaths were accidental or suicide. Either way I have been praying for the families of the people that have been killed and the motorists and struck them. Although I do not know them I shared a strangely personal moment with them at the scene of their death. During the time that I saw the two men dead at the side of the road I was taking Swahili lessons and learned the word kufa means to die and kufaa means to arrive. I think the two words probably started as the same words in their Bantu origin then grew distinct later in time. I think many Tanzanians view death not as an exit but an arrival, a beautiful way of looking at a normally finite topic.
In the face of death the Massai children represent so much promise for the future of the church in Tanzania. The example that specifically comes to mind is the Massai children’s choirs. Often these choirs will tour other churches providing their amazing spiritual gift of creative song and dance. It is easy to spot a member of the Massai children’s choir by their dress (see below, normally less jewelry). Their music is so energetic, original and inspirational. The age of the young women in each choir is very diverse. A young girl will enter the choir when she is able to stand up and sing and will generally leave sometime after having children. Without fail they are visibly eager to sing and dance to show their interpretation on traditional African melodies meshed with Christian lyrics. Before the service starts the Massai children start singing. Calling the congregation to worship. Often Massai choirs will imitate each other feeding off the creativity of the other. Often times the choir will listen to a song via cassette tape then create their own interpretation of the song. Most songs sung here during morning devotionals, or church service either have melodies from old Lutheran hymns (drinking songs) or stem from traditional Tanzanian call and response. The Massai choirs always perform using the call and response style. Each song is lead by a song leader picked by whoever knows the song the best. The leader will lead the group through the verses then the entire group naturally sings the chorus. When the Massai choirs sing it isn’t exclusively a performance, it is interactive. If you find a refrain particularly catchy it is likely that everyone will start singing along. Frequently ladies of the congregation will get up and dance or let out a trill of excitement. I think locals in the area are starting to recognize the importance these choirs are having on Christianity here. When we went to Waswahilli worship services the congregations always seemed to be inspired and filled with joy when a visiting children’s choir would perform.
People in Tanzania were poor but smile a lot. Some of our teachers didn’t have electricity or fans in their houses. I knew people that live on less then $5 per week. And it all seemed very normal at the time. I became friends with people in TZ and when I discovered more about their lives it just seemed like a natural thing that they don’t have much money. A lot of people wore the same shirt every day because it is the only one they had. And that seemed normal. Two of my language teachers asked for and received my sweatshirt and belt when I left. I have had multiple people ask if they can have my backpack and watch. I need my watch to wake up in the morning and my backpack to carry things in; otherwise I probably would have given them away.
It is a very natural thing for people to ask for things from you because you have more then them. There isn’t the awkward tension created by economic classes or the extreme drive to be “successful” as an individual. I think these two things take away some of the shame normally associated with asking people for material things because they have more then you. In Tanzania when someone asks you to give them something they own they respect that you have more then they and your right to decline. Giving a gift is just one of many ways individuals both benefit from being friends with each other. Being poor and happy is a tough concept for someone raised in a capitalist society to wrap their head around. Of course if people are starving because they are poor or are not able to afford hospital or schooling costs, then being poor is more than an inconvenience. Something that has been on my mind since TZ are the lyrics of the Notorious B.I.G., “Mo money, mo problems”. I just can’t figure out if this statement is true for Africa or even at all. I think with money comes different types of problems, not necessarily bigger ones. One thing is certain money doesn’t always mean happiness.


~ by Steve and Lindsay on January 31, 2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: