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Tanga

Last weekend, I made a trip to a tiny village in the region of Tanga.   Some friends I had made at language school were going to be Christian missionaries in a mostly Muslim area, and to work through a school there. They invited me to come visit them, so like the adventurer I am, I hopped on an 8-hour bus, first to Chalinze and then to Tanga town. On the bus ride, I made a new friend, and though I couldn’t figure out what he was saying his name was (Uri was the closest to correct I seemed to get), we had a great chat about all sorts of things. He was on his way back to Dar es Salaam from the village where he grew up. He had gone home for a week to see his parents and siblings, who were a part of one of the mountain tribes from Morogoro. He didn’t speak any English, but was more than happy to talk slowly for my benefit, and eager to tell me about his country. We chatted about the differences between the city and all of the smaller towns and villages in Tanzania, and he taught me some new words, like mkonge, plants that grow along the side of the road and are made into rope. I got off at Chalinze and then had to find a bus that was going to Tanga.

 

 

Mkonge.

Mkonge.

 

I don’t know how familiar my readers are with traveling in developing countries, but for the benefit of those who have never done so, I’ll explain the concept of a “ticket” on a Tanzanian bus. If you have a lot of money and plan ahead, you can get a nice seat on a good charter bus, and have a calm and comfortable journey. Most people, however, just show up at the bus stand and play it by ear. They arrive, buy a ticket based on their local knowledge or which busses are currently around, and then hop on one. Departing times and arrival times are not so much a thing. Rather, when the bus fills up, it leaves the station, and anyone who isn’t on it catches the next one. At Chalinze, there’s not even a bus stand.   There’s a few plastic chairs and benches, surrounded by a little restaurant and a couple of shops. The guy who sold me my ticket directed me to sit down, and then left for a while. I tried to start up a conversation with the locals, and asked if they knew when the next bus to Tanga was coming by, but my Swahili must not have been as great as I thought it was, because they just said “bado, bado” (not yet).

 

The busses passing by were all full, but eventually the man who had sold me a ticket talked one of the drivers into letting me squeeze on to his bus. I didn’t hear exactly what he said, but it was something to the effect of that I was an mzungu mdogo tu (just a small white person), which made me laugh. I didn’t have a real seat, so I sat up front by the driver, and once the bus conductors figured out I knew a little bit of Swahili they wanted to converse with me.   My constant phrase here is “pole pole, najua Kiswahili kidogo!” (slowly slowly, I only know a little Swahili). One of the men told me about all of his seven kids and his wife, and about his home in Tanga. I couldn’t understand everything he said, but they were all extremely friendly and talkative. Naturally, they asked if I was married, and also for my phone number. I haven’t figured out quite yet why it’s culturally appropriate for a 50-year-old man to ask a tiny white girl for her cell phone number, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that it seems like everyone has a brother or cousin or nephew they want to set up with an mzungu. Finally I got to Tanga and took a bajaji to meet my friends, and we headed back to their village.

 

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Katherine and Melody, missionaries in Tanga region, in their new kitchen.

 

The next day, we walked around and spent time with the neighbors. The village is perhaps a quarter mile long, and mostly found just on one dirt road, but it takes about 2 hours to walk down it and back since we needed to stop at every house where my friends knew people to greet and visit with them. The role of a neighbor is crucial in the Tanzanian culture. Here, you may be even closer to your jarani than you are to your family. Depending on where you live, you might spend a lot of time outside chatting with your neighbors in the heat of the day, or in the evening when the work is done and the sun goes down. Your neighbors help to watch and discipline your kids, true to the “it takes a village” mantra. If you need help, you do not expect your distant relatives to come from far away to see you; your neighbors are the first ones you go to.

 

I got to make ugali in the evening, over the fire. My friends had only been in Tanga for a few weeks so far, so they were still learning how to do things in the village, like cooking their own food Tanzanian style. We sat with the neighbors for a few hours and the teenagers showed us how things were done. We cooked pumpkin leaves by snapping off and peeling the stem (which was surprisingly difficult), and then slicing them very small (we tried, but then the 14 year old watching us fail epically took pity on us and did it herself). Then we also cooked beans (they’re dried out, so you either need to soak them overnight or boil them for a long time!), peeled mangoes, and made ugali.

 

Katherine and I waiting for the beans to cook.

Katherine and I waiting for the beans to cook.

 

Ugali is a traditional Tanzanian food made out of corn or millet flour, and anyone who is a true Tanzanian will know how to make it. Rehema showed us how to boil the water over the outdoor cooking stove, and add the flour to it slowly so that it doesn’t get lumpy. The cooking stove in most of the country is very purposefully made by a three-stone system, with the fire in the middle of them, and the pot balanced on top. We listened to bongo flava music on the radio as we worked, and played with chui, the cat (he’s named after a leopard because he’s so intimidating). There are two techniques to stir ugali—kukoroga and kusonga—depending on what step you’re on. The way I stirred was like a silly mzungu I think, but thanks to Rehema’s ministrations, the ugali ended up all right despite my ineptitude.

 

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The three-stone method of cooking.

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Chui, the terrifying leopard-cat.

 

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Trying to stir the ugali correctly. It’s harder than it looks!

 

It was so refreshing to have a chance to see the village life of a typical Tanzanian, and to share in that and relax with them. There was so much beauty and simplicity in the faces of the women we sat next to on their mikeka. I could feel the weight and presence of community in their midst, and I felt blessed that they let me share in it with them, if only for a day.

 

 

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.

Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them.

Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.

-Sirach 6:14-17

Be free.

It’s funny how sometimes there’s not a translation for words that are common in one culture, but non-existent in others. I just learned a great slang word, shikwambi, which means a person who eats cleverly (by smoothly mooching off others). There’s a  Vimeo video made by some kids in Iringa, not far from here, about how a shikwambi will go over to his neighbor’s house to tell a story, deny food that the neighbor offers him the first and second time, but then take it on the third offer, which was what he really was after all along!

Then there’s the words that have a translation, but don’t exactly mean the same thing.

For instance, I learned the word uhuru today—freedom. You’d think that would be a pretty simple idea. But I was thinking about what freedom means to me, and I don’t know so much anymore. It used to mean certain things—things that they drilled into us in elementary school about how proud we should be of our country. Our men and women have fought for our “freedom,” so now we can…what? Do whatever we want? Be whatever we want? Have whatever we want? After all, what’s more important than having what we want? We deserve it, right? We’ve worked for it?

 

I think we as an American society have taken this word, which has such pure and noble meaning, and twisted it into meaning something akin to privilege. I will be the first to say it: I don’t. I don’t deserve everything that I have back home. I don’t deserve the freedom that I have. There are lots of people in America, and lots of people around the world who deserve the things that they have, but there are also a whole lot of people in the world who have done everything they can to make their lives better, and DO NOT have what they deserve. There are a lot of people whose dignity is not acknowledged. There are people who care about their family and friends more than they care about themselves, but who still don’t have enough rice to put on the table to feed their 10 family members. There are those who have to decide which of their 5 children to send to school, and then those children who sacrifice the carefree moments of childhood to take on the burden of learning to provide for their sisters and brothers.

 

What have I done? Here I am, with the freedom to travel all over the world to learn about histories and cultures of places I’d only dreamed of before. My qualifications are underwhelming. Sure, I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, but it would be ridiculous to say that I’ve gotten to where I am today by my own merit. I’ve studied with the books that were put in front of me. I’ve applied for grants that are paid for with money given by generous alumni.  I’ve lived in beautiful places and never been asked to sacrifice for the things that I have and the love I am given. I do not have to fight for the respect of men. I am not a minority in my country. I have never seen a person die before their time, and not been able to do anything about it.

 

“Be free.” That’s what some of my Tanzanian friends and teachers have been telling me. Amazingly, they don’t judge me for who I am or why I’ve come to their country. They do not want me to be afraid to express myself for fear that I’ll say or do something wrong, and upset them. They don’t expect me to rush to class if I’m running a couple of minutes late. They ask me only to be open, to try to understand, and to be present. “Be free” is not a pass—it is not the same as “it’s a free country,” so I can do what I want. It is a way of life—of knowing that if you are among Tanzanians you are always among sisters and brothers. There is no pressure to be perfect, because what human is perfect? The very word implies mistakes to be made.   But to be free here means reasonable expectations of respect and neighborliness despite your shortcomings, and to welcome each other in your imperfections. Karibu, you are always welcome.

I wish there was something I could do in order to bestow upon the people here the freedom that I feel in America and the opportunities I have been gifted with. Today, I can’t do anything to change how things are for the people here. But all the same, here I am, trying my best to better understand the struggles and successes of this nation. I know that if I just open myself up to possibility, God will work through me in whatever way he deems fit. I will try to be satisfied in that for now.

After all, freedom does not encourage us to look behind, but forward, always leaning away from “what have I done?” and straining towards “what can I do?” Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” I’m taking solace today in planting seeds, and I will wait to see what blooms from these weeks and years of growth.

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This morning’s sunrise, on my way to breakfast.

I should probably introduce myself, so that if you’re taking the effort to read my ramblings, you understand a little bit about where I’m coming from.

 

My name is Sarah Stubbs.   I’ll be a senior at the University of Notre Dame this coming fall. I want to be a doctor, and to eventually work internationally to close the huge gap in health care disparities between and within nations. I’m an International Development Studies minor, and during my past 3 years of university I have traveled for some period of time between 1 day and 4 months to each India, the UK, Ecuador, Canada, Greece, Austria, Italy, Holland, and now Tanzania.

 

I’m from the lovely state of Minnesota, where I have a brother, 2 wonderful parents, and a best friend that is far superior to me in every way and whom I adore. I’m unabashedly Catholic, and love reading and figure skating.

 

Here are some of my life goals.

 

1) To make a small difference.

Not a big one. The world is too large to hope yet for the end of poverty or world peace. Just a minor impact—something I can do that when I look back on it, I think, “Yeah, things are just a little bit better now than they were before because of me.”

 

2) To find joy and fulfillment in where I am.

I say joy and not happiness because there are certain connotations to the word “happy” that I do not intend.

I do not intend to be rich. If I make a lot of money, I hope I will have the good sense to give it away.

I do not intend to do everything in my lifetime that I would like to, in order to pursue happiness.   The list is simply too long. Books to read, concepts to learn, places to travel, people to love. It’s not humanly possible. I have too many wishes to count, and I know I can only find joy when I stop pursuing happiness and focus on the glorious nature of the present.

 

3) To be a doctor, and through that, to relieve suffering.

To put things simply, I believe that there are a few things governments should make sure every person has access to, and that two of the most important of these things are health care and education. The international community has a lot of goals for the next 15 years and beyond (if you haven’t yet, take time to learn about the UN’s SDGs.  I believe we’re in a position of international cooperation where a huge amount of change can happen, and I want to play my part in meeting international goals relating to health care so that every child in the world can have a chance for a healthy life.

 

None of that seems to matters too much when faced with the immediate challenge of learning a new language. Here seem to be the million-shilling questions every student here at the language school is asked frequently. I had to remember these ones right away, so that I could respond appropriately:
Waitwa nani? What is your name?

Umetoka nchi gani? What country do you come from?

Utafanya kazi gani Tanzania? What work will you do in Tanzania?

I have answered the best I can, but it is difficult to build language skills as fast as I am here. My mind knows the answers to the questions people ask me, but my ears and mouth are a little behind the game. I walk by someone and open my mouth to say shikamoo, but by the time the word starts to come out I’ve already passed them by, and it’s too late for them to hear me. Sometimes, a teacher will walk by and make a comment, and I’ve only figured out what they said by the time I arrive to my destination.

 

I particularly struggle with greetings, which are extremely important to the Tanzanian culture. For young people, there are many greetings, not so different from the casual American “what’s up?” or “how’s it going?” with many variations.

 

Some of the greetings, and their responses:

 

Mambo? Poa. I’m okay.

 

Kama kawa? Kama kawa. Good, like usual.

 

Habari za _______? How’s the news of_______? (any word can be used here—news about your house, your wife, your children, your cows, your lessons, your day, your friends, etc.)

The response is always good, or variations in how good you are, but never that you’re doing poorly. Nzuri.   Nzuri sana. Nzuri saaaaaana! Veeeeery good!

 

Shwali? Shwali. Things are calm.

 

Mzima? Mzima. I am wholly good.

 

There are also morning greetings and evening greetings. Very appropriate ones are:

Umeamkaje? How did you wake up?

Za asubuhi? How’s your morning going?

Usiku mwema! Good night!

Tutaonana kesho! See you tomorrow!

 

I’ve been trying to use all of these so I get into the habit of greeting people correctly, but it’s still confusing sometimes. Shikamoo is the respectful way of greeting anyone in an age-category that is older than you, but sometimes it’s hard to tell how old people are when you first meet them, and I’m still unsure about all of the different circumstances when it’s appropriate. For example, I would not have guessed the formality involved in greeting even your parents. Whereas I would walk in the door of my house and say “Hey, Mom,” even an adult in Tanzania will greet his parents with shikamoo as a sign of respect to them.

 

Another respectful greeting I learned just this week is traditional in the Maasai culture. When passing by an elder, a younger person is expected to lower their head to them, and the elder will touch the top of your head and give a greeting depending on your status. There is a specific greeting depending on your gender and age, and your response differs based on the same criteria. We went to a Maasai market, and I was honored that when I passed by one older gentleman, he greeted me in this way. Though I did not respond correctly, he still gave me a smile that I appreciated.

Language school teachers showed us around the Maasai market.

Language school teachers showed us around the Maasai market.

 

Without having experienced these customs first-hand, I may have thought they were old-fashioned, but being in the midst of such rich and lasting culture, I have gained a sincere appreciation for the way the Maasai have preserved their way of life and community standards. It was a brief but powerful moment for me, where for just a second I felt a connection to generations of tradition.

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Goods at the Maasai market

Goods at the Maasai market

I’m learning quickly to take things slow and notice the beauty of the culture that surrounds me here.  As the Swahili proverb goes, “haraka haraka, haina baraka.” (hurry hurry, no blessings).  Anything that’s worth hurrying for is also worth waiting for.

They tell stories about moments that change your life.

 

“I found Jesus, and everything was different after that.”

“I found the love of my life, and the world was suddenly clearer.”

“I studied abroad in Spain, and my perspective on life was radically changed.”

 

Everything’s supposed to be miraculous. Everything seems to be instantaneous. Everything can be traced back to that moment in time when everything snapped into place.

That may be the truth for some people, but I’ve never had a life-altering experience in that way. I hear my classmates talk about their experiences, and how their concept of the world has changed.   In contrast, I’ve never felt that I was different between one moment and the next.

But the world has a way of changing you, little by little—just enough each day to be a little bit different than yesterday. A little bit smarter, a little wiser, a little more patient than you were before.

Maybe my life isn’t different, but I just see things differently—not as a series of moments in my life, but a continuum of daily experiences and decisions that build up to make a life.

Maybe we can just choose that every moment of our lives have the capacity to be life-altering. Every second of every day, we make a decision. How am I going to spend these next 5 minutes of my time? How am I going to spend my summer? Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to smile at? Who am I going to love?

I am extremely privileged. Tomorrow I’m flying to Tanzania to learn Swahili, and I’ve never been more aware of how inexplicably lucky I am. I am certain I will meet many people who have never left their country. Some might not have ever left their region. Some may have never left their village. Yet I am flying all the way across the world just to learn their language and culture. I’m sure it will be a crazy and wonderful ride, and I’m sure that day by day, I will become better for it.

I think it will be difficult for me, as it has been in the past, to not let guilt overwhelm me because of just how fortunate I am. Why is it that I, who have done nothing, have everything I could possibly ask for? I will try to remember that we do not have a choice about what kind of life we are born into, but we each have a choice to make—the choice of what we do with the opportunities we are given.

I was reading a C.S. Lewis book a few summers ago and some of the lines stood out to me particularly.

 

“There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily to you—beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible….The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.

But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrapheap and give you a new one.”

 

I love that C.S. Lewis, here, takes responsibility out of our hands at the same time as he thrusts it upon us. As mortal beings, we can only be what God enables us to. But, he impresses that we have an obligation to use the gifts that we are endowed with.   I can’t believe that Lewis just means our propensity to goodness or sin, but that he wants us to use all of the blessings that God bestows on us to the fullest of our ability. I know that God has blessed me unimaginably, and I strive every day to live up to my own expectations, and to His.

While in Tanzania, I do not intend to change the world or fix anyone’s problems. I simply intend to make the choice each day to work hard, to listen with an open heart, and to learn as much as I can from the people around me as I can. I hope to ask questions, and to remember what I’m told. I intend to laugh at my mistakes, and to try everything new I can.

Readers, sparse as you may be, I encourage you to make a choice as well. You may not be in Tanzania. Maybe you’re just sitting in your house waiting for your adventure to begin, or maybe you’ve had a little bit too much adventure for one day already. But if you’re looking for that flash of light across the sky to illuminate your future, stop. Never wait for life-changing moments to find you. Sometimes search for them. But always recognize that the life-changing moment in your life can be the one happening right…NOW.

 

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“…give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses.”

Hi everyone! I’m a Biology/Pre-Med student from northeastern Minnesota. I’m doing an International Development minor, focusing on global health, and in the future, I hope to go to medical school, and eventually work internationally with an organization like the WHO, Doctors Without Borders, or Catholic Relief Services. My previous international experiences have taken me to Canada (since I’m practically on the border), Ecuador for a Timmy Global Health brigade, India for an internship with the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children, study abroad in London, and now Tanzania at the ELCT Language and Orientation School!

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My goal for the SLA program in Morogoro, Tanzania is to gain a basic conversational understanding of Swahili that will enable me to hold short conversations. I plan to spend the first 6 weeks of the summer in Morogoro, beginning to understand the language and culture of the region by investing myself fully into my studies and interactions with the community. Then I will travel to the Mara region, where I will have a chance to directly apply my new language skills during an independent research project, as part of my IDS minor curriculum. Since most of my research will be in qualitative data, a greater understanding of the culture and language of Tanzania will allow me to understand the issues of the region more fully, as well as enhance my ability to communicate with staff and locals in the location I plan to research. The immersion will also guide future interactions with east African culture through professional and personal encounters.

 

I hope that by developing an elementary understanding of the Swahili language, I will be able to enhance my ability to interact with Tanzanians, have a participatory role in non-English discussions, be more accurate in my findings, and engage in my research more fully. Of course, I will not become a Swahili expert in 6 weeks, but by exposure to the language through immersion, my goal is to have a closer collaboration and more holistic connection with the people I meet during the course of the summer. This experience will also be beneficial to my more distant future, since I plan to pursue a future in international medical and health development, perhaps in eastern Africa. My experience will also more broadly prepare me for interactions with people of various backgrounds and cultures that I may encounter as a physician, exposing me to radically new situations and allowing me to see things from a different perspective. If all goes well, I do hope to return to east Africa in the future to continue further studies, research, and/or health development projects.

 

 

  1. At the end of the summer, I will demonstrate a high level of cultural proficiency in Tanzania that will allow me to recognize and utilize appropriate phrases and behaviors, and relate to locals on a personal level.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to converse with local Tanzanians about basic subjects like food, objects, activities, and relationships.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to explain who I am and what my goals are for my time in Africa to others in their native language.

 

 

I plan to take advantage of any opportunities I have to engage with the Morogoro community.   I chose the ELCT School for reasons including that instruction is by native Tanzanian speakers who are also very fluent in English. They will be able to guide me to experiences that expose me to the local culture. The school is located on a combined campus with classes for about 800 secondary school and junior college students. The center serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, where there will be opportunities for me to attend church services in Swahili with some of the students and faculty, helping me build relationships outside of classroom acquaintances. I will cultivate these relationships as much as possible to practice my language skills informally. There are also activity centers, local newspapers, and mission trips to nearby villages that I can participate in to practice language.