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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

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