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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.


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.

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