January 26, 2007

haraka haraka haina baraka

this is a kiswahili proverb which means "hurry hurry has no blessings." This is what I have been learning. i mean, in the little things like that it's nice to walk in a leisurely way sometimes (antonia knows i walk too fast!) on the way to school. and also in the bigger things, like that i can be patient with getting involved in volunteering or getting close in relationships or learning the language or just figuring everything out. i realized that my impulse at first was- "I'm in tanzania, i have to make sure i find something extra tanzanian to do, like something to do with slums and poverty. and i have to make sure i process everything culturally and socially and personally and figure it all out NOW!" but, haraka haraka haina baraka. and now that i'm slowing down, i'm learning. i've made some friends, just by meeting people on campus when i walk slowly, or when i go swimming. and today, i just went into the market at Mwenge (a market with crafts, cafes, shops, bus station) for lunch with 2 friends. and we were just sitting having our own lunch not seeking out a huge cultural experience, when one of the most interesting things yet happened to me. a homeless man who was well-educated and spoke english really well walked up to us, wanting money. well, we ended up inviting him to join us for lunch, and what a story he told. i didn't quite catch it all, and it's going to take me several years to process, but it involved being the black sheep of the family and being disowned and betrayed by his mother and his brothers. he compared this to the Bible story of Joseph. then he also talked a lot about religion. i guess he used to study the Bible and now he said he had some revelation one day, when he was homeless in the bushes, that there is something lacking in christianity and Islam and all the other religions, something that isn't adequate to explain the almighty God or the world. and he said maybe sometime, Jesus will come again, or some other prophet will come and fulfill whatever is lacking in all human religions. i still can't put together all that he said. that's not it. there were things about suffering and being betrayed by God and man. there were things about how we are all the same soul. about how we should never turn down a person in need. about how we should believe what we want to believe, but he has had this revelation and doesn't believe in what he used to. it was all overwhelming and yet lovely. and we laughed too, and he said he was so happy to share his life with us, who come all the way from america. i don't know. i don't know. all i know is that haraka haraka haina baraka. i can't rush processing this either. and now is just my time to listen, to all that i am slowly learning and seeing. the children, the buses, the kiswahili, and about myself and my own callings and needs and emptinesses. and the silence, the waiting before i understand it all, is pretty exhilarating and beautiful.

January 22, 2007

My host family

Yesterday I moved in with my host family, with my American roommate Mara. We have the best family ever. Mama is so nice and she cooks amazing food: spiced rice, salads, chapatis and other baked goods. In fact she used to live in California and she was a chef there! Baba (my dad) is a lot of fun too. He is a professor at the university, and an avid football fan. I found myself already getting into the Manchester United vs. Arsenal game last night, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a huge fan, and it is fun to hang out with the Baba. He also showed me all the other TV channels, including animal planet which we watched for a few minutes (that's right, Maggie). I think it's interesting to consider the effect the media will have on Tanzanian culture. Because right now Tanzanaians are still really family-oriented and socially conservative, at least in terms of sexuality and clothing. But as the American media and music videos are becoming more widespread, I wonder how long it will take until these things come into Tanzanian culture. I hope a while. There's globalization for you. Back to my family. I have 3 sisters but they are all away right now at boarding school. But, we have a maid, Monica, who is pretty much my new sister. And she only speaks Kiswahili. So we talked for a while yesterday, and it is so helpful to practice with her. She is a great girl and I can't wait to keep talking to her more. She showed me pictures of her family and talked about them and I tried to do the same. She likes to laugh at how bad my Swahili is. But I'm improving so much. Last thing, though this has nothing to do with my host family. church Sunday again. I understood a lot more this week, and the music was even more lively and beautiful. And there was something incredible about when I could pick up a few words and sing simply-- "Hakuna Mungu kama wewe": there is no God like you. That's all I could say, but it takes being pretentious and deep and profound out of religion. It makes it so much more simple, united, and the joy was still there completely. And we sang, "Salaama yooni mwangu": it is well with my soul. same thing. Oh, Tanzania is doing incredible things in my heart and even though occasionally I have homesickness or loneliness or fear that I'm not capitalizing on all my time here, I know that this semester is one of the best decisions I could ever make.

In Africa

It's hot here. In my opinion, that's why everything moves slowly and is late. People are just a little too tired to make it to the appointed place on time. It's casual and nice though. For example, during our first week of class, the whole group was late to class 3 days. One day, the dala dala (minibus) didn't pick us up, so we ended up hitching a ride in this guy's pick-up truck. Riding down the bumpy road in a pick-up or even in a dala dala is one of the more enjoyable experiences. Meanwhile, some bad things have been happening in our group--several people got food poisoning, I got stung by a jellyfish, one girl had money stolen. But I don't want to tell you all that stuff. Because it will perpetuate the vision of Africa as the dark and scary continent. It's not, let me tell you all that now. It's not. It's beautiful, there is nothing scary about it except that I don't speak the language, but I am getting so much better, and the people are friendly so friendly, they just want to invite you to their house and tell you to make Tanzania your home and stop and talk whenever (another reason they might be late). So you should all come to Africa.

January 15, 2007

Karibuni Tanzania

Welcome to Tanzania! I haven't had much internet access yet which is why I haven't been in touch, not because I hate you. Jet lag was rough- I woke up at 1:30 am one of the first few days--it was a long day. But I love Tanzania; it is wonderful. The other students on my program are the best possible people I could have hoped for. We enjoyed 95 degree weather and swimming in the Indian Ocean while you all were probably sledding. We ride in the dala dala buses which are crowded and hot and smell fantastic. It's frustrating not to know swahili yet, but everyone's really motivated to work on it so it's getting better. Sunday, I went to a Swahili Catholic church service. It was incredible-though I couldn't understand but a few words, there was so much joy and beauty in it. The music was beautiful, and while everyone was harmonizing some of the older women would trill really high, this sort of joyous or emotional call that seemed to bring in their cultural traditions to the music. The priest was so respected for his age-that is one beautiful thing about Tanzanian culture, people respect and actually listen to the older people.

January 6, 2007

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go

I don't really believe it's two days away that I leave. It's not as scary this time, because from Bangladesh I know that malaria mosquitos and contaminated water and beggars are something that lots of people deal with every day, and they're not really that scary if you're careful. It would be offensive to go into Africa assuming everything is inferior. I'm expecting it to be beautiful. What I'm scared of is the first few weeks before I have good friends, or that my expectations are too high. I want so much out of this trip. But part of me is so ready. Done with the shopping and the packing and the goodbyes and ready to climb Mt. Meru! Ready for a safari. Excited about the possibilities. I'd really like to get into a Christian community over there, and I've contacted some people and found out about a church that meets on campus. I'm thinking about doing my independent research on the role of faith based organizations and churches in social issues, pros and cons, and I have some potential contacts for that. It's going to be a long time, but a good time. Though it's not easy to pull up my roots and leave a lot of wonderful people behind for several months.