Our life in Dodoma has got a pretty good rhythm now. For the time being, I mostly know what to expect. We’re feeling pretty well together and not isolated. There’s tiredness, but no shell-shock.
I’m always casting around for new experiences; it’s part of what drives me. I’m always animated by innovation, exploration, and the possibility of discovery. And, after a couple of months living here in Tanzania, Swahili lost its newness — so I automatically started fishing for something new. I continued with my regular practice of navigating trends in Australia and USA. I continued reading a lot, mostly online, most of it funnelled through social media; most of it, in effect, headlines.
‘Your head’s not really in Tanzania,’ noticed Tamie. Read more
A language exercise from last week was to read the story ‘Mfalme Mjinga’ and then complete it. I’ve translated it below. How would you finish it? Read more
Red Twin and I have been talking about contextualisation: the necessity and complication of putting off your own culture to live in another. It’s always a compromise. Everyone draws the line somewhere different. But it’s more complex than simply working out what you’re comfortable with. What do those in your current country think? For me, it’s Tanzania. For Red Twin, it’s a country in Central Asia.
Take Red Twin’s veiling as an example. Most westerners wear a headscarf rather than the body length veil. This is the recommendation of some Central Asians. They say they don’t want westerners to pretend to be Central Asian. Wear enough veils to be respectful, but that’s all. And yet, Red Twin has discovered that people keep her at arm’s length when she wears a headscarf. When she started wearing the full veils, she was welcomed into friendships.
We’ve felt something of this too. Tanzanians wonder why I don’t use a western baby sling. It’s strange to see a mzungu carrying a baby in a kitenge on her back. There’s even a shop that sells prams for Tanzanians who want to seem more progressive (though how they negotiate them over the Dodoman roads is beyond me!) And yet, many are delighted to see that I am making an attempt to do things like them. They ask, who taught you how to do this? They tell me it looks good. Conversation flows from there. Read more
Let me paint two pictures of Tanzanian church services.
The first is a Good Friday service. It’s long and the ministers are dressed up in their robes. It’s an Anglican service. And there’s something familiar about the way the congregation responds: the mumbled words after the Bible reading, the faces buried in hymn books. No one moves, even while the choir sing a lively song, complete with dance moves. There’s no prayer book, but there’s some sort of liturgy which the congregation murmurs after the leader.
The second is an ordinary Sunday service. It’s much shorter and less formal. There’s no minister but there’s a worship leader and a preacher. A congregation member prays after the offering. It’s a Baptist service. The songs are one-liner call-and-response and they’re more lively. The band and the congregation sway in time and clap.
Banks in Tanzania feel familiar. They’re clean, sterile and quiet. The lady behind the counter wears a blue blouse. She types numbers into a keyboard. There are posters about customer service on the walls. They have that counter with all the different forms that you fill out before you see a clerk. But don’t be fooled by appearances.
Here’s the scenario: an ATM on campus swallowed our debit card yesterday. It’s the only one we have so we need to get it back. The ATM spat out a message telling us to go to its branch. Read more
It’s not wrong, it’s just different.
These are the phrases we repeat over and over to ourselves as we navigate culture adjustment. We’re working hard to ask questions rather than pronounce on things. Our default is to assume that things aren’t the way they seem to us.
But it feels like a very one-sided relationship. Our experience thus far has been that the same respect hasn’t been afforded to our culture. To Mama Velo, the bread I make isn’t different, it’s wrong, and I have to be educated about how to make bread properly.