One of the most striking things about Tanzania is the incredible poverty of its people. Now, you expect that when you go to Africa – I’d seen enough World Vision appeals that the Tanzanian countryside didn’t shock me, sad though it was. Here’s what was surprising: the scorn expressed by other Tanzanians for this way of life.
We met a number of people on our first bus trip who are part of what might be called the ‘new Tanzania’. These are people of somewhat wealthier background (meaning, they probably have enough to eat) who have different ideas to the traditional African stereotype. ‘New Tanzanians’ are common in universities. Here are some of their distinctives as we observed them:
- While we’re keen to learn swahili and communicate with them in their own language, they want to learn and speak English because that’s how you interact with the rest of the world.
- While we took the hold up on the way to Dodoma as part and parcel of African life, they were frustrated. Why didn’t the police wait to arrest the driver at the end of the bus trip not the middle? they asked.
- While we looked on the poor people of Tanzania’s countryside with compassion, one student pointed at them and, with a note of disdain said, “I couldn’t live like this,” as if his countrymen were ignorant of better ways to live.
- While we looked positively on large Tanzanian families and community life, one man commented that Tanzanians need to do away with their old ideas and limit themselves to 1 or 2 children because that’s all they and the country can support.
This discussion is happening amongst Tanzanians at the moment and it makes missiology complex. Partnership means working with Tanzanians on their terms – but what if their terms aren’t clear because they’re arguing about what it is to be ‘Tanzanian’?
Or what if their values cut against our own missiology? Arthur and I are committed to language learning as key to contextualisation. Yet, if we go to St John’s, the university policy is that English is spoken! To respect the Tanzanian authorities, at whose invitation we would be at the uni, we’d have to speak English, not swahili to the students. Except that this actually decreases the fruitfulness of conversations, especially Christian ones, because the students’ English isn’t good enough to go to the appropriate depths and they have to concentrate really hard just to compose a sentence. So working in the ‘new Tanzania’ especially with the ‘new Tanzanians’ is complex.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.