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A lesson from bananas about learning to receive

The other day, we bought the wrong bananas. There are cooking bananas (which you can’t eat raw) and eating bananas. We bought the former when we meant to buy the latter. No big deal as far as we were concerned – it’s all part of learning about life in a new place.


But it was a big deal to Mama Velo, our house help lady. She offered to take us to the market next time, and asked why we hadn’t taken her to show us around before. The thought hadn’t occurred to us: we go to the market in the afternoon after she’s left for the day (because we have language in the morning). We also enjoy exploring the market and all the new foods and smells. But mostly, independence is hardwired into us.

We’d heard that one of the reasons to have house help is because it honours someone to have them in your home. If you don’t, they might ask, ‘Are you too good to have me help you?’ So while I feel kind of embarrassed every time I ask Mama Velo to do something, she loves it.

For example, we got some coconuts at the market the other day. They needed to be cracked and grated which I didn’t know how to do. Mama Velo told me you need an mbuzi (same word as for goat, but it’s actually a little seat with a grating knife on it). I managed to get one but then felt that perhaps I should grate our coconut. However, I wasn’t confident that I could do it, so I asked Mama Velo to. Her face broadened into a smile.

Same deal the other day when Arthur and I were discussing how to chop a pineapple. Our tutor told us we should ask Mama Velo, not because we couldn’t do it ourselves but because it would bring her pleasure to demonstrate it to us.

During our intercultural training, we talked about how moving to a new culture means being dependent on people. I expected that there would be times when we would feel like a burden to others because we needed their help. What I didn’t expect was that even when I don’t want their help I should ask for it, not because I need it but because they might need to give it.

Giving up our Australian standard of living / health care is easy compared to giving up my independence.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

14 replies

  1. In Uganda we ate about four different banana-type fruits/vegetables!

    And we ate a mbuzi that we bought a few days earlier and kept on out campsite. (same word in Luganda)

  2. Hi… grating coconuts is considered man’s work here in Vanuatu; though all the women can and will do it when there is no man around.

    I had no idea how many different types of banana there were in the world. Even red ones.

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