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Living as wageni (foreigners) in Tanzania

In our language classes, we have been discussing reverse racism: while Tanzanians readily view their country people with suspicion, we wageni are given the benefit of the doubt. That’s not to say there aren’t negative stereotypes of foreigners: we’re rich, unused to hard work, impatient, and not well dressed. But while Tanzanians present corruption in their country as a fact, it comes as a surprise when we give examples from Australia.

Why this generosity towards foreigners?

Hospitality. Welcome is a strong Tanzanian value. This goes beyond mere politeness. To host others is to be honoured; to refuse them is not only to disrespect them, but to disrespect yourself and your country. To give foreigners the benefit of the doubt is to be hospitable.

Advantage. For people who are stuck in poverty, making friends with a rich westerner might bring them honour and possibly money. Every foreigner is a potential patron.

Globalisation. The grandchild of colonialism, this is the pervasive message that west means best. Tanzanians see corruption as a big reason for their country’s lack of development. There is a belief that ‘developed’ countries aren’t hampered by corruption, so it follows that westerners are more trustworthy than Tanzanians.mini-globe

What are the challenges for us?

Exploitation. Many wageni are regularly ripped off. For example, they may pay a much higher price for food or services than Tanzanians. Part of this simply feels like payback — we in the west have grown rich by exploiting many in the majority world. Allowing ourselves to be ripped off assuages our guilt a little bit. And yet, it dehumanises the Tanzanian by refusing to treat them as an equal. It also shames other Tanzanians who are concerned about hospitality or how Tanzanians are perceived by outsiders.

Privilege. There was recently a big international invitation-only event in Dodoma. While any Tanzanian had to present an invitation, security was not nearly so strict for white people. Tanzanians we spoke to about this talked about this in terms of hospitality, that we would be welcomed because we are foreigners. Yet, we had no particular connection with the event apart from interest and felt that to go would be taking what wasn’t really ours. Is this disrespecting hospitality, or is it refusing to exploit our privilege?

Dependence. As wageni, we’re given teaching opportunities, and we’re listened to. This brings with it tremendous opportunity to influence people for the good. But it can also be an excuse to teach in our way, with our models, rather than raising up Tanzanians or encouraging indigenous ways of doing things.

What theological themes are helpful here?

Imago Dei. Tanzanians and their culture bear the fingerprints of God. Their hospitality is not only something that seems good to them; it reflects God’s own character. Western Christians have much to learn from Tanzanian society.

Universal sinfulness. Tanzanians are not uniquely sinful. One approach we’ve taken is of being open about the failings of Australia and Australian people. We are fellow sinners with Tanzanians.

The Holy Spirit. God is at work in Tanzania and in Tanzanian people. Transformation comes from God rather than from the west. Tanzanians also have the Holy Spirit! While working together enhances our gifts, there ought to be a mutual sharing.

Categories: Church Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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