We’re spending some of the uni holidays visiting village churches. Our experience of Tanzania has been largely urban but ‘the village’ is the backdrop to the Tanzanian zeitgeist as well as the background or future for many university students.
We’re doing the visits separately so that the other of us can stay at home with Elliot as he is too much trouble in that kind of environment. I was accompanied by our friends and mentors Alfred and Ruth to visit St Paul’s Anglican Church at Ipala, about 40 minutes out of Dodoma. From watching how they interacted with others, I learned a stack of hard to define things about social norms. But here are six more concrete things I learned:
- Two words can give you cred. I know only one greeting and response in Kigogo, the language of the people there, but they loved it. It reminds me of the early days of language learning when any communication at all is a win. (The rest of the time we spoke in Swahili.)
- The Wagogo have a custom where they honour visitors by giving them a new name. For the record, my Kigogo name is Mavula. It means something like ‘she who comes at the rainy time of year’.
- The reason many village homes around Dodoma don’t have windows is because the timber needed to form the frame is super expensive.
- Water is a massive concern. Without a well, you’re basically dependent on the rain and the rest of the year the rivers dry up. They can buy water from the local Pentecostals — a denomination which aims to provide a well for each of their village churches. However, 15 buckets (enough for one household for a day) is Tsh 1000, which in a month can mean a pastor’s entire salary.
- There is a vast gender imbalance in the church, like 10 women for every one man. The pastor told me that the men are Christians but do not come to church. Apparently the late bishop of the diocese was advocating a men’s group similar to Mother’s Union to try to get the men more involved.
- It was a cross-cultural experience for Alfred and Ruth as well. Though they are Tanzanian, they are not Wagogo so there were customs and language moments that were unfamiliar to them as well. No matter how much you learn or know about Tanzania, ambiguity is part of life here.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.