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A pattern for when someone moves on

In the months before we publicly announced that we are moving on from St John’s University to work for TAFES, we had a number of meetings with our boss and people who have been mentors with us. We were very nervous because we knew they would be very disappointed, but they were all unfailingly gracious and kind.

After the second meeting, we felt a sense of deja vu — the response of the person we were talking to was so similar to the first one. It was like there was some sort of pre-determined pattern, something like this:

  1. Express sadness e.g. ‘This is terrible news’
  2. Make a distinction between their own sadness and the rightness of the decision e.g. ‘I want you here, God wants you somewhere else, I submit.’
  3. Assure us that the relationship will continue.
  4. Make a concrete, practical offer of support e.g. call a relative who may have a lead on somewhere we could rent in Dar es Salaam.

Now, maybe these steps are all things you would expect to happen in an Australian context as well but what struck us was the similarity with which each meeting unfolded: the steps were in the same order and much of the same language used. We figured it had to be drawing on some kind of cultural formula or social situation, but we didn’t know which one.

Later on we asked another Tanzanian friend what he thought was going on and this was his explanation. He said in Tanzania, family members move around from house to house. For example, a niece may work for several years as a housekeeper and nanny for her uncle and aunt, or a second cousin may live with relatives while he completes his education. These four steps are the kind of thing you do when a family member is leaving your roof to live somewhere else.

The first step is an expression of hospitality for the time you’ve spent with them; it’s been a joy, not a burden. The second step is releasing the person to move on, but within the security of the third step of ongoing relationship, and the fourth is because the one from whose home they’re moving on has the responsibility to ensure that the person arrives safely in their new context.

In other words, he explained, these mentors have received you into their space like the university is their home where they have hosted you. And they have accepted us as though we are family; the relationship is not contingent on our work relationship. Tanzanians speak a lot about hospitality, but this ‘leaving formula’ added a whole other dimension to it for us.

Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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