The other day at our breakfast table, Elliot came out with, “They don’t say grace before they eat at my kindy.”
Arthur and I tried to work out what he was drawing the comparison with. We have never been a big grace-saying family. We’ve been doing it a bit more since Callum came along, but I don’t think it’s ingrained enough in our family culture to warrant mention if it didn’t happen.
As we unpacked it, we realised that the contrast was with his schools in Tanzania. He has been to three, of two different faith backgrounds (neither our own) and at all of them they have said grace.
We often find ourselves explaining to Aussies that Tanzanians all have a faith background. The national anthem ‘Mungu ibariki Afrika’ means ‘God bless Africa’, though which God is ambiguous. I don’t know whether they say grace in Tanzania’s state schools, but in Elliot’s experience of school in Tanzania, they do.
Elliot wondered if the other kids at kindy (or the teachers) would laugh at him if he said grace; he didn’t seem bothered by the idea of not saying it, but it was clearly something different about him from the other kids. The difference wasn’t that we are Christians and the other kids aren’t, but that he has lived most of his life in a place where faith is always in the background.
Arthur explained to him that lots of people in Australia don’t follow Jesus. Our Tanzanian friends and colleagues are always astounded by this; they ask, “What are they, then? Muslim?” The idea of being ‘no religion’ or agnostic to them is weird; atheism is sheer foolishness. Perhaps more accurate to Elliot’s cultural background would have been to say that many people in Australia don’t believe in God at all.
This is another layer of not belonging in Australia for him. I suppose many Christian kids in Australia experience a similar sense of being different from their peers, one which the New Testament considers appropriate for the people of God, but for our Elliot it’s tied not only to his faith background but also to the mix of his cultural background.
The conversation wound up when I told him about one of the kindy teachers who does follow Jesus, and how he can talk to her about saying grace at kindy if he feels uncomfortable. He sought her out as soon as he arrived that morning.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.