Today is 6 years since we arrived in Tanzania. We are often asked if we enjoy living here, but it’s not that simple. I find myself echoing the words of ‘For Good’ from the musical Wicked:
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
The thing I found myself saying to someone is that for better or worse, Tanzania has become a part of us.
I see it in Callum’s conceptions of the world. This week we went in an elevator for the first time, at a fancy place we went to with a visitor, and he was shocked at how casually our guest and I strolled into a dead-end little box with closing doors. He got his courage up and ended up liking “the little boxes that go up and down,” but it was a lesson to me about the assumed knowledge I have that is not part of his world.
It’s there in how my kids relate to the world. Callum refuses to speak Swahili, yet he uses Swahili concepts that don’t exist in English, which he must have picked up and back-translated somehow. Meanwhile, Elliot fits the description another TCK mum gave to me the other day: “it’s like my kid missed the memo about fitting in.” The Tanzanian hospitality code meant that as he tore through the Dodoma markets in a way no Tanzanian child would be allowed to, I was not allowed to stop him. “Mwache,” I was told – let him go, and in a collective society I had to comply. He was given that kind of exception in a thousand ways. I can try and teach him explicitly, but social pressure has not been part of his life.
I wrote in For the Joy about how I’ve only been a mum in Tanzania, so Tanzania has shaped the grown ups too. Without a permit to ‘work’ here, I’ve found myself doing more writing and considering a research path. I’ve also become much more introverted over these 6 years.
Arthur has found such clarity about his gifts, and ended up in a role which is so much more creative than what he would have been able to do in Australia. He has grown more into himself and expanded where he was previously constrained. I’ve fallen more in love with him as I’ve seen him find a great fit. I’ve become so proud of him and proud to be the wife of this strategic, insightful, caring man who is beloved and appreciated by his colleagues.
We have not become Tanzanian. Daily we are frustrated by the way things are done or the resources and networks we lack to do life here. Arthur was saying to me just today how he wishes his Swahili was better. But we now feel most ourselves not when we are doing Australian things, but when we are putting off our own cultural assumptions to see things from a Tanzanian perspective. That is what energises us and where we know ourselves, such that we feel unmoored as we think about home assignment.
We know we’re in the back half of our time in Tanzania, but the first half has shaped us so profoundly, it’s hard to imagine ourselves anywhere else. We’ve been changed for good.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.