I finished my PhD fieldwork this week, well ahead of schedule. It’s a pretty big milestone and has been a mammoth effort. Arthur asked me how I wanted to celebrate – should we do something special, like go to our favourite BBQ place? I delayed answering but I wasn’t sure why. Eventually it dawned on me that I was caught in paralysis between two cultures.
When something big happens in the life of a Tanzanian Pentecostal Christian – a baby is born, they get a new job, they finish studies – they give a thanksgiving offering. It’s separate from the normal tithes and offerings at church. It’s about acknowledging God’s role in our successes and because in Tanzania relationship and money go hand in hand, it involves giving a monetary offering. In our church, it’s advertised ahead of time and the person or people come with their family. They stand up the front of church and they tell the congregation what God has done and they give their offering. The congregation them joins with them in giving thanks, filing up to greet those giving the offering and adding their own contribution to it. Part of me wanted to do this, because this feels normal to me now and right.
Except, Tanzanians do it for more major milestones than the one I’ve just passed. I can do a thanksgiving offering when I complete my PhD; giving it now would be jumping the gun I think. It’s not quite right.
But the Australian ‘go out to dinner’ thing doesn’t fit either. It’s too narrow in its focus – just our family – and feels frivolous and maybe not spiritual enough.
So then I thought about having a service of thanksgiving or a praise and worship thing, inviting others to join me in giving thanks, but it really seems very self-indulgent to create a whole service just for people to join in giving thanks for my PhD milestone!
I also thought about making a donation, the same idea as the thanksgiving, I guess, but without the fanfare and the community. But part of the thanksgiving thing is inviting others to be a part of it, so if I did that, I’d still need to work out a way to invite others into the milestone.
So I’m kind of doing it all, or some kind of hybrid: having a special family dinner AND giving a donation but in a bit more of a low-key way, AND writing something on Facebook as a way of inviting a community to acknowledge and celebrate the milestone. Because parts of me belong to two different cultures, so one way of doing it doesn’t feel right.
I remember what Red Twin wrote about living as half a person. At some point in my life here, I became more than a half person. That expansion is sometimes painful: whether I’m in my ‘home’ country of Australia or in Tanzania, the country that has been home for almost 9 years, I still feel a deficit, a missing rhythm, partial knowledge, uncertainty in relationships. But whatever my configuration, it’s like somewhere along the line the parts started adding up to more than their sum. I feel fragmented and yet also, somehow, enriched.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.