06 July 2015

something short and sweet.

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, we recently returned from Europe, our first trip out of Tanzania since we arrived and the reason our blog has been so quiet as of late. We were hit by a lot of what we expected - culture and homesickness, yes - but I was also surprised by what I missed about Tanzania while we were away.

In light of this and since it’s Fourth of July weekend (happy 239th to our home country!), it seems a good time to post some of the reflections we had about the U.S. and Tanzania while we were away. 


I was struck by how quiet everything seemed as we traveled through Europe. Airports, trains, and cars were all remarkably silent. No one was playing loud music. If people were having conversations, they were often using hushed tones or speaking under their breath. I had no problem reading a book or falling asleep while traveling. It was as if every place we went to, people were following the same rules they would follow in a library.

I didn’t realize this, though, until we were making our way back to Tanzania. I watched as two Africans, presumably Tanzanians due to their perfect Kiswahili, greeted one another. It was obvious they weren’t planning on seeing one another as they looked at each other in surprise. Big smiles immediately dawned on both of their faces. They began slapping each other on the back with big, exaggerated gestures, laughing, and holding each other’s hands. They were not trying to be quiet at all, using loud voices, giving big guffaws, and almost making a show out of their meeting. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched them. They were truly so happy to see one another. I found myself realizing that I had seen very little of that during our time in Europe.

On the flip side, Michael remarked on how much creativity and innovation are a part of American, and also, Western, culture. Using your imagination and brainstorming are woven into the fabric of our education system from the time we are tiny kids. Unfortunately, in Tanzania, the education system is exactly the opposite. Children are taught through rote memorization and endless copying of whatever is written on the board. This stays with them throughout adulthood and you can see it reflected in the culture. When people start a business, they start the exact same businesses that already exist in their neighborhood - and then, wonder why they’re not very profitable.

This is not to say that Tanzanians aren’t creative in some ways, they are. They are a very resourceful people, making do with whatever they had at home or whatever they find in the street. Children amuse themselves by making toys out of trash and old food containers. Yet coming up with an idea from scratch, or doing something in a completely new way, is far outside of the context of everyday, Tanzanian life.

Of course, there are loads more of observations we could write about here, but we’ll leave it at that for now. We are busy transitioning back into our own normal life here in Mwanza. It’s hard coming back, more so than we thought, but we’re thankful to have one another and friends with whom we can process. We’re taking it one day at a time.

2 comments:

  1. That's a very interesting observation about the silence. It's refreshingly different from all the usual comparisons of "the West" to "third world" countries. The one place in Europe that I felt was different from everywhere else in the sense of having a very exuberant, unrestrained society was Albania. I have sometimes wondered about this chilling effect on personality that seems to come over highly educated or maybe highly wealthy societies (or is it some other factor?). I wonder what causes it and if it's a good thing or something to be resisted. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian writer from India, talks about how if you tell someone in America "I'll pray for you" they become very tense and irritated, whereas if a Christian says it to someone in India, they say something like, "Oh, thank you! I am so happy for that!" This may be related to what you're talking about, or it may not.

    I am always interested to hear more about these subtle social and cultural differences; they fascinate me more than anything else.

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    1. Hey Michael, thanks for your comment! With Ravi Zacharias, I think you are on the right track. Something to add to that is that in Tanzania, it's not unheard of to ask almost complete strangers to pray for you. Sometimes, when I'm in the food market, a vendor will ask, "Have you prayed for me today?" and I often know very little about them. From what I see, Tanzanians love to know that they are thought of and remembered by those around them, and praying for one another is a big part of that.

      I'll keep my eye out for more social differences that could turn into blog posts. :)

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