09 November 2016

what tanzanian culture can offer americans following the election.

One of the most frightening moments in the life of a human being is pouring milk into your cereal bowl only to realize it is the day after the expiration date. 


Well today is that day, for today is the day after the U.S. general election, and that means the results are out. So how do you feel? Are you celebrating, confident that America will be made great again? Or are you planning to flee to Canada, only to find that the immigration site has crashed?

I can tell you that despite being in East Africa several thousand miles away from the continental United States, the toxic fumes of the entire election have been snorted by every nostril on the planet. And it smells exactly like this bird looks...gross. 

meet the marabou stork, the tanzanian bird that eats anything dead and disgusting. | source: imgur

The entire 2016 general election build-up has been stained with hateful and divisive language. This is obvious. All sides have felt this. Such a climate makes it easy to erect barriers, but as a Catholic lay missioner, I must turn swords into plowshares, walls into bridges, and promote Gospel values of love, compassion, and mercy in my daily living - all of which I am fully prepared to do after I stop yelling at this Tanzanian bus driver for hollering at me in the same you would a rare snow leopard you suddenly spotted window shopping on Fifth Avenue.

It is along those lines of unity and community that I believe Tanzania has something to offer Americans during this time. (Yes, something more than that bird's seriously terrifying face.) One of the most beautiful and enduring aspects of Tanzanian culture is love of neighbor and reverence of community. Relationships with family, friends, and even complete strangers is endlessly more important than schedules, agendas, and even who you voted for in the last election. (And I can tell you that the Tanzanian presidential election in October 2015 was quite the scene.) In spite of political and religious differences, Tanzanians not only recognize but also practice respect for others, and they do this daily. 

This is not a call to ignore the significance of what has occurred politically in the United States or to diminish its enormous implications. (After all, the U.S. is still reeling from the aftermath of the Starbucks green unity cup. How many crises must we face at once?!) Nor is this a rally cry to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Rather, it is a three-fold message.

First, to spare others our judgment and presumption to know everything about them. It is all too easy to stereotype and classify all supporters of so-and-so as being of one mind, but they are not. Each has his or her reasons, stemming from life experience and the circles of people they move in. We need not all agree, but lashing out will only further tear us apart. Just look at the Brexit aftermath.

Second, to embrace the fraternity demonstrated by our brothers and sisters in Tanzania, recognizing that the way forward must be lit by the love, compassion, and mercy we extend to others, friends and enemies alike. Jesus' first words to those who betrayed him were "peace be with you." To others we must extend the same salutation, especially when it is most difficult.

Third, I once saw that very bird pictured above pick up a harmless puppy and fly off with it. It was seriously nuts. If you feel like your country or ideals have been carried off in a similar manner, do something about it. Voting is only one step anyway. The realization of a dream or vision requires hope and perseverance, not just checking boxes from afar in a polling booth. In the words of Pope Paul VI, "If you want peace, work for justice."

As for us, we stand with Jesus who stands with the poor. 

1 comment:

  1. "One of the most beautiful and enduring aspects of Tanzanian culture is love of neighbor and reverence of community. Relationships with family, friends, and even complete strangers is endlessly more important than schedules, agendas, and even who you voted for in the last election."

    This passage in particular speaks to me right now. One thing Rachel and I can't stand about the suburban lifestyle is how overbooked people always are with structured events, so that there is almost no spontaneous social time. People care about career, organizations that they are involved in, and other objective measures of achievement, and leave almost no time for just doing things with people, things that won't help themselves or their children advance in some way. And when there is free time, there is this prudish fear of leaving the house or doing anything out of the ordinary. I know that there is an opposite extreme... a culture that is completely Type B rather than Type A, where no one is on the clock, kids don't go to bed in any sort of routine, and people drink all the time. But there has to be something between the two. Alas, we haven't found it (at least not since having kids)...

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