Monday, 18 July 2011

Chakula cha kufiriki (Food for thought)

Habari za leo! Okay, so today was another Sunday free of Peace corps commitments or Kiswahili lessons. Granted, I usually get more practice in Kiswahili these days than any because I spend a lot of the day at my homestay washing clothes and greeting visitors in Kiswahili. Man, do Tanzanians like visitors. I’ve been so fortunate so far, perhaps because my homestay is a decently affluent family for Morogoro with highly educated children, but nearly all the visitors, especially the men, speaking pretty fluent English. This is crazy handy for when I run out of things that I know to saIy in Kiswahili like 5 minutes into meeting someone. I’ve also come to realize that almost any Tanzanian (almost) you have more than a 10 minute conversation with, asks you about coming to America. It can vary from being asked for money to come but usually they want to know how you came to Tanzania and then, when you say the US government, they ask about a way they can get the government to pay for them to come to America. Anti-Americanism doesn’t exist. Only Mzungu-ism. Everyone usually likes asking questions about the US and most want to travel there. One of the first long conversations I had with Happy, she said she’d wanted to come visit me, but she can’t afford to. Could I help? This is a situation you see a lot in Tanzania, and probably most of Africa. To Aficans, if you are American, you have more money than them. And, considering how community-oriented they are, asking you to share that wealth, is not considered rude or upfront. Only a part of their culture. This is the same for items that belong to you (Mum and Dad and Mish…you’ll read this part and think that maybe I was born Tanzanian because I’d just so darn good at borrowing things without asking). For example, Peace Corps gave me bug spray for my room, a kerosene lamp and a bucket to wash my clothes in. At various points since being here, all of those items have been used by my host family without asking. Granted, I offered the lamp up first since I was excited to see how it was lit and use it. But then, every time we were without electricity, they used my lamp and not theirs. I had to finally be super savvy and just take it back, forcing them to use their own because I had no light for my room or to study by. Just today I had to ask Happy for my bucket for clothes back because I needed it for my room (its where I also keep all of my stuff that I don’t want the cockroaches to get into). As Americans, you assume that not matter what, people will always ask to use your things because they are just that. YOUR things. But the idea of privacy is vastly different, and in some respects foreign, to Tanzanians. In the US, unless someone says “you can use this without asking” you know you should always ask. In Tanzania, if someone lets you use something, be prepared for them to coming looking for it again, or hide it. This is the case with my teddy bear (mdoli) with Justa (I previously spelled it Yuster) loves. So, back to money, as Americans, people constantly assuming you have money and then asking for it, is offensive. But that is an idea I’ve had to put aside because if I hold it against someone that they are asking for money, I’ll never like anyone I meet. Same scenario with sharing things. If I think it offensive or rude to take other people’s things or assume that they can be shared, I’ll end up feeling constantly violated. So, instead, we have to revamp our definitions of what is socially acceptable and what is not, and adjust our reactions accordingly. Sounds silly, but it’s a work in progress. Hamna shida (no problem)
So next week is the trip to Mikumi, which I couldn’t be more excited about. I’ve needed a day off since we can to Morogoro and getting out and around and NOT having a curfew of 7pm will be nice. I used to love being too busy to stop at home and just would pack up my life for entire days regularly. Now, I miss having veg time where I don’t have to think, or just being able to walk somewhere without greeting at least 3 people. It’s amazing how American I actually liked being. Despite needing alone time though, I have loved meeting some of the regulars that I cross paths which, especially when I’m coming home from class or the bar or town every night. My favorites are easily the two wazee (wah-zay…means old people) that I come across on my side road home. The first is named Clement and he is this adorable old man with curly white hair who works as a cook at a family nearby. He has such a cute personality and an energy and I love love love seeing him. One of his daughters is in secondary school at Morogoro Sec (one of the training schools) and when I didn’t see him for a few days, and his daughter didn’t see any wazungu (white people) at that school, he thought I’d left already. Also, his English is phenomenal. It’s highly impressive. Oh, he’s so great! Okay, the next is this chivalrous old man in a green uniform who bikes to work every evening (so when I pass him at 7pm he’s actually going TO work). He works as a security guard for some company up on the mountain. Everytime he stops to talk he always says “we need to talk one day. I’d like to talk to you.” I guess he means more than the 5 minutes that we usually talk but I’m not quite sure about what. Oh well  It’s also great that the people around my community are used to seeing me. In fact, I usually bike to class or CCT so whenever they see me without it, they ask me why I’m not biking. Then I get to tell them in Kiswahili “I like to walk. I want to walk.” The idea of walking when you have a bike is a bit unfamiliar. It’s amusing.

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