Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So Different, I can't even imagine...

Hello Everyone from much closer to home than my normal posts!  I wrote this reflectiony- blog after being home a while and it sure is encouraging as I start to make my way back to Tanzania for another year and a half to read this again :- ) Hope you enjoy it too - - :)

It's strange to be writing a blog post from the comfort of my parent’s home in MN.  I've been home for about 3 weeks and that is simply nuts to me! My time home so far has consisted of packing in visits with friends and family, my brother's wedding and my college roommate's wedding.  :)

I wanted to take a few minutes to write some of the reflections I have had since I’ve been home... or coming home as it may be.  You see, as I made my trek home, I had to start thinking about what to tell people.  People love to ask the following questions-
“How is Africa?”  “Are you happy you're home?”  “Do you really want to go back?”  and my personal favorite - -“What are you going to do when you're all finished?”  (I still have a good year and a half right?? well.. okay maybe it's time to start thinking about it...!) I just wish the answer Tanzanians love to hear- I am not sure, but God knows - works on everyone here as it does there :)

Anywho- There was one comment in particular that really had me start thinking about things, and that was: "I'm sure it's so different, I can't even imagine." 

Something in this comment really struck me... I was in the Amsterdam airport on my way home, and for some reason I couldn't stop thinking about it.   So different, I can't imagine it.  Yet to me, it doesn't seem so different at all...  It took me a while to figure out why this statement made me feel so uneasy and why I felt it wasn't really true, let me share with you my thought process in unraveling it! 

Here's how some of my thought processing worked:  Different??  Really?
 Hmm....   Here are some of the differences I came up with....

1) Bugs and Snakes-  There are a lot of creepy crawlies that I don't  particularly care for in Tanzania,  and for those of you that know me- as a camp counselor I would pick up spiders and snakes (yes, in MN our snakes are small and non-harmful).  However, in Tanzania, there are a lot of large bugs and snakes (which I learned from waking up to a cobra in my bathroom the first morning in Kiabakari)-  that I cannot safely/ am not willing to pick up.  One of my least favorite are the giant cockroaches that live in my pantry cupboards! I am not missing them here in MN.

2) Water-  I have to boil my water, (and apparently for longer than what I have been boiling it for.. bwah bwah..yay stomach parasites and other fun things! ).  It takes time yes, but in reality it makes one think more about water and not wasting it.  Here, in the US where a person can turn on a tap pretty much anywhere and drink to their hearts content.  Also, if we forget to turn the tap off and leave it run, it won't run out anytime soon.  :(  But please don't do that!).   I also don’t have hot water... meaning cold showers!  Which isn't awful, it's just an additional caffeine shot to my mornings- meaning it helps wake me up - -which is good, since I don’t have my normal coffee supply, and it also decreases the number of showers I take ;-)

3) Mosquitos: I don’t know if you know this but as many of you do, mosquitos are the true state bird in MN... However, Mosquitos in Tanzania are dangerous.  The area around me (Mara, Tanzania) is one of the worst areas for Malaria.  So, it means that I sleep in a mosquito net and get more irritated at them for biting me than I would at home :)

4) Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s a necessity.  Things take longer.  If you’ve ever heard/ experienced the phrase “African Time” you know what I mean. Things are more run on a schedule of well, when this is done then we move on... meaning things take longer in general and there aren’t specific time frames for things.  My biggest example for this is church services.  Church, is what happens on Sunday.  So, when that is finished then you can do whatever else you need to do, meaning services range from 1.5 hours to 5 or 6 hours.  :) But, this also contributes to a more relaxed atmosphere and less stress of being on time to things, because a lot of times things start, when everyone shows up... also increasing the need for patience at many times. 

4) Roads:  Most of the roads around me are dirt roads, there is a giant paved road that is being worked on that stretches down to Mwanza and up to Kenya.  But around the village it's dirt... or slippery mud during rainy season (I don't advise running (aka falling) - in it).

5) Language:  Here in Kiabakari, Swahili is the first language, and the language I use most (unless I'm with the other mzungus (or white folks), mostly being the other missionaries (which for them English is their second language as well- - I’m slowly working on my Danish and Norwegian... (and by slowlyl I mean it...sloooowly).  But Swahili is used, at church, at school, in my teaching (of course paired with English), walking on the road and in the market.  (It's a fun language though :) 

6) CULTURAL: Here's where we get into more serious differences. However since they are cultural differences, these are not things we can simply classify as good or bad, rather we accept them as they are, differences; and simply work and hope for change in those things perhaps deemed as unequal or discriminating.  Some minor things that are different to home culturally living in the village include: Women must wear skirts. As a Christian you may not smoke or drink any alcohol.  Elders are to be respected, from the way you greet them, to the way you speak with them and by all means you must listen to them.  

One other large cultural difference in the area I am living in that at times has been personally challenging is the way women are treated.  I have written about this before in my previous blogs, but as a recap, for the most part women are to be subordinate to men.  They are not allowed into all work positions (including they are not allowed to be ordained in my region, or be leaders in many other spheres of the workplace).  As far as marriage goes, the men are to rule over the women and in many cases it is not an equal bond as the woman must listen and obey what the man says.  

However, as we may or may not agree with these cultural differences I remind us all that they are simply that, cultural differences and as frustrating as it may be at times it does not make anyone better or worse as a person or culture.  It also makes me think about how in the not-so-distant past, women in the United States had to work hard to gain many rights as well and I am very fortunate for the privileges I have had growing up.  It has also been quite interesting for me to see in some respects how women's freedom is changing slowly within the church, and also the huge differences when I travel to the larger cities in Tanzania and Kenya. For instance in Arusha and Nairobi, you will find many women wearing jeans (usually the younger generations).  

Those are some of the differences I came up with.  I by no means mean to minimize them, as they are differences that I live with on a daily basis.  However... what I realized as I figured out the similarities that smacked me in the face was why I felt things weren’t so different after all.

Similarities :)

1)    All in all... People are people no matter where you go- we may look different, we may speak different languages and we may think differently on some things, but all in all we feel the same feelings and emotions and we share in may similar experiences.

2)    The Importance of Community:  Think about it... How much support have you received from various communities throughout your life?

 No matter where you go, no matter where you are, we are communal people. Whether it’s friends, family, church groups, sports teams, whatever it may be - We as human beings need community- People always ask me- what is it like living all alone in Tanzania.  My thoughts as I think about it now are- I don’t that would be weird and hard, but there are actually roughly 42 million citizens of Tanzania!!  (Neato) - - I know that is the smart- aleck answer and that most people mean being in a house/ moving to this village alone mostly... but I don’t feel alone.  The community that God has put me in is simply amazing. I am blessed and amazed by the wonderful friends and even family (as it feels like to me) I have been given in Tanzania.  I’ve also discovered that if we share God’s love as Jesus commands of us in John chapter 15 vs 9-12  - we will be surrounded by this community wherever we go- how amazing is that?!

3)    LOVE- The love and help I’ve experienced from those in Tanzania has been pretty amazing... For those of you who have been to Tanzania you’ll agree that we could all take some lessons on hospitality, caring for your neighbor and the amazing help you will receive even when there is little to give.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things- I felt the statement of – So different... I can’t even imagine it- - was so odd- because, even halfway across the world we’re not so different after all.  After all we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re all children of God- and if we all do our best to follow Jesus’ example to love all those we come into contact with, no matter what the differences may be between us- cultural, gender, religious etc... we will always be united through that love. :- ) 

John 15 : 9-12 Jesus Said - “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, jut as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

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