Wednesday, August 12, 2015
“Wherever you travel, appreciate the culture and beauty of the people and the place.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita
There are always cultural differences that take a bit of adjustment to accept when you live in a different country. There are some that are very hard to accept, especially for Americans. We have always been used to doing everything for ourselves. When we would move from Arkansas to Boston, I would rent the truck, pack the truck, drive the truck, and unload the truck. I didn’t want to ask for help from anyone, and didn't—it was the way I was raised. Here, we pay people to help us and if we insist on doing things ourselves—we are insulting our workers and making them look bad in the eyes of their family and neighbors. Just carrying in a package from the car is a job that they take pride in doing and are upset if we insist on doing it ourselves. Picking up a broom makes them feel like we don’t like their work or are getting ready to fire them. It’s hard getting used to having people inside and outside the house all the time, but even harder to let them do everything. They insist on cleaning our suitcases if we are going on a trip. They love for us to joke, tease, and laugh with them, just don’t do their jobs. In this culture, the women curtsy when they hand you something or take something you are handing them. That was and is very hard for me to accept. If you are with a man who likes you, he will grab your hand and walk hand-in-hand with you as an expression of his respect and friendship. Boy did that come as a shock the first couple of times, but I’m used to it now. This is a culture that wants to please almost everybody, so you get lied to a lot, but they don’t see it that way. Yes, your car will be ready in one hour (which means maybe one or two days). This is also an event-driven society and not a time-driven one. If someone says he will come at ten and doesn’t show up until four, that is just fine because he did come after all. A meeting that starts at ten won’t really get going until around 11:30, and they are fully aware of this. When setting a time for something, they will ask if it’s “British Time” or Tanzanian. British means exactly when you say and not an hour or two later. Greetings are very important and are never relegated to a simple “hello” but involve several expressions with smiles and hand slaps. Every worker comes by to say good morning when they arrive and good-bye when they leave. If they are younger than you are by a good margin, they say “Shikamoo” which literally means “May I sit at your feet” but is generally a sign of respect for your age and wisdom (this is a cultural difference I really like). You are expected to say “Marahaba” in return, and it is an insult if you don’t. Being overweight here is a sign you are blessed by God and not sick. I once told a Tanzanian man I needed to go on a diet. He looked at me with a shocked expression and said, “Why?” The women in our area all wear dresses of beautiful colors and carry things on their heads—big heavy stuff, too. Perhaps the hardest adjustment involves crying and sadness for males. Males are not allowed to cry. If I cry, the males around me will tell me to stop and will wipe the tears from my face. Females are expected to cry, but every man has to be John Wayne. Now, if you can’t cry, how do you express your sadness or fear? By laughing, and that is just weird. A man will tell you of a tragedy and laugh. If you are really mad at a man and yelling at him, he will laugh. Now, in America, laughing at someone who is angry with you is considered a very bad insult—but not here. We’ve been here over ten years now, and some of these still make me queasy, nervous, or confused, but here we are, and we are not here to impose our culture on theirs. On the whole, I find their culture wonderful and the stress on family, relationships, and the respecting of elders very satisfying. We could and should learn a lot from these gentle, caring, and loving people. They take their Christianity very seriously and want to hear more about Christ than you could ever tell them. Except for the malaria, AIDS, the poverty and disease, it would be paradise—and in a lot of ways, it is even with the bad stuff. We feel we are blessed to be here and blessed by the Tanzanians who surround and support us.