Saturday, August 27, 2016
“I grew up around some great philosophers: they were coal miners and cowboys born in the 1920s. They were also vets of World War II. Listen to your elders, there isn’t any better wisdom for you.” ― Stanley Victor Paskavich
Lots of Americans live in foreign countries for lots of different reasons. Many live in countries where English is spoken almost everywhere and American products are easily obtained. We don’t. We live in a country where only about one in ten speaks English and then not well. There are 120 tribes in Tanzania and each has its own language. Then they are taught Kiswahili in school, so almost everyone can speak and write Swahili (or should). English is taught in secondary school and university so that almost every college educated person in Tanzania can speak English, but this is a small percentage of the population, so it behooves those of us living here to at least have a passing understanding of Swahili. There are Americans living here who have lived here for over thirty years who speak almost no Swahili or speak what they themselves call “gutter” Swahili. You can get by with lots of gestures, pantomime, and facial expressions, but it sure helps if you know the language. But language is only one aspect of living in a foreign country because the culture is an even more important part. We have had to learn about funeral customs (if a neighbor dies we cannot do outside work and must contribute to the food fund of the family), school regimens, unfamiliar holidays and more. It’s not uncommon for me to go to the bank to cash a check only to find the bank closed because of a Muslim or Hindu holiday. Then there are the daily things, like having to greet each person individually when they arrive and to say goodbye when they leave—this is very important here. There is a whole “greeting” culture that once we got used to it, we really liked it. If the person greeting you is demonstrably younger than you are, they must say “Shikamoo” which means I respect you as an elder. You have to reply with “Marahaba” which means . . . well, no one really knows, but it is what you say. Men aren’t allowed to cry, so when Edina came to me years ago weeping over the news of the death of her husband, I cried, too. The male workers rushed to me and began wiping the tears from my face and telling me to control myself. I cry at sad billboards, so I’m in trouble here. There is great respect for pastors and teachers here unlike anywhere I have ever seen. Respect for helping professions and for education and for the elderly are very good aspects of this culture. You’d think they would be more into youth culture since the average life span is just in the forties, but elders are respected. Oh, they also like fat people. If you’re fat, you have no diseases and you have been blessed by God to have enough money to eat well. Let’s see, I can’t cry, but I am respected and adored because I’m a fat, old preacher. I’ll take it.