Our family spent five special years in South Africa before we moved to Tanzania. There we learned a fair amount about culture. I remember learning the hard lessons that Africans weren't lying to me, the were protecting our relationship that meant so much to them. I learned that Afrikaaners weren't all racist, they were facing significant fear of losing everything they've known. These and other learnings take time and insight. All in all, SA was easy as far as cross-cultural assignments go. Tanzania is a different ball game.
I thought I would share the most helpful cultural lesson/tool I've discovered in our 8 months here. Of course, we get frustrated about things. Culture can grind us. A trip into town can bring out our ugliness easier than we'd want to admit. But here's the story that is helping me walk in grace and love Tanzania more each day....
It's my fault. It's my problem to deal with. It's my issue to overcome. We moved HERE. We are outsiders and we are responsible for doing the adjusting and changing, NOT Tanzanians.
- When I order beef and get goat, it's my fault. Better brush up on my vocab.
- When we are supposed to meet at 1, and they arrive at 1:50, it's my problem. Remember how it works here for some folks.
- When someone says they'll call me later and never do, relax. Learn to read the signs better...maybe they weren't as interested as you thought...or ran out of airtime.
- When you've tried 3 different ways of asking for something at the store and they still take you to the wrong item...my fault. Better figure out what they call it here.
- When you let one car turn in front of you, and a stream of 25 follows against your will, smile and wave. This isn't the USA. My problem.
- And the list goes on.
But, when I remind myself whose problem this is, it allows me to keep a pure and loving heart toward my host culture instead of blaming them when we miss each other, and it keeps me postured as a learner, in humility, which is perhaps the number one requirement for success in a foreign context.
So, if you plan to spend time in another culture, put this to work. It'll take you far. If you'd rather get angry at "these people" for how they live, I'll say what they want to..."GO BACK HOME if we are so frustrating to you."