As I spend my final days here in Tanzania, I want to openly process some of my thoughts, feelings and learnings about how seven years in Africa changed me forever. I have tried to share lessons and feelings along the way as well so I post them below if you want to read them.
But now, in a tad over one short year in Tanzania, something else profound happened in me— Africa crawled even deeper into my heart than I thought possible. There are many reasons why, but the main one is called: language. Learning the language of another person is like taking two people and glueing them to one another…a great bond is formed and something profound is exchanged.
It is hard to put my thoughts into words because words seem unable to capture what I feel. But let me just try by sharing some of what I learned and what changed me…using 3 Kiswahili words.
Karibu! One word. Means everything. You are welcome. You are wanted. You belong here. Have a seat. Take a sip. Have a bite. Come again. Karibu! It strikes me that we don’t even have a word that is equivalent in the English language. I have learned the value of “wantedness” after never once feeling unwanted by an African friend, old or new. Here I have found hospitality on steroids. I wish to do even half as well as my Tanzanian friends when I return to the USA at living in the spirit of Karibu!
Hamna Shida (pronounced hahm-na shee-dah). Meaning: No problem. Everything is “hamna shida”! It’s simply astounding. Have a wheel fall off your car? Hamna shida, we will fix it right here right now for $3. You don’t have money? Hamna shida. Just pay some other day. You will be 6 hours late? Hamna shida, Karibu! Can you please come visit me on a 16 hour bus ride? Hamna shida! I planned to come but can’t make it. Hamna shida. The shop is closed and I need some salt. Hamna shida, karibu. The flexibility, adaptability, resourcefulness, creativity, patience and grace of Africa is unparalleled! What a joyous ebb and flow life takes on when everything is just “hamna shida.” I am still waiting to meet my first uptight Tanzanian. I have learned so much about relaxing and letting everything go as it flows.
Mzungu. Meaning: White person. That is what many call us…at the store, on the road, at the bank. They loudly yell it and assume it to be a compliment. But I have learned a few things about what it means here. It means I am instantly given status I never earned and privilege I don’t deserve. It means I am rich, have power, and can easily abuse it. Mzungu is the clarion call to check myself, my heart, my intentions, my entitlement and submit them to the low and humble way of Jesus to come under, to wash feet and to serve. To me, Mzungu means I have a new kind of power…a power to override colonial thinking, to surprise a brother or sister with grace, and to lift them far above me in any way I can. A power called “self control” that allows me to listen instead of speak, to learn instead of lecture, to by humbled…and in this, we are both healed and changed.
I close with the words of my dear friend John Arndt… “I have learned that the Africa I know and love will always be waiting for more adventurers, but asks of its many visitors to come in humility, because the Africa I know will change you, carve you deeper and twist you tighter than you could have ever imagined.”
Africa, it’s not over! We have many more years ahead together. Tutarudi!! You’re an amazing teacher and a precious friend.
One must be careful not to generalize Africa (which I write about here), so I speak only from my experience in just 12 of Africa's 54 nations.