*Below are blog posts from a blog project I had to do while in Tanzania for a class. The original content came from the blog title called A Red Bird In Africa.
Building A Cross Culture Relationship On A Plane With My Neighbors
Who is my neighbor?
We have the awareness, the ability, and the access to reach out to our most desperate neighbors around the world. -The Hole In Our Gospel (pg 89)
Coming from the United States you would think I would completely understand how to communicate with different cultures. But that isn’t true. Even after telling myself over and over again how I love hearing about where people are from, I really am rather horrible at communicating it. I have traveled outside the US in the past, but looking back on those trips did I ever try to have a conversation with the person sitting next to me on the plane? Have I ever asked them about their life and where they are from. NOPE. I rather put my free headphones in my ears and sleep for the flight if possible. The thing is, when I boarded Ethiopian Airlines flight in Washington DC and on the way back to DC, I ended up sitting next to two individuals who were from Ethiopia. I found right then and there I was building a cross culture Relationship on a plane with my neighbors.
The Women Who Kissed A Picture Of Jesus:
On my way to Tanzania I was in the same row with an elderly Ethiopian lady who every once in a while would kiss a picture of Jesus after reading a passage in her small hand Bible. To someone who isn’t Christian or religious this would seem the strangest thing to witness, but to me it piqued my interest. Ah ha! A fellow Christian. So I asked her about her faith and Ethiopian’s religion practices. My pastor for years has tried to get me to talk about my faith with a complete stranger, and this one plane ride I did just that. I learned something from this wonderful women, not matter where Christians are in the world, we all have a common thread connecting us in our walk with Jesus and serving those around us just as Jesus had done. She prayed for me and my fellow classmates as we embarked on our cross cultural trip to Tanzania ( it was all in Ethiopian, but I was sure it was a great prayer for us all!). And then told me, it is winter time in Ethiopia and further asked me what season is it where I come from. Best conversation thus far on a plane.
The Man Who Pointed Out Community:
On my way back home, I was shoved next to an older gentleman who wanted to have a conversation with me. He wanted to know all about where I was from in the US and where I had been in Africa. Upon answering his questions he started to talk about his life in Ethiopia and how he saw building a new life in US was going to be. I learned what the definition of community from this Ethiopian man. Everyone in the village or community has a role in bring up a child, supporting each other when times are rough, and even on this plane with complete strangers, looking after one another. This was demonstrated when a mother with a very young boy needed help in keeping her toddler from having a complete meltdown and keeping him entertained. Everyone in the area of the plane had him interacting with them at some point. Before the plane touched down the man asked me for my phone number to keep in contact with as he was traveling the California to be with his wife.
The Student Who Learned Something About Neighbors:
In the The Hole In Our Gospel, the author asks the question who is my neighbor? I found myself before the trip thinking of Africa as poverty-stricken people who live tens of thousands miles away. But on this flight it changed that perception. Instead of thinking my neighbor as my intermediate neighbor in my hometown, I had to think of my seatmate as my neighbor in another country. One who just like me wakes up everyday with struggles, faith, purpose and wanting to know more about the world around them. The author in Hole In Our Gospel goes further in saying thousands of missionaries travel to other nations to reach out to their neighbors in tackling the issues of poverty, justice, and education that they encounter. On these two flights I had awareness about the needs of someone by allowing them to ask me questions and having me ask them questions or perspectives. I had access to those who live daily in the countries I want to help in, and learning first hand the problems, the need, and what the community wants from those who come to help. I have the ability (may have been a strange thing for a plane encounter) to listen carefully to my neighbor and even pray with them. I learned to provides an effective way in breaking the cultural barriers for everyone in the interaction. By opening up to my neighbor on the flight, I started to build a cross cultural relationship with two people who in turn started the beginning of my cross cultural discussion with the Tanzanian people in Arusha.
The Little Pink Building: Blur Lines Of Social Class
This bright pink building has come to symbolize the melting of wealthy and poor for me in Tanzania. Every morning I would pull back the hotel curtains to this view, and watch the people of Arusha walking past it every day. People off somewhere, ladies to market, and children off to school walking dangerously close to the road as motorcycles come roaring along. Cultural watching from a guarded window of a fancy hotel.
In Tanzania and most of Africa, there is no separation between rich and the poor. Impoverished nations like Tanzania have visitors on vacation just a stone throw from ramshackle homes made of mud, sheet metal, and tarp as (the picture above) this view from my hotel room window shows. When I first said I would be visiting Tanzania, a couple of my friends thought I would be staying in an isolated tourist safari resort lodge and only venture out to meet the locals when there was not way around it. This is not how I travel, and being dissuaded from witnessing poverty or any form of heartbreak is a disservice to the country you are visiting. Here in Arusha fancy hotels are intermixed with clusters of huts. Wealthy homes and businesses are surrounded by cement or mud homes with tin roofs packed off the main highway along muddy untamed dirt paths or roads. There is no distinction where the rich are and where the poor begins. Arusha is just a city consisting of a stew of all social classes like chicken to ugali.
Curiously interesting cultural experiences to behold when you see this unique society stew first hand. It becomes apparent the absence of overt social class distinctions between individuals on the street. At times I could not tell who was poor and who was wealthy. There is little strife observed through interactions. Any preconceptions to the locals were hard to apply because as Daudi said, this type of environment is where relationships flourish over time. I can see this from a simple observation from a window (bus or hotel) and from walking among the locals in Mianzini area of Arusha.
In class, we discussed this same relationship as a need for trust-based relationships instead of need-based relationships for a community to develop. Toxic Charity also talks about this relationship in the scope of community development and advises community developers to overcome “unintended superiority and the expectation of gratitude” that often gets in the way of development in a community (p3). Being American I can see this in my own country as a problem, but in Arusha this was difficult to see. I found presuming any superiority over people who mingle between different social classes to be almost non-existent. Instead, I was welcomed at every turn with “karibu” and did not presume anything of each other in any interaction.
Maybe we should take a leaf from Tanzania on how to interact with each other no matter our social class.
Ubuntu: Poverty Cannot Destroy It
The definition of poverty means both (1) materially poor, having little or no money or goods or other means of support. Dependent on charity or public support, (2) faithful among God’s people who have a heart for the poor, attitude as the poor and are totally dependent on God. Being poor in spirit is to embrace poverty with lack of material possessions as good for the soul.
By observation of the Tanzanian people, maybe people of Arusha are poor in material goods and money, but they are rich in being good to each other, integrate faith and love into every aspect of their life. Working hard themselves for their families and never once did I hear complaints about how hard their life is. True stiff upper lip. I cannot say that about myself. Coming from an individualistic, self-serving society of United States, the Tanzanian people and the poor of Arusha put Americans to shame. I could go boldly as to say America does not have hard-working as we all believe.
Walking the streets of Arusha’s Mianzini area, it seemed all around through tragic and necessary, poverty had strengthened the souls of those I had interacted with. From the women who set up shop in the middle of her neighborhood in order to support her family, the shop mistress who works 14-15 hours a day or more so her son can have a future at college, and the community church who support each of its members in times of tragedy. Each familiar with poverty, each found faith in Convoy of Hope and God. Each willing to extend compassion, and kindness towards all interactions with others.
The Hole In The Gospel by Robert Stearns uses an allegory of the church made up of impoverishing Africans who gather without a permanent place or proper funding but gave generously to the community within all their reach. The distinction is clear when you look at it from the perspective of the poor in Mianzini, the African people (African church) compare to the average American people (American mega church) which the author noted lacked the resources was the ones giving the most to those in need. The American church with all the resources was the ones giving the least to those in need.
Feed One, Feed Them All….
We left the comforts of Green Mountain Hotel and ventured three hours out to a rural Maasai village and school in Tinga. The drive would take us all from the lush greenness of the Arusha area to the dry dusty plains of Africa. Pass natures breath-taking scenery. The plan for the day was to hang out with all the children, and have first-hand experience with Convoy of Hope’s Children’s feeding program at the Lisingita Primary School.
Our jeep rolled into the excitement of the children seeing us. Like fans going nuts after seeing their favorite celebrity. It was nuts! I never in my life had this much attention (I’m an only child) as these kids gave me when they were let loose on us. As soon as they were loose they latched on to all of us and would not even let go unless forced. Daudi and a professor told us all children in Africa do not get enough attention from adults and to show them as much attention as humanly possible. True! These children have so little in a way of material comforts most other children in the developed world has. Just the simplest game of four corners brought them joy, laughter, and brought a huge smile to their faces.
The main purpose of this trip into the deep bush of Tanzania was the Convoy of Hope’s feeding program. This program was to establish sustainability in feeding the children who come to school, and promoting nutrition into children’s diet. Before we came Daudi told us all that most children in poor regions of Tanzania only get one meal a day and it does not always have the vital nutrients needed for the children to be healthy. Our contribution to this feeding program was to help pass out plates of porridge fortified with key nutrients, with mango juice to drink and worming medication if needed to the children. Every child got a meal by the end of the day.
At the end of the day, the question remains, is this community development or is this “religious tourism” or the fine line between volunteerism and actual service? Luptin from Toxic Charity constantly reminded me what this trip needs to be all about; how to promote long-term community development and relationships in a short period of time while avoiding “religious tourism.” I see this as both a volunteerism and actual service when I have two capable hands with a brain attached to them. Luptin goes further in saying service originates in the heart and flows out to touch a hurting world. Compassion is the reflection of the divine, the in-person reassurance that there is care in this world. If one day of feeding a school full of children is compassionate service, then it must be one part of the community development process. Convoy of Hope is about compassionate service, and the lesson learned is no matter how small my actions are in this, it still has an impact somewhere along the process to community sustainability for the children of the school.
Maasai Women: Gift Of Empowerment
Look into those eyes. What do you see? A child with a backpack? What about those brown eyes? The ones piercing into the your soul. What do you see? I see a girl who will one day grow up to be a women with a family. The cure for poverty has a name and in fact. It’s called empowerment of women – Christopher Hitches. While at the Maasai school all of us women have the chance to talk to a group of Maasai women who are apart of the feeding program at the school.
There is not much difference between women in the developing world and women in the developed world. As I sat listening and asking questions of the Maasai women, the answers given were same for every women in the world. No matter where us women are in this world, we all want the same things for ourselves, our families, and for our communities. In the discussion we all talked about marriage, the importance of children in our culture, what surprised us about each other’s culture, education of their children especially their girls, and what Convoy of Hope could do to help the Maasai community. Their humor, their gratitude, and their love in calling us all daughters meant so much to me. Made the whole day extra special and started the healing process within myself.
Coming back to the little girl in the picture, what do you see? In The Hole On Our Gospel Richard Stearns points out in Africa a “women’s earning potential increases when she is educated. Girls are more likely acquire skills to improve the economic stability of her family and she makes sure her daughters receive an education too (p140).” After seeing this play out in other communities where Convoy of Hope’s Women’s Empowerment program is active, educating girls and women pays dividend after dividend to the whole community. I agree with both Convoy of Hope’s empowerment mission, and the author of Hole In The Gospel in the single most significant important thing to cure extreme poverty is to “protect, educate, and nurture girls and women and provide them with equal rights and opportunities-economically, educationally, and socially.”
What I see in the picture of this little girl is potential, empowered women in the future of Tanzania and her tribe.
We won’t unlock opportunities for young women and girls unless we can change the mindset of every family and community. To achieve this, it cannot just be women who speak up for girls. Prince Harry of Wales
One thing I noticed when we all where at the school was the men did get the chance to talk with the Maasai men. What did surprise me was fellow male classmates wanting to sit down with the Maasai women and ask them questions. Cory, Ben and Josh were very interested in wanting to know what the Maasai women needed men to do to help them feel empowered in their community. I love how Prince Harry of Wales states it is not only for women who need to speak up, but men also. It also reminds me of a husband of one of the women I visited in Arusha telling Doc T and I more men need to step up and help support their wives in supporting the family. The three young men here are an example of “stepping up” to empowering women in their community. I just hope all three will bring this insight back to their communities and speak up for women’s empowerment.
Am I a Tourist Or Volunteer? Compassion Fatigue.
Ngaramtoni Primary School was the crown jewel of a successful community development project Convoy of Hope completed. Here families in Arusha want to send their kids to this school because of the feeding program established here, the children are excited about learning, and many of the mothers of children attending have successfully completed the women’s empowerment program. We all sat down with women associated with the school for a discussion on how their lives changed with Convoy of Hope.
At this point, I was becoming ever so frustrated with my fellow classmates on this trip. I ended up sitting by myself in the back of the classroom and only hearing a snippet of the conversation being translated to us by Daudi. I was tired of saying “mambo” and “asanti” to everyone. I was mentally checking out, and acting like I cared when it was obvious I wasn’t. This frustrated feeling is what Hole In Our Gospel calls “compassion fatigue.” I was starting to become as Stearns put it detached and indifferent towards the constant and repeated images of poverty and adversity bombarding me (p88) and trying to drown out the hundred crashing jetliners all around me. I started to question am I just a tourist? Is this really volunteerism? Looking around it seemed that way.
A few times throughout the trip, our group would be in settings of Convoy activity, performing jobs, touring places, asking questions that felt pointless, possibly interrupting a good day of work, school time for the locals and children. I saw the flawed systems that Lupton criticized in Toxic Charity about short-term trips as these often do more harm by having the trip miss the big picture because we see development through a narrow lens of need of our school purpose for this trip (to graduate). Toxic Charity goes further to say “some of us are motivated by showing compassion to the oppressed and believe serving others will at the very least change us.”
We only stayed a few hours before heading for lunch. At lunch time my “compassion” fatigue was killed off by beans and ugali. To answer the question about tourist or volunteer, I believe a volunteer is a mostly accurate description of what I was personally doing by this time in the trip. The lesson learned from this is compassion fatigue is a real deal when on mission trips, and I can see why you need to take a time out to get your thoughts in order. Apathy is not helpful to anyone.
Feeling Small On Top Of A Hill
Throughout this trip, I kept coming back to this proverb. There were many times I found myself thinking there was no way my small acts would make a difference in any of the people we interacted with. Daudi did tell us all that we would not solve the problem in one week, but our contribution no matter how small still has an impact. I guess this is where my paradigm shift started, feeling small of a top of a hill I just climbed with most of my classmates. I was beginning to shed the old misconceptions of myself and in light of it, the path I had been on was changing direction again.
Climbing up Suye hill near the hotel sounded like a fun adventure to undertake, but as soon as I started to climb up the steep slippery hillside, I started having doubts. Here as I climbed higher and higher with sweat dripping off my face and feeling so out of shape, came the shift. For the past two years at Northwest, I have been fighting a battle no one has to know about (until now). I had lost my true purpose in why I was a biologist and my passion for biology. A mosquito of life’s circumstances had sucked the blood of this passion out of me. Here in Tanzania, it was showing.
As I climbed up in the dense thick brush, slipping, cursing, almost in tears and trying to hold it together, my perspectives started to change. Why am I complaining about this when people below have it harder? The mosquito was back again. When I finally got to the top of the hill and saw Mount Meru, that’s when it hit me.
Convoy of Hope: Building Sustainable Lives Through Community Development
When I first heard what Convoy of Hope wanted all of us in the group to put fresh eyes into helping them draw up a plan for sustainability of their feeding, and women’s empowerment programs, I had a nightmare flashback to one such plan Samaritan’s Purse had done a few years ago with a church group. Yet here I was again staring at Daudi (program director of Convoy of Hope) and trying to quell my panic (introvert panic) and keeping from running back to the airport. What I didn’t know at the time was Convoy of Hope would embody the principles of a book read in class about community development.
Throughout this trip, I learned how Convoy of Hope operates, and this insight stuck with me that I never encountered with Samaritan’s Purse. Convoy of Hope enters into partnerships in the community with a goal of eventually leaving them to self-sustain. They come into situations providing relief freely through programs for feeding, agricultural education, girls and women’s programs. For a short period of time they give unsustainable, then offer education, training, assistance in building income for women and establishing groups for community support. When their partners reach a point where they can sustain themselves, Convoy steps out of the situation. Exactly the approach in Toxic Charity in transitioning from relief to development. “First stop relief, second stop rehabilitation, and third stop development. From witnessing Convoy at work over the week, I could see Convoy has mastered the art of community development and it is seen in many of the communities around Tanzania. True community development in a nutshell.
Lipton writes the first goal is to alleviate suffering, followed by increasing the capacity for community and finally long-term improvement of the standard of living within the community (p138). A lot of the discussion during the week centered around the last stop of long-term improvement of the community and what are the assets in the community needing to be taped to reach this goal of sustainability.
Since I did not run for the airport but stayed to do my best, I started seeing every situation with fresh eyes in community development. As we all gathered around a table in the hotel conference room, we all came up with assets needing to be tapped by Convoy of Hope. Employment opportunities for adult disabled people in the school, water runoff from the hand washing stations being diverted to the gardens at the school, kitchen ventilation for all the smoke the fires put out, and develop land around the school for income base businesses. Each of these assets embodies what Toxic Charity states “no matter how desuetude the situation maybe, [there is] enormous untapped capacity within the community” we as helpers have the capacity to find, be inspired by it, build upon it and utilize it” (p 191). Daudi and the whole Convoy of Hope team affirm this again and again when interacting with communities.
Culture Wrapped In Tanzanite
Clang goes the bells as I am awoken from my sleep by sounds of the local Lutheran church calling the masses for service. Then moments later the local masque’s call to prayer follows along with some weird noise no one can explain. All before 5 am on a Sunday.
After stumbling out of bed and getting ready for the day, I could hear faint singing in distance. Across the red dirt road was a church and people were inside sing hymns. There was no loud worship band playing, just a piano and voices. I was captivated by the peaceful sound of nature’s song mixed with a song of people worshiping the Lord. Though I couldn’t understand what they were singing, I was uplifted by it. I wished we all could have experienced the rich unique blend of Christianity by attending the Sunday service with the locals, but we had to make our long journey back to Arusha.
When in Arusha we had the time to do some shopping before our flight back home later in the day. With the obscene amount of Tanzanian shillings in my pocket, I set out to find things to bring back home. This is where being culturally unconformable I became. Bartering is not my strong suit, and just the thought of having to haggle with someone over the price of a wooden giraffe was ridiculous to me. Then again what are $20,000 shillings to me? $10 USD. When put into perspective, The Bottom Billion author Paul Collier respectfully outlines traps these small store owners face in Tanzanian economy. Tanzania is caught in a resource trap, and trade restrictions imposed on them. The driver of our jeep pointed out the large shopping mall like structure where all the Tanzanite transactions in the world are carried out. No wonder the shop keepers are aggressive in haggling. Even aggressive in getting you to buy something you really don’t want either. I must have offended a half a dozen people all because I was put off by the aggressive tactics and just felt intimidated.
The culture experienced while on this trip was as vibrant and vivid as the precious gemstone Tanzanite. Like Richard Stearns says, “moving a mountain, one shovel at a time” (275), so every interaction I had with the Tanzanian people was a shovel unearthing brilliance facets of their culture, and their lives. Through Convoy of Hope, these “stones” are polished even more brilliant and worth much more.
One day I will return to Tanzania.