*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.