Wednesday, June 25th
Tuesday was a very wonderful and monumental day here in Rhotia, Tanzania. We were all put into pairs and sent to a local family for an all day home stay. My friend Hannah and I were paired together and went to a family located in the outskirts of town. Each group brought 5 gallons of water, toiletries and 2 bags of food to donate to the family. Those bags were filled with 2 cabbages, 10 tomatoes, 2 bags of rice, 2 bags of milk, a container of cooking oil, enough soap for a month, 2 onions, tea and a lot of fresh meat. Families in the area are typically poor as Tanzania is a very impoverished country, and to feed even two extra people one meal could be almost impossible. So, we were dropped off at 8:30am with all of our goodies, and left to fend for ourselves for the rest of the day.
When we first arrived, we were greeted by the grandma, daughter in law and children. It was very difficult at first, since none of these family members spoke any English. We used simple greetings and sayings, but the barrier was very intense. Mama Herman (all women are called mama if they have a child) sat us on the couch and would not let us do anything. In Tanzania, it is normal to treat your guest as royalty- they do not get up, they do not cook food, and you cater to them. In the most polite way possible, we are supposed to help around the house and make the most out of our experience. After sitting on the couch for over an hour, the son came home from work. Luckily, he spoke some English, so it was easier to communicate. Finally, we were able to wash some dishes. Since water is scarce, you wash all of the dishes in one bucket with a bar of soap, then rinse them in a clean bucket. Even though the water in the wash bucket gets very dirty looking, all of the dishes come out clean- definitely an eye opener to how much water we use in the states to do things like wash clothes and do dishes.
After dishes, we went to the field and gathered two buckets of corn, which we husked, separated and then put all of the corn into a different bucket to be roasted for dinner. By this time, the entire extended family was home. There were about 18 people. at least 10 of them being children age 2-12. We brought out our phones and everyone wanted to take pictures. The eldest girl even went and put on her fanciest dress for us. For over an hour, our phones were just passed person to person, and everyone wanted pictures. In Tanzania, it is uncommon for poorer families to have access to anything that takes pictures, especially the children. Lots of children don’t even know what they look like because many households don’t even have mirrors. We took hundreds of photos with the family, and also showed them pictures we had of home, our friends, and our lives back in the states.
In Tanzania, there are many breaks for chai. The families stop work, or whatever they are doing, and sit down and enjoy some nice, sweet tea mixed with milk. So, after the pictures, we all went inside to enjoy chai and lunch. For lunch, the family cooked most of the food we brought- you could tell they hadn’t had a meal this nice in a while. We had shredded cabbage with some red sauce on it, lots of rice, ugali (which is a very stiff and flavorless porridge made out of corn flour) and the meat, which consisted of everything from stomach to intestines. The cabbage was one of my personal favorites, and the meat was…. interesting. It was a little hard to stomach just because it was so different from anything I’ve ever eaten in the states. The houses are also very different. Many range from mud shacks to brick houses. Our home was mud and brick. The inside walls are just hardened mud with no decorations, except a calendar from 2014. There were two windows, but the curtains are always kept shut to keep the heat out. The living room consisted of a homemade coffee table, 2 chairs, and a small couch. That is literally it. This family did not have electricity nor running water. There were also two bedrooms in the house. There was a whole other building that was used as the kitchen. It was just a mud hut with dirt floors, and a coal pit next to a window for the smoke (even though it is always so smokey inside that it is unbearable). They cook all of their food in pots held above the coals by large rocks. It’s amazing that they sustain a family of 18 here- and everyone looked relatively healthy, except for the pneumonia going around due to the cold season.
(Above is some of the younger children and myself in the yard)
We spent the rest of the day playing with the children. Mostly, we did hand-clapping games, counting games (in both English and Swahili), and we even played futbol (soccer) and catch with a ball made entirely of wrapped and hardened vines. The kids also loved playing with our hair and even just touching our skin. It was wonderful to have such a fun and welcoming day, even though there was an intense language barrier. I felt so at home though, and we both were very welcomed and asked to return. The kids were so sad when had to leave in the evening. It was such a humbling experience and a wonderful way to see Tanzanian culture first hand. In Tanzania, the phrase ‘it takes a village’ is reality. If families are poor or going through hardship, neighbors will take them in and help in any way possible. Children of all ages are free to wander around without worry if they are safe and will be home at night. A child can show up at any household for a meal and be welcomed with open arms. If someone’s crops failed or a cow died, people will step in to make sure you are fed.
Life in Tanzania is very different. People work very hard to receive very little. Family is very important, and neighborhoods mean everything. Education is only a top priority through primary school. In rural areas, money is in the form of how much livestock you own. Poorer families’ houses don’t own useless decorations- everything has a purpose. You fetch your own food from your own fields. You slaughter your own meat. Everyone works- children start herding by 3 years old. 5 year olds walk around carrying giant machetes to cut firewood. Something that really put life here into perspective for me: Baba Herman asked how much it costed to get here, and we told him around $2,000 in flights. In Tanzania, $2,000 USD (4,609,000 Tanzanian shillings) is enough to build a nice home. The amount of money I spent just to fly here could have build a spacious brick home for a family. That was shocking. We are so privileged in many ways.
But more importantly, Tanzanian people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. They welcome you with open arms, even though are skin is a different color. Even though we come from different social classes. Even though we can’t even communicate with each other. After being there for only an hour, the children were calling me their sister. That day was my favorite yet in Tanzania. I will miss this family and these people greatly. Never have I experienced people so friendly, unguarded and welcoming to complete strangers. They gave their all to make us feel comfortable, and learn from one another. What a wonderful day June 23rd, 2015 was. Ninapenda sana.