Happy post Thanksgiving everyone!
I had a delightfully traditional Thanksgiving. After a brief celebration of my housemate Kamal’s graduation from an electrical school I joined Laura and Tarik for a deliciously American Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner was mostly prepared by the very funny and very hospitable Noah and Tricia Kaye who are EMM Missionaries new to Tanzania after a five year stretch in South Africa. Their kids, doggy, and friends were an absolute delight to spend the evening with.
I have found I’m very thankful for good health this Thanksgiving. There’s been a stomach bug making it’s rounds to everyone whose come through the house this past week. Starting with a rough last Sunday for me. Thankfully it’s mostly just a 24hr thing, but a weird African diet, a shift in health habits, and a lack of lysol can catch up with you it seems. I’m thankful to be refocusing my efforts to bring a variety of foods home to supplement our house’s diet of mostly carbs, and I’m encouraging way more hand sanitizer use.
Thanks is also in abundance for all the varying relationships I have so quickly built here in Arusha these past seven weeks. This brings me to answering my first of several great questions I have received from those commenting on my last post.
“What is one thing that has pushed you out of your comfort zone?” – Michelle
The defining lines of my “comfort zone” is a major different between my Tanzanian travels from almost 6 years ago and my time here today. I’m much more comfortable with the chaos of the city, the noise and smells, the transportation, the living conditions, and the food. But the one thing that pushes me the most is exactly what I expected it to be: relationships.
I got lucky to quickly connect with a variety of expats in my house and around town. Expats, aka other white people who are not hear for tourism, share a unique understanding and experience of life here. Arusha is a tourist heavy town so it’s much more common to see gaggles of white tourists roaming around. This means it’s more unique to have other priorities here, and building relationships with locals is one of the priorities that pushes my comfort.
I am relentlessly reminded that I am an mzungu (white person) everywhere I go. It is certainly not a catcall or a derogatory term, but it also carries no respect. The choice to shout mzungu repeatedly at strangers is indoctrinated from a child’s first words, so I can hardly blame everyone. But I’ve stopped responding to the call because they could just as easily call my attention with something less ridiculous: rafiki (friend), madam, sista, mamma, or dada (sister). Unfortunately, I know it sounds cold, but if you call mzungu out to me that pretty much disqualifies you as someone I want to interact with at all.
Making friends is oddly easy and tough here. There are very different expectations for what qualifies as a friend. White women get showered in attention from locals and just about every guy who gains your ear quickly makes it known that he’s interested in some romantic way. And in contrast local women are often a little cold because of all the attention we get. This bothered me significantly the last time I was in TZ. I received many marriage proposals and did not think it was that funny. The marriage proposal count is still zero this time thankfully.
Like most places, the best way to connect with people is through friends of friends. In that way I am thankful for Violet who knows an older more established twenties crowed, and also for Johanna who as the energy of three 18 years and a typical type A personality. She “knows” everyone. Though what I said early holds true with her about local guys expressing their “love.”
So back to the questions My comfort zone gets stretched because I find that whenever I muster up the energy to delve into getting to know a local, the questions are often one sided. I really value mutual interest and genuine curiosity in relationships. I’m here trying to get a glimpse of lives very different from my own, but it’s exhausting when I feel like those around me lack a drive to understand where I come from – geographically and psychosocially. Because of this I naturally gravitate towards my white expat friends, and delightfully the few locals who have traveled and show a distinctly different perspective of life in Arusha and beyond.
I am thankful for Saumu, Mary, Violet, Simon, Naomi, Kamal, Sule (school director), Innocent (taxi driver), and now Hasan (just moved in this weekend) who by proximity of work and home provide daily nudges to expand my understanding of international friendships.
To answer Jeanette’s question: “What surprised you today?”
It is always a pleasant surprise when I connect with someone new and think: “Thank goodness I’m here for several more months to get to know them.” I also spent a good part of my afternoon around town running errands and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself confidently navigating the busy streets on my own. This crazy place is starting to feel normal…
I welcome more questions too! Asante sana!