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"HABA NA HABA, HUJAZA KIBABA"

What I appreciate about Tanzanian culture is the hospitality. The ‘Karibuni’ (welcomes’), ‘Tahadhaleni’ (pleases’), and ‘Asanteni’ (thank yous’). One month in Tanzania have already passed. It feels like a lifetime (in a good way). Since arrival Peace Corps overwhelms you with information, language and technical training. After a week in a beautifully secluded compound in Dar Es Salaam, we finally get exposed to the reality of Tanzania. A six-hour bus ride to Muhaza, a district off the east coast embodying eight small villages. Trainees are distributed in intimate groups through out the district to gain the full community language experience in a small village for 10-weeks. Waking up every morning to the sound of birds chirping outside my window, roasters at dawn, calls to prayer five times a day, children’s laughter and the scent of local air, sweet and humid, mixed in with that smell of seaweed, garbage, and car exhaust. 

On my way to class I observe how neighbors take the time to check in, ask about your health, family matter and every moment is filled with blessings. How respect goes without saying. How greeting an elder it is never ‘Hello’ but always “Shikamoo” literally translates to “I give my respect to you”. How during my afternoon walk through the village I am always invited in for tea. It is a genuine ‘Karibu’ welcome in my home. It is fascinating to experience a culture that has so little to sustain yet offers the entire universe. How I feel God in every smile I encounter. Humbleness and hearts full of sincerity you can fill a nation with. How women carry a child on their back, a basket on their head, a smile on their face, and all the world’s sorrow on their shoulders. Strong women. Made of earth, glorious and godly. Colonizers may have torn this land yet African women move with so much grace and rhythm. 

My Host family is relatively smaller than the average Tanzanian family. Bibi, my grandmother is a woman full of kind wisdom. She is a farmer but due to her old age and husband passing away, she hires workers to do labor on her farm and generates a comfortable income without having to leave the house. Bibi’s children are older, married and dispersed into distance leaving her behind alone in the village with two young girls to foster while the girls have an opportunity to attend school. They are not her children. Here in Tanzania it is common for distant relatives, uncles, cousins, aunts, nieces and in-laws to live in one house together. Tanzanians have open homes and sometimes it is confusing to understand the relationship between people living together.

Most of my days are spend in a classroom learning Swahili in the morning and hanging out in my community in the evening, practicing my language, visiting neighbors who feed me plenty, eating mangoes on the side of the road with children, drinking the best cup of coffee in the middle of nowhere, learning the culture and establishing trust with community members. Starting next week, I will be working at my village’s health clinic to gain better knowledge on health issues here in Tanzania as well as practice my language. It is important for me to become fluent in Swahili; absolutely nothing can be accomplished if I am not able to break the language barrier. Learning the language is the ultimate step to implementing change. 

After a week of being ill and low on energy, a neighbor invites me over for tea. Tells me how inspiring the dedication leaving America to work in Africa. It is never easy to leave everything familiar and move half way across the world. Learn a new language, a new culture, a new lifestyle with little to sustain in the hopes of contributing small efforts toward changing the world. There is a saying here in Tanzania "haba na haba, hujaza kibaba" little by little, fills the measure. Small efforts combined together make a big difference. At that moment nothing else mattered. No illness. No distance. No struggle. I felt empowered, appreciated and more grateful to be here.

© 2020 Abir Ibrahim. All Rights Reserved.