Monday, July 8, 2013

Swahili Greetings

The Swahili classroom – Tuesday 6/18/2013

Greetings are an extremely important part of the language.  We spent a lot of time learning the many greetings we might be met with and how we should respond.  Introductions are a large part of the culture, and it’s common to spend upwards of 15 minutes on an introduction going through a series of greetings, which is something we need to be prepared for.  Certain greetings struck me as very reflective of the culture.  For example:

  • When asking, How are you? How was your day? How was your trip?, the response is always, always nzuri – good.  This fits the positive attitude of Tanzanians.  No matter what, you’re doing fine.  No matter how bad things are, you’re still doing fine.  In the US, I find it superficial when people always respond “good, good, good,” without pausing to actually answer how they are.  So it was interesting to look at this question through a Tanzanian lens, putting a positive spin on why we always say we’re doing fine.
  • KARIBU.  Welcome.  I have never heard a word used SO frequently in a language.  It’s first said upon meeting someone, as in “welcome to my home”, “please come in”.  It’s used to say “you’re welcome” in response to “thank you”.  It’s said at the beginning of a meal, meaning “bon appetite” i.e. welcome yourself to the food.  It can really be used at any time to say “make yourself at home”.  Karibu literally means “come close” or “close”, so karibu is also used for “close by”, “almost”, or “soon”, but that departs from the meaning it holds as a greeting.  In any case, it’s surprising how many different ways one word can be applied, and I think it’s quite indicative of the warm, welcoming Tanzanian culture.

And here are my personal favorite greetings:

  • Mzima? – Mzima.   Roughly, it translates to: Are you well?  -- I am well.  Literally, mzima means “Whole. Complete. Health”.  
  • And in the morning, we ask: Umelalaje? – Salama.  How did you sleep? – Peace.

First day of school!

TCDC – Monday 6/17/2013

Mama packed us matching lunchboxes.  Really takes me back.

Kristen and I decided to walk to school rather than taking the daledale.  The daledale is the main form of public transport in Tanzania.  It's a large van that fits about 20 people.  It doesn't actually seat 20 people, but there's a Tanzanian saying that the daledale is never full, the daledale can always fit one more.  Tons of daledales drive up and down the main highway here, picking up and dropping off at each bus stop.  Our stop, Makumira, is just one stop away from school, so it’s almost not worth squeezing ourselves and our backpacks to stand hunched over in cramped van.

It's about a 30-minute walk, 20 minutes if we walk fast, but we enjoy it.  We walk single file either on the shoulder of the highway or on a narrow footpath that runs along the side of the road.  We pass a lot of college students walking to the nearby Makumira University, young professionals (it's comical to see them dressed in business casual while navigating the dirt path), some farmers, and children heading to school.  A lot of daledales, trucks, and boleboles--motorbikes--fly past us.  They drive uncomfortably close.  It seems like mass transport is the norm around here, because there aren’t many personal cars on the road.  Some of the trucks honk at us, which is kind of alarming, but I think we’ll eventually get used to the all the sounds, the gusts of dust and exhaust, and the starting feeling of being blown aside whenever a huge truck rushes past.

The school where we'll be taking classes for the next month is technically a training center.  It's called the Training Center for Development Corporation, TCDC for short.  The locals call it the Danish, because it was started by a group of Danes and retains some Danish influence.  It offers a variety of courses and facilities with the goal of encouraging local development and educating visitors, and it serves as a liaison between the local Tanzanians and visitors like me.  It almost feels like an island, an ideal learning environment, with so many classrooms and amenities.

Our classroom
This morning we were given an orientation to acquaint us with TCDC and they brought up some useful points about Tanzanian culture and acclimating in Tanzania.
  • Tanzanians are warm, welcoming, hopeful, peaceful, and tolerant of other cultures.  Their kindness does not stem from ulterior motives.
  • Tanzanians are oftentimes too polite to disagree.  We might have to work to receive any constructive criticism, which will be especially pertinent once we arrive at our hospitals.
  • Also because of the politeness, it can be hard to tell the difference between “yes” and “no”.  In fact, Tanzanians rarely say no to an invitation.  A Tanzanian “no” sounds something like: “well…yes…maybe I will come”.
  • The three most important asp
    ects of Tanzanian culture: time, relationships, and language.  We should try to learn as much Swahili as possible, in order to show respect.  And it’s important that we develop a sense of Tanzanian time and that we place high value on relationships.  Tanzanians value relationships over time, meaning that it’s more important whom we are with now than whom we are about to meet.  In this sense, it’s acceptable to be late to appointments.
  • And here’s my favorite:  “In Africa, we say, we believe:  Adults are never late.  We are just delayed.”

 At lunchtime, we all gathered around with our little lunchboxes and got to know each other.  Our lunches are surprisingly similar, but we still took the chance to trade food amongst ourselves.  It was comical to see a group of twenty-somethings acting like kindergarteners again, and quite a contrast to our more serious motives for being here.

And then there was chai… Chai, or tea time, is a big part of the culture here.  We have a break in the morning and one in the afternoon to gather in the chai banda, have a snack, and most importantly, chat.  Chai provides the essential time to engage in conversation in order to develop trust and friendship with those around us.  It is what creates such strong bonds in Tanzanian communities.  It seems trivial, but chai will be a crucial tool for us next month, when we must develop strong relationships with the hospital staff.  Without such relationships, we won’t be given any equipment or any insight into the needs of the hospital. Without their trust, we’d be helpless.  But for now, lunch and chai breaks are just a good opportunity to meet everyone.  I think it’s shaping up to be a great group.

Hanging out at the end of the day

When Kristen and I got home this evening, we sat at the kitchen table doing our Swahili homework and reading the lab manuals assigned for tomorrow.  Ruth sat with us, doing her own homework, and helping us with our Swahili.  It’s funny that she’s more capable of helping us than we are of helping her.

Right now, Mama’s cooking dinner, and Ruth is playing with my hair.  All in all, a good first day of school.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My New Home

Mama Glory's house -- Father's Day 6/17/2013

Day 1 is going well so far.  I’ve been sleeping a lot.  (I woke up at 2…oops.

Mama Glory showed me around the house.  The main living space has a living room in the front, a dining area, and then a kitchen along the back wall, all in one large room.  She has a shop out front, which occupies half of the veranda.  Mama told me she is self-employed—she sells beans.  She also sells other things like homemade yogurt and fresh-squeezed juice, and she stocks goods brought in by friends, like fresh milk, pastries, and bottled drinks.  Her main customers are university students (because college students don’t like to cook, of course).  The neighborhood we live in, Makumira, is a suburb of Arusha, and many of our neighbors attend the university in Makumira.  The shop is basically a food stand connected to the house, which allows her to run her business right out of her home.  In the back of the house, there’s an outdoor kitchen, where she cooks her beans in giant pots.

Along the way, I met her son Johnny (14), her niece Ruth (10), and two girls who work for her and help run the shop, Neema and Stella (both about 18).  Ruth just started living with them about 6 months ago.  Her dad, Mama’s brother, inherited the family farm, so he lives rurally outside of town.  He wanted to send Ruth to private school in town rather than rural government school, but it’s a long commute from the farm to town.  So Mama Glory offered to have Ruth live with her so that she can attend the better private school in town.  Neema and Stella have both finished secondary school and are deciding what to do next.  They might be able to go to college, but I’m not sure about that.  Neema is the daughter of Mama’s friend, so she works during the day but goes home before dinner.  Stella lives with us and is basically part of the family.a’s bedroom is at the front of the house, next to the living room, and Johnny’s bed is in a little nook beside the kitchen.  The second half of the house is made up of the bathroom, the loft where Stella and Ruth sleep, and the room I share with my roommate, Kristen.  Kristen arrived later tonight, so I’ve had the day with just the family.

Ruth is a cutie.  The others are quite shy, but Ruth immediately opened up.  She was very curious about me and very eager to play.  She poured out a puzzle on the floor and while we played with that she asked me a lot of questions.  Right off the bat, she asked, “Are you Christian?”  I waited.  “…or are you Muslim?”   I quickly answered, “Christian.”  I figured that was the right answer.  We had prayed before lunch.  Also during lunch, Ruth asked me a lot about Swahili.  She just couldn’t believe I didn’t know Swahili.  “None?  Kiswahili?  You don’t know any?”

She took it upon herself to teach me some.  When we were playing on the floor, she pulled out her grammar book from school and had me read through phrases.  She was going pretty fast.  Then she would shut the book and ask me to recall the material.  I was pretty lame, too jetlagged to absorb much, but she didn’t give up.  I think she’s expected to pick up languages so quickly (both English and French), that she couldn’t comprehend how slow Americans can be sometimes.

Kristen is great. She’s from Dallas, just graduated from the BME department at Texas A&M, and will be starting her master’s there in the fall.  She’s very easy-going, and we have similar living styles, so I think we’ll get along really well.  Yet again, I’m lucky to end up with a great roommate. :)

I already broke some major food rules.  I ate the salad and put fresh milk with my chai.  The chai was strongly spiced with ginger and because the milk is unpasteurized it started to film at the top of the hot tea.  That was kind of gross, so I probably won’t do that again.  Kristen and I both have strong stomachs and we figure we’ll eat everything at home until we have a reason not to.  We trust Mama and we see how everything is prepared, so I feel comfortable eating everything we are served.  (Outside food is another case, of course.)  I’ll have to post about Tanzanian food sometime, but I’ll try to consolidate it rather than telling you what I eat every day.  So far it’s been delicious.

I had mentioned that the bathroom here was interesting, and it is.  It’s probably the most visually shocking aspect of the house.  The toilet is a squatting toilet, meaning that it’s just a porcelain hole in the ground. There is a sink, but no water comes out of the faucet.  Instead, there’s a water bucket and a plastic pitcher.  To wash hands, we scoop up water in the pitcher in one hand and run the water over the other hand and into the sink drain.  It’s kind of hard to make suds with one hand, so I think I’ll stick to hand sanitizer and WetWipes.  To flush the toilet, we pour a bit of water in the toilet, which then runs down into the hole.  To brush our teeth, we use bottled or boiled water.

To bathe…bucket shower!  We boil two kettles of water and then add cold water out of a massive storage bucket.  Because the cold water has never been boiled, it’s important not to drink any of the shower water.  The water goes into a wide basin that we place right on top of the toilet.  This is how the bathroom becomes multifunctional.  We again use the pitcher for showering, and the water just hits the floor of the bathroom surrounding the toilet.  The floor is slightly slanted down towards the toilet, so all the water eventually makes its way down the drain.  It’s surprisingly effective.  I feel like I leave the bathroom with water all over the floor, but it never stays there for very long.  Although bucket showering is not as therapeutic as taking a shower back home, it’s incredibly efficient.  We probably prepare about 5 gallons total, so Kristen and I each use at most 2.5 gallons of water for an entire shower.  It’s eye-opening that we can clean ourselves with so little water, and it really appeals to my environmentally-conscious side.

As far as any sources of third-world discomfort, I have to say…conditions here are no worse than housing at Duke.  They’re on par, if not better.  The lighting is yellow and kind of dim, just like my apartment on Central Campus, and my room here is definitely bigger than my freshman dorm room.  The multifunctional bathroom is primitive compared to our standards, but much cleaner than anything I’ve seen at Duke.  Plus, living here has the added benefit of dependably delicious meals, where dinners make sense, are actually cooked, and don’t consist of grabbing Greek yogurt, apples, and chocolate chips out of my fridge.  So if anything, the features here that initially seem unappealing in fact remind me of my home in Durham.

Our cozy bedroom

As I putt around my new home, the main word that comes to mind is: comfort.  Mama has created an atmosphere that is very warm and soft.  She keeps telling us to "Please. Feel at home”.  And before saying goodnight, she stressed that:

This will be your home for the next month, so you should make yourself comfortable.  If you need anything, please ask, because if you do not ask and you are not comfortable, you will be very unhappy.

I appreciate how frank and open she is.  I do feel at home.

One last thing that Ruth told me at dinner:

Tanzania is a very nice country.

I agree.