What do you see?
Trees as green as wild grass on a spring morning; earth as raw and red as if it was the lifeblood of the earth itself; people as passionate and personable as if they were your own brothers and sisters; metal roofs and sun-scorched bricks weathered and worn by years of use-- forget the big five and all those roadside souvenirs - this is Africa. This boundless nature is what makes Africa so special, and was in this world of vibrant life and color that I began my second week of work in Tanzania (check out some pictures below).
The week kicked off, as a week often does, at a local church on a Sunday morning. As Jennifer and I were waiting for the service to begin she and I became the center of attention for a large group of local children. Before any songs had been sung or testimonies had been tested, the two of us came to attention for the rest of the congregation as the children called out “muzungu! muzungu!”
Fortunately this was not the first time I had heard this term used, and as my handy-dandy Swahili-to-English dictionary describes, “muzungu” literally means people who walk in circles, referring to the way in which non-Africans appear to struggle in circles as they drive aimlessly through Africa.
|a herd of real-life muzungus in their natural habitat|
Although we were not doing any driving in the church that day, by the time the congregation rose to sing a half-dozen Swahili songs, I certainly found myself struggling with a few new extra friends attached to my arms and legs – the little kids were clinging to my clothes like muzungu magnets!
As the service proceeded, the children hardly abated – in fact, after the preacher had summed up his stirring Swahili sermon on Paul’s chiding the Corinthians toward righteousness (Romans 3), Jennifer and I were both overwhelmed with this mass of small children, most of whom were visibly parent-less, and many of whom wanted to learn our names (and wanted us to learn their names as well). This game of name-learning and name-sharing broke out in full force once the service was dismissed, and my conversation with this score of Tanzanian kids turned into a full-blown cultural exchange of words and phrases when I busted out my trusty sketchbook and pens.
|handy dandy Swahili-to-English dictionary and trusty|
sketchbook. I wouldn't have gotten far without the dictionary
and I wouldn't have remembered much without the sketchbook.
both were great assets. pens not included.
Unlike Jennifer I am a visual, not an auditory learner. While she assimilated easily with the spoken Luo and Swahili, I was confronted with so much input that I turned to my good old sketchbook and handy dandy dictionary to learn the children’s names and phrases by drawing them out in my book and letting the kids write their own stories to go along with the sketches. What follows are the results of several hours of intense cross-cultural sketchbooking:
musilaba means cross
|dogi means lips|
|rangi means red, blue, orange, and yellow?|
|oh wait... rangi means paint|
|and of course "ninja" is the same in all languages|
The only thing more inspiring than the fact these kids were sketching and visualizing their culture in my sketchbook was that they were sketching and visualizing their culture in my sketchbook in a church – and in Tanzania of all places. It was an unbelievable experience to witness this after also witnessing God’s cross-cultural presence in the same building just a few hours earlier.
Back during the service as I sat listening to the head pastor's sermon, I felt God’s love in the words he was speaking… even though I couldn’t understand a single one of them! Simply listening to the passion of the testimonies, the joy of the singers, and the shouts of the performers brought me close to tears at one point. I felt God saying, “Look at all this love. How can you possibly doubt my presence in your own life when I am clearly present in the lives of these people a world away from Cincinnati.” What a revelation – and what love that God pours out on people to bring them into such a state of joy. I was blown away by this togetherness. By seeing these Tanzanians growing together and striving to be more like Christ. Even as I write this I’m still trying to process the whole experience and come to grips with how an experience like this can be so simultaneously foreign, and yet also so incredibly relatable!
Needless to say, this church experience was the high-point of my week - maybe even the entire trip. The rest of our second week was spent much the same as the first; while working with other University of Cincinnati students, I continued taking measurements and sketches of the Roche Health Center. I love sketching and mapping, and being able to draw and measure on site and away from the confines of studio was a nice break from typical desk-based architecture work.
|hard at work at the RHC...|
...Stanley Black and Decker style
|the not-so-glamorous side of architecture:|
Later in the week the men from our UC team got to play futbol with some of the locals (sorry, no girls allowed!) It was one of the special instances during the trip when, paradoxically, while we were fiercely competing in sports we muzungu foreigners felt more like we were on the same team with the native Tanzanians while competing together with them than if we were simply there. Outright competition seemed more relevant and relateable than simply being there and culturally competing against them through inaction.
This brings me to a central point of my blog, which I haven’t spoken about enough, but which is crucial to life here in Africa. I haven't found a good word for the quality I'm trying to describe here, but something about the people in Tanzania (and in South Africa too, to a degree) speaks to an uncanny sense of optimism, positivity, and full-blooded life. I don’t know if there’s a word for it other than the African “CAN-do” spirit that I’ve named this blog after. Playing soccer with the local kids and experiencing the love of the local church church community brought on this feeling of hope more than just about anything I’ve experienced here so far – although in our soccer game we competed against each others, we competed together by working in teams to accomplish a goal.
|futbol in Shirati|
I guess I’m just a sucker for that team spirit, and I’m sure that I will revisit this un-named theme plenty more as the summer progresses. But for now, let me leave you with one last image.
It may be idealistic, as it is something I've been thinking and dreaming about for quite some time, but I'm dreaming big for Africa. I'm dreaming of an Africa in which every person has hope for life, a means to live their life fully, and a physical place to call home. Is that too much to hope for? Like Abram believed God's covenant in Genesis, I want to believe that God has a great legacy in store for the people here, and great plans for all of Africa. It's a big world but it is full of hope.
And that is what I see.
-quote of the day-
"'Do not be afraid Abram.
I am your shield, your very great reward...
...Look up at the heavens and count the stars - if indeed you can count them... so shall your offspring be.'
...Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness"
Genesis 15: 1, 5-6