Monday, December 21, 2009

"Mama Mzungu! Mama Mzungu!" hollers a street vendor in the midst of the noisey open-air market. Squeezing my way through the dark-skinned crowds and the mounds of rice and miniature pyramids of tomatoes, I realize that I am the only "mzungu" (white person) around. He must be talking to me, I thought. I yell back, "Hujambo!" "Salama!" the friendly street vendor cries. Welcoming me to his tomato stand with "Karibu, Mama!", he hopes that I will buy a mini pyramid of tomatoes for 200 Tanzanian shillings. My hand-woven basket is already chuck full of fresh tomatoes, purple eggplants, red onions, garlic bulbs, giant cucumbers, "Chinese" greens, sweet-smelling papayas, and golden yellow passionfruit. "Pole! Hapana leo. Nimenunua nyanya." (Sorry! Not today. I bought tomatoes already.) I clutch my basket and inch my way through the maze of skinny alleyways in search of a parachichi (avocado). I hear "Karibu, Mama!" not once but many, many times. Tanzanians are noted for their gracious hospitality and I, obviously not of African heritage, am a stranger to be welcomed. But I do not feel strange here at all. For it all seems strangely familiar!

The Tanzanians have the sunniest of smiles! Merely greeting a local in their native tongue will yield not only a mile-wide smile, but a triple handshake (palms, then locked thumbs, and palms again) and inquiries about your day, your family at home, and your work. Every morning we attend the 6:30am Mass at our parish church. Afterwards, we practice our Kiswahili with fellow parishioners. They have been very patient with our beginner's Kiswahili and some of them are very good teachers! Tanzanians love to meet and greet because it is an integral part of their culture. In a flash, strangers become family and one feels very much at home.

Our new home is in the small town of Mtwara which is located on the coast of south-eastern Tanzania, along the rugged patch of coastline that leads to the country's border with Mozambique. Elevated slightly along the Makonde Plateau, the area is one of the more remote locations in Tanzania. We are working with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, Germany who run the St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School. Because the school was relocated on a hill in the village of Ufukoni, the Sisters along with our pastor, Father Patrick, converted the former headmaster's office into our loft-like living quarters. We are steps away from our church and a few kilometers from the school's new location. Soon after sunrise, we make our way through the thatched mud-hut village of Magomeni. As we greet everyone along the way, the littlest of children in the field will yell out to us in their pip-squeak voices, "How are YOU?" Or they'll pop up out of nowhere like Munchkins and wave frantically as we walk by. Sometimes they call "Mzungu!" Then at the end of the day as we make our way home, the little children will be calling to us again and waving with their big smiles. They totally make our day! We feel so blessed to be here! And as we say in Kiswahili, "Tumshukuru Mungu! (We give thanks to God!)" Diane.

No comments:

Post a Comment