This post has nothing to do with weddings, trends, or parties. Its an excerpt from an email from my brother Mike who is currently serving on a medical mission in Tanzania. The message in his story really hit me. As Southerners we think that what we offer is “hospitality”, it sure pales in comparison to the Tanzanian way.


I’ve been in Africa for over two weeks now and am starting to pick up nuances into the culture and people that are quite telling. I’ve learned that the average income for a family of four in Mwaanza is $100 US dollars per month. The cost of goods here is cheaper, but not significantly enough to offset how little money this is. Meat for dinner is a rarity and the majority of the home meals consist of a mashed corn dish similar to maize paired with a sautéed sweet potato.Most people work six to seven days per week. Our housekeepers who clean, do laundry and cook our lunch and dinner work all seven days taking only Saturday afternoon off. Despite this schedule, they sing all day long and never stop smiling. As I’m writing this now, Marina, out housekeeper is sweeping and singing a beautiful melody that is competing with the chirping birds outside – very Snow White. Very Tanzanian.The cab drivers give you their cell phones so you can text them to pick you up no matter what time of day or night. I’ve been using a man named Emmanuel who responds to each ride request with a cheerful text that says, “Be right there doc.” When he drops us of somewhere, such as the market or a restaurant, he arranges a time to pick us up and insists that we don’t pay for the first leg until he brings us home safely later. Our tailor Moosa won’t accept payment until the clothes fit just right. He happily walks the two miles back home to make the alterations and arranges a time at our convenience to bring them back. No questions. No attitude. When we asked Moses if we could pay for a cooking lesson, he said he and his wife would be honored to cook for us, and refused any discussion of a possible payment. When Namrata’s luggage got taken by mistake, the man at the airport office in the Dar Es Salaam airport, let us into his office, offered us tea, allowed us to use his phone to call long distance, gave Namrata a fifty dollar shopping card, arranged for transport to a clothing shop, called the Bugando medical center housing to let them know we’d be late in Swahili, and arranged for his friend to pick us up at the airport. He then asked if we liked Obama and if we thought the healthcare plan would go through. Can you imagine this kind of service back home? It’s almost un-American. Apparently it’s very Tanzanian.The word for thank you in Swahili is Asante. When you say it to someone here, they respond Asante Kuchiku which literally means “thank you for saying thank you.” This is like sending someone a thank you card for their thank you card. Unnecessarily polite. Very Tanzanian.So much of what is difficult to adjust to here revolves around its inconvenience to me: power outages leading to cold showers, no internet, phone service interruptions, hot days, lab tests that take days at the hospital. The Tazanians don’t see it that way. They are grateful for the days there are warm showers and thankful for the occasional access to slow internet that allows them to keep in touch with their families. They don’t resent a hot day – in fact, the hottest day makes it all the easier to appreciate a cool breeze. They are proud of their hospital being the most modern around, and while they acknowledge that they need to continue moving forward, they are pleased to be able to work with what they have. I am certain, that despite the fact the Tanzanians have so much less, they are happier then we are on average back home. They don’t complain about what they don’t have; they praise God for what they’ve been given. The streets are filled with song and dance at night. The kids laugh and play games running home from school. Men and women hold hands in the street. I think it’s time for a paradigm shift back home don’t you?We have all come to realize how true the cliché “you don’t know what it’s got until it’s gone” means here. It’s a daily, almost tangible, feeling. But at first this feeling was about voids created by the luxuries we left behind. But I’ve learned that standards can change. On our three days on Safari we would have given anything for a cold shower, something we’d been complaining about just days before. Luxury was redefined by circumstance. Now I’m starting to realize as well that not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone is just as applicable to bad things. I didn’t realize how stressed I was back home until I noticed it wasn’t there anymore here. Didn’t notice how short tempered I could be until all things became relative here and I felt my fuse lengthen. I had a friend who told me she never knew she had poor vision until the first day she wore glasses. She recalls noticing for the first time that the tops of trees were pointed and said she remembers feeling robbed by her first seven years of poor vision. I may have arrived here a foreigner, probably the easiest to identify muzungu in the town, but one thing is for certain. I plan to leave with a touch of Tanzanian. This experience has been my glasses.

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  1. Melissa 8 years ago

    WOW! Just coming back from abroad, I completely agree with this. We really need to re-examine our culture and way of treating other people.

  2. Joel 8 years ago


  3. 8 years ago

    We are so spoiled, and act it! Great lesson.Thank you for sharing your brother's story!