# Sunday, March 18, 2007

In December 2006 Scott and I took our son (Zenzo) and my in-laws to Tanzania. As you may recall, beloved reader, I am originally from Zimbabwe (Zim). But with all the challenges that Zim is facing my family has slowly left, one member at a time. I now have no immediate family remaining there. And, when you consider that I have 6 siblings, it is quite a testament to the level of brain drain that is happening there. But I digress!

My oldest sister works for the United Nations in Arusha, Tanzania. She took my mother and our youngest sister in, and they have been living with her for the past 4 months. The purpose of our visit to Tanzania was to spend time with them. In fact, my brother, his fiancée and their daughter also came up from South Africa, so the trip became a family reunion.

I have much to reflect on from that visit. The food, the kindness of the people, their way of being – there was much that was impressive. But one thing I observed that stands out in my mind is the notion of “belonging”. Something interesting happens when a person looks like they belong, but in fact does not. I say that because being black allowed me to very quickly and very easily be accepted as a local. The fact that I speak very little kiSwahili, the language spoken there, became secondary. When the locals saw me they saw one of their own, and they treated me as such.

When I went into town, I was left alone. People would greet me politely, and I would greet them back. But other than that, I was free to wander the city at will with absolutely no problems (except for when I had to communicate at length with a local.) My husband and in-laws, on the other hand, had a different experience. You may have noticed that they are white. When people saw them they immediately saw “muzungu” (which I believe translates to “foreigner”, though many assume it means “white person”.) The treatment they received was different from mine, and try though they did they could not blend in and “go unnoticed”. Children begging in the streets would come running as soon as they saw them, and very persistently, too. Likewise, the vendors on the street would come rushing with their wares, hoping that the muzungus would buy something. I was left alone, largely ignored. It was assumed that as a “local” I would have little interest in buying anything from them. In fact, a couple of times I got the distinct impression that the vendors hoped that I would not hinder their potential sales. If I could not help them convince the muzungus I was with that their wares were worthy, would I mind stepping aside and not ruining it for them?! I marveled at that.

Scott is an amateur linguist. In the month we were there he learned more than 200 kiSwahili phrases, all of which he spoke with an uncannily authentic accent. But even though he spoke and understood so much more of the language than I did, he was still treated as a foreigner. And one, it was assumed, who did not speak a word of kiSwahili. I, on the other hand, would often have people holding one-sided conversations with me. I would turn to Scott, and between the 2 of us we often got the gist of what was being said... though I remember a couple of instances when we had absolutely no idea what they were saying whatsoever! But the resistance to the idea that he could speak kiSwahili better than I could remained. Even at the end when we left, some still assumed that I was his translator.

I have come to no conclusions about this concept of belonging. As I continue to learn more about myself, the world and what it means to belong, I am often surprised at how accepting we can be. And yet, conversely, how resistant we can be when others sound like us, but look different…

Sunday, March 18, 2007 10:05:07 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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