The following blog post was written approximately three weeks ago, however, due to the chaos of completing my first full term of being an employed educator, it is only just being shared now. It is a bit longer than others, so maybe that makes up for the weeks of silence. Despite the delay, the sentiments contained below still ring true for me.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” Genesis 2:18
The past few weeks have been jammed packed with things experienced that demand to be processed. They took place in the midst of major elections occurring in both my home country, and the country I currently call home. Due to the one in the latter country, I found myself with no network connection for almost two weeks, and am still experiencing some limitations now three weeks post-election.
The things I feel like deserve to be discussed fit into three main categories: the art of planning; language is a bridge, not a barrier; and the gift of relationships.
The Art of Planning
While on Zanzibar Island last summer, I was lucky enough to forge some friendships that have sustained the year of separation. One of them is with a remarkable young woman, Emi, from Alaska who has been living in Afrika for about four years now. The other is with a Maasai, one of the native tribes that hail in Tanzania and Kenya, named Kanaya.
Three weeks ago, my school was off for our mid-term break (which wasn’t actually in the middle of the term, and was chosen to accommodate the election). Since I was to have a week off from school, and Zanzibar is only a two day trek from where I live in Arusha, I figured this would be a good opportunity to go and visit with the friends I had been separated from for so long.
I was coordinating with Kanaya so that we could make it a special surprise for Emi. I had a bus ticket, and a taxi coming to pick me up at 5:00am on Saturday morning. After a long day of parent-teacher conferences on Friday, I was beginning to pack for my journey when I got a call from Emi. I thought that it was such a wild coincidence, and that she must have somehow sensed that I was just thinking about her.
She says to me, “Hey! I’m going to be in Arusha either tomorrow or Sunday, would you have time for us to see each other?”
Shocked, I replied, “You’re coming to Arusha? But I’m getting on a bus in twelve hours to come to Zanzibar to see you!!”
Emi tells me, “I have been in Maasai home for two weeks, not in Zanzibar! I have some errands to do in Arusha before going back. Kanaya knew that… we shouldn’t let him plan surprises anymore.”
We laughed for a long time, then frantically made arrangements to reimagine all plans that had been made. My roommate helped me call the bus office to get my ticket cancelled and refunded. Then, early the next morning, my coworker went with me to pick up the refund money and deposit it onto my phone. I could then transfer it to Kanaya to buy his own bus ticket to come to Arusha. It all happened in overdrive, but late Sunday night, after a long struggle of providing directions to my home, I had all my people gathered in my kitchen making dinner and dancing together.
The lesson learned: never trust a Maasai to plan a surprise, especially if his name is Kanaya.
Language is a Bridge, Not a Barrier
Something I have been spending a lot of mental energy on since I’ve moved here has been the process of learning Kiswahili, the dominant language of Tanzania. It hasn’t been something that has impacted me too much, since at my school everyone speaks English all day long, and I don’t really interact with many people other than my coworkers. So the week I had my Kiswahili speaking friends living with me had me really reflecting on the phrase “language barrier”.
I understand what the phrase is trying to speak to – it can be difficult to express ideas and hold conversation with someone who does not share your mother tongue. However, I am growing into a believer that this difficulty can function more as a bridge than a barrier.
My friendship with Lemakau, one of the Maasai that came with Emi and Kanaya to stay with me, is one of the things that proved this theory to me. He knows about the same amount of English as I know of Kiswahili, so finding a way to communicate became an ongoing adventure for us. At first glance, it could seem as if it was a barrier keeping us from forging a friendship, but as we continued to spend time together, it became the key tool to doing just that. Our interactions became rooted in finding creative ways to communicate. We played a lot of card games, and learned that the joy of winning transcends language. We cooked together, and learned that he is the better chef and I should just stay out of the way. We took turns teaching each other phrases in our own languages, and found comradery in the struggle of learning. At the end of the week, we still could not speak to each other in a way that the other would fully understand, but we knew that we are friends in the ways that count.
The other friendship that deeply reflects these thoughts is the one I share with Kanaya. Kanaya was one of my students from the adult learning program I volunteered with last summer in Zanzibar. Our friendship was very directly born out of the acquisition of language. After my three weeks of assisting in his learning of English, I returned to the States and we remained in contact. Now, over a year later, we reversed the roles for our reunion and spent a lot of our shared time with him teaching me Kiswahili. It really emphasized my philosophy that everyone has something to teach, and that no one is ever done learning. It gave us a way to see each other as teachers, cultivate inside jokes from the errors we make, and deepen our bond.
The Gift of Relationships
The greatest takeaway from the many, many things that I learned from my week with a full house is the importance of people. God did not stop with Adam, but gifted him Eve because He knew that humans need other humans. He did not design us to be alone, but to be creatures that exist in community with one another. That community is one of the sweetest gifts.
I began this journey very literally alone, quarantined in my house, in a new country, and with many broken friendships left in the States. As the weeks have progressed, God has slowly been gifting me people that have been hand-selected for me. My empty house became a home when He gave me Mama Sabina to fill it with her warmth and wisdom. My craving for female bonds was satisfied with my dear coworker Julia and her understanding ears. My uncertainty of my place of belonging was reconciled when He gave me both renewed and new connections, which solidified that I am where I need to be.
I am grateful for everyone I am allowed to know in this life, and all of those I have yet to meet. God is reminding me to look for Him in all of His children, and to not let the value of relationships be forgotten.