If there is one word I would use to describe the people and the culture in Tanzania it would be “Karibu.” Karibu itself means Welcome. People use it from instances such as : when you knock at their door and they’re telling you to come inside to when they’re eating something and gesturing you to come and eat with them. It’s a gesture of coming to share with them.
When the girls used to eat – they would say Karibu and invite me to come and eat with them. Fried cassava is something that I love and it originates in East Africa. One day I saw it being sold in the dorms and asked Sabrina how much they were. Sabrina bought a few and I figured they were for her. We went and walked around like we usually did and then we sat down. She halved them and told me that half was mine and half was hers. I refused and said that I didn’t want any. She wouldn’t budge – it was not negotiable – half was mine. This would not be the last time.
About a month into Kibaha I hadn’t really seen much of Tanzania and was aching to just see a different part – I needed a break – and so the elementary were going on a day field trip to Bagamoyo which is a place where the slaves would be kept back in the day. I didn’t know anyone from elementary – I had been with secondary from the beginning – I just knew the principal. I sat on the bus and listened to the kids singing and I was glad I was doing this. Once again I was in unfamiliar territory but I needed it. Anyways we stopped somewhere half way and people bought some snacks here and there – one of the other teachers bought nuts that were held together by sugar and she gave someone to all the other teachers and they put their hand out like it was completely normal and when she gestured to me – I did my usual – No thanks – yet somehow I found half of them in my hand. No is really not possible here.
I come from a world and I think all of us do where there is the concept of yours and mine. At least if someone is eating a bag of chips and they offer you some – you won’t take half the packet. You might take one , two a few maybe but not half. I’m not saying generosity doesn’t happen where I come from – I have a friend who will never leave a begging man empty handed. Like Never. If its only big notes in his pocket then those will go too.Yet this was a culture here – everyone was like this. Even when the girls would bring food to their dorms – first they would distribute it to everyone else in the room ( and there might be more than though if there are unexpected visitors) and then if there is enough take for themselves. I figure if I had a bunch of fried cassavas – I may have an open ended question if I am in my room and ask if anyone wanted any – and most of the time people wont even say if they want some because they feel bad – let alone would I go to each person and put it in each of their hands and refuse a “ No “ from them.
At first this was my experience: I used to go for 10 am tea with the girls and we would all bring our own cups. Some of the girls had lost their cups and would either wait to borrow someone else’s cup or drink out of a plate. I used to bring my own cup too and one day I saw a girl or 2 waiting for a cup and so feeling all generous and all I pushed my cup forward and said “Karibu.” They looked at me and said , “ Really” and I said “ Yeaaa Karibu!” Soon enough there were about 8 girls around that cup. I expected one or two but really not more (I was still drinking out of it) and slowly backed away from it. I was not used to sharing my cup first of all and then to share it with 8 other people was even more out of the ordinary – but it wasn’t like I was going to take it back so I just laughed to myself.
I started taking the girls for soccer after about 6 weeks and after getting comfortable in Kibaha – comfortable enough to do my own thing – and so I brought my water bottle with me figuring it might get hot and I might want to drink some water. The girls had this habit of kind of exploring everything I had. If I was wearing a pair of sunglasses – a girl would come up to me and ask me if she could wear them or ask to look at them and then it would get passed from person to person as they all wanted to try it on. I cringed at the beginning – I didn’t keep that much on me – most of the time just my phone and even that would get passed from hand to hand. Anyways – so we played some soccer and I went to drink from my water bottle and one of the girls asked me if she could have some and I said “ofcourse” and the next minute everyone – like 30 girls were drinking from it. I wasn’t so used to sharing – but I guess I got used to it. Know one thing for sure – do not ever fake Karibu in Tanzania – because Karibu there really means Karibu – it really means share my food – it’s not here have a bite – its here have half.
Even when I would struggle with my scarf ( wearing Islamic attire was one of the rules of Wipahs as it is an Islamic Organization and as volunteer we are role models) the girls would come and attach a pin to it so that I would not have to keep adjusting it and when I would give it back to them at the end of the day – they refused to take it back.
On my way back from Moshi – I took a bus and an old lady told me that she wanted one of the gums and gestured to the vendor at the window. With the broken Swahili I knew I asked him how much they were and then he gave me some way off price and then when I told her – she told me to choose another one – lol and amongst the confusion of it all somehow we got her that one packet of gum 😀 and as I handed it to her – she straight away took 2 or 3 gums out and gave them to me. Like maybe I’d give someone one – if they bought it for me – but 3 ? But I just smiled and took them because I knew that she wouldn’t let me give any of them back – I had been here for 3 months – I knew.
About 2 and a half months into Tanzania – a volunteer from Toronto came and with her came 2 packages of chocolate from my friend ( Swethaa J ) and my cousin( MehreenJ). Chocolate is something that I was really deprived of there – when I would go to town I would get some but I hardly went so that was amazing for me. It totally made my day. Not only did they send me chocolate they sent me Lindt and Ferrero Rocher – delicacies – the best of the best. Yet the first day as I ate one of them – I felt terribly guilty eating it alone. For the last 2 and a half months everything I had and everything the kids had and everything people just generally had here in Kibaha – we had all shared. My neighbors always sent food for me – for example if there was a birthday in town and they had gone – a piece of cake would always come my way. And the kids whenever they had anything they shared it with me and now it just felt terribly wrong to eat it alone. And we did end up sharing most of it –and the feeling that I got giving all that chocolate out was one of the most liberating feelings in the world. It was just chocolate and it wasn’t much if you’re sharing it amongst 20/30 girls but it’s the feeling of sharing.
I actually discovered that it was a great mood lifter – sharing – if I ever felt low or down I would find something to share with the kids and boom – my moods were back up . Try it !
Anyways – now I’m in Congo and I can see the difference – well really I think I could see the difference if I went anywhere in the world because of the 3 different countries I’ve lived in and the many countries I’ve visited I’ve never seen this. I had a yoghurt milk in the car and a couple of kids came begging to my window and so I rolled down my window and handed it to one of them saying “ Partager” (share ) and a kid took it and ran off and the rest ran after him. I guess I hoped they would share it but they didn’t.
It may not be something that is everywhere at least in the numbers it was in Tanzania but it’s something I’ve learnt and experienced the joys of and hope that it stays with me..