Friday, August 1, 2014

Relationships in Tanzania

We have made the final decision to return to Mwanza, Tanzania this coming autumn, in November 2014, for a two year stay.  There will be five of us going this time:  myself, my wife, and our three youngest children.  This has not been an easy decision for us to make, but we are grateful for the opportunity to continue in ministry with the African Church.  As I was looking through the documents on my computer, I came across something I had written last summer while we were living there.  I do not claim to be an expert on African or Tanzanian culture.  I'm sure there is much that I do not understand yet.  But still, this may give you some insights on why we believe it is important for us to go back again to stay longer.  Relationships are important.  In order to for us to be effective in what we are trying to do, we must have strong, properly established relationships that are mutually beneficial and long lasting.

Here is what I wrote:

     "Relationships are everything.  The people here are materially poor but socially rich.  If you want to accomplish something, you must do it through relationships.  If you want establish a relationship with someone, you must do it through an existing relationship.  Africans have a highly complex social system that you must fit into if you want to be effective here.  It is through relationships that people are able to survive hardships; without relationships, you cannot survive.  If you did happen to have enough money to make it on your own, then you would find yourself a social outcast -- for not sharing with others and for not needing them as they need you.  Good relationships are based on a mutual sharing of resources.  You and your friend support one another by borrowing from one another as the needs arise.

     If you meet someone without having been properly introduced, then the relationship will never develop properly.  That person may be very friendly and eager to know you.  The slightest excuse will be seized upon as grounds for you becoming their friend:  “I am so happy we have met and have become friends. Now we can accomplish great things through this friendship!” The praises may be heaped up with great smiles and happy attitudes.  But it has a poor foundation.  They will always be looking for what they can get from this relationship; how can they benefit from knowing you, and what is in it for them.

     This situation is much worse if you are a white foreigner.  Everyone knows that you are “rich” and can solve all of their problems!  You cannot trust those relationships.  People do not establish good relationships by just meeting someone and deciding to become their friend.  It must always be done through someone else.  However, this does not mean that everyone you meet has only ulterior motives and is trying to deceive you.  Life is very difficult for most people and they are always ready to take advantage of any "micro opportunity" that comes their way.  For them, meeting you may result in some small advantage they need to make life a little bit less difficult.  If nothing comes of it, they are not disturbed.  "No harm done in trying!"

     The right way is for you to be introduced to someone is through a mutual friend.  If you know John and he introduces you to his friend Samuel, then this makes you a friend of Samuel too.  Because you and Samuel have the same friend, then he will do everything he can for you.  The relationship is totally different now.  He will not be looking for what he can get from you, but will be doing all he can to help you.  He will trust you and you can trust him, because “any friend of John is a friend of mine”.

     Tanzanians are known all over East Africa for their friendliness.  They enjoy greeting and chatting with strangers, especially foreigners.  There are many folks who will go out of their way to help you if you have a need.  So relax and be friendly in return, without giving out personal information.  Remember, no matter what the situation is, always be polite and courteous. There is nothing to be gained from rudeness or coldness.  In this culture, you must always interact with others in a pleasant manner.  Have a smile for them, even if you are suspicious of their motives.  Learn to say “no”, without saying a straight forward “no”.  There are polite ways get them to understand that you are not interested.

     The best way to get something done in the official realm is to know someone who has a friend who is in the system.  This person will help you to get something done that may be “impossible” through the official channels.  Once you understand the importance of relationships, then you will not view this as evidence of corruption, but merely being sensitive to the way the culture works here."

Pray for us when you think of us.  Thank you.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I agree with what you wrote. That is what I experienced and what I saw in the past.

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