Lay Missioner in Tanzania
Steve Pope ’09 recently arrived in Tanzania to work and teach as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner. He’s learning Swahili and its guttural clicks (“the ng sound comes from deep in the throat and is best executed when making that culture swab/strep throat-test noise”), and getting to know people at a nearby NGO that provides education and basic services for orphaned or neglected Tanzanian kids.
“Besides explaining the crop of 2016 presidential candidates over a meal of nyama ya kuku na wali na mchuzi (chicken, rice, and gravy), we’ve enjoyed many quality conversations. This Saturday, I went to see their work site, which included watching “Tom and Jerry” dubbed-over in Polish with dozens of Tanzanian pre-schoolers. The kids were fascinated by my existence, and found my arm hair to be of particular intrigue. They also didn’t seem to mind me using Swahili prepositions as verbs.”
Already his experiences have given him much to think about.
“In a culture in which hospitality is of supreme value, just as it was to the Ancient Israelites (I’m currently trudging my way through Genesis), one can be quickly and rightly charmed by Tanzanians’ genuine friendliness and warmth. I’ve met many gentle people, none more so than the cook at Makoko who sweetly addresses me as mwalimu (teacher). I always appreciate the cook’s cordial, grandfatherly demeanor and I enjoy trying out Swahili phrases with him. Yet I mustn’t pretend that his life is always as cheery as he seems. But I also mustn’t condescendingly assume that his life is unbearably burdensome and without joy!
“The struggle for me, and I assume others entering a radically different and poorer society than their own, is to respect people and accord them their dignity without assuming to understand more about their life than I do.”