As I sit on my balcony at home in Portugal I can’t help but think every single day about my past five weeks in my “middle of nowhere” in Tanzania. Up until now I’ve been writing about transport, music and my love for Tanzania. Today’s article will focus on a Tanzanian family and household. Here’s a song (or two) to accompany your reading- an Afro-Portuguese song I discovered in Tanzania- Ermons di Terra by Manecas Costa.
I traveled to Tanzania for the second time through an organization called Projects Abroad (P.A)– a British travel and volunteer organization that has many care, teaching and medical programs in various under-developed countries around the world (for more information visit www.projects-abroad.net). So through P.A I selected a teaching program, and was assigned a host family to live with, and booked my flights separately.
I got to Kilimanjaro on May 6th and my adventures began then. I lived in a modest house with Brenda and Jacob Senyaeli, and their three children in a village called Sakina about fifteen minutes outside of Arusha. I shared a room with my friend Morven and another volunteer from Denmark called Marie. It was great having volunteer roommates, especially because we got to work at the same school and so we traveled to and fro together. The family’s three children, Willness (11 years), Wilangel (5) and Wilson (2) where to die for: always laughing, smiling and playing with each other, fascinated by the three white girls living with them, showing us everything they had and impressing us with their rather good English! When I arrived, Wilson, the little boy, couldn’t speak (he only made sounds), but by the end of the five weeks he could say “hi”, “bye”, “sister” and “food”! I love thinking I was a part of his childhood and vocal development, especially his English words!
The family itself was rather “wealthy” on Tanzanian standards with a two story house, some running water and a car, nonetheless they had no ironing board or other basic household items. It was a little bit of both worlds I guess…but I was luckily nevertheless to stay with a family with a gate and security. Jacob, the father, studied in Nairobi and is now a Safari guide for a big American tour company. His English was almost perfect and I enjoyed having very interesting conversations after dinner with him before going to bed: he’s well educated and knows a lot, he only listens to Aljazeera news in English and enjoys asking us to correct his grammar! Mama Brenda, as we called her, wasn’t as proficient in English but tried a lot to communicate with us– always concerned with our health, cleanliness and hunger (hunger that we never had, since they fed us a lot!!). After work, when Marie, Morven and I got home, Mama Brenda always made us some fresh juice out of the day’s vegetables and fruits. It was a luxury to have those refreshing drinks after work, and I do sorely miss them. Fruit tastes so different even here in Portugal where we produce our own– nothing will replace my favourite “parachichi” (avocado) with lemon juice! Breakfast was rather limited (and frankly quite tasteless): white bread and Blue Band (butter). Chai, the KiSwahili word for tea, was, and always will be, my favorite drink: a milky, grainy tea which an unexplainable taste was the kick-starter of my day and the one thing I did look forward to at work! Lunch, when offered, and dinner where much more substantial: rice, beans, a sort of cabbage and fruit (when available). At times we were offered spaghetti or “chipsi-mayai” a Tanzanian concoction adored by children and adults alike: french fries cooked with scrambled eggs to look like an omelette, covered in spicy tomato ketchup! Although it may sound a little obscure, I assure you it’s a little relieving after a few meals of rice and beans cooked with peanut butter.
Difference of culture, skin colour or language wasn’t an issue in our house and the family very much enjoyed our company. Even the house girl Veru, who principally looked after Wilson and the girls, loved coming to sit in our room with us and making sure all our wishes were her command. I cannot remember her ever resting: she was awake before us and went to bed after us. She’s really an angel, doing everything and anything to please Mama Brenda, Jacob, the kids and us volunteers! Having a house girl is very common in Tanzania, it’s not really a reflection of a family’s wealth or status since it’s typically a member of the family or a friend, however it still caused me a little concern since Veru didn’t seem much older than 15 or 16 years of age: to me that’s almost child labor, but girls in Tanzanian/African culture don’t have many options or opportunities for a career.
Women are meant for marrying, raising children and keeping the household together…not much else. The women I encountered definitely didn’t have a problem with this either. It’s a very similar attitude in my own home country, Portugal, which is scary and worries me. How are women supposed to make their way up in the world, be it in business or socially, when some women in some cultures don’t support it? That’s a question I think about often but can’t find answers for: it’s not that I’m the ultimate feminist but I do believe in equal women’s rights and opportunities for all, so I find it hard to swallow that some women don’t care about how they’re viewed or treated. And that’s something I do hope to change through my travels and volunteerism in under-developed countries: bringing about awareness and educating women to develop a greater sense of self-worth and potential! I think we owe it to ourselves and those women before us who fought for the present women’s rights we have.