At Home in Tanzania

This afternoon I held a tiny brown-skinned baby in my arms, his soft face scrunched with the intensity of sleep. His shining black hair, like loosely curled threads of silk, barely covered his head. As I cradled him in my lap, his sweet-spirited grandmother, who was in town all the way from Tanzania, Africa, brought steaming cups of African spiced tea into the living room. She sat beside me, and I passed the precious infant to her so I could sample black tea blended with the foreign spices.

 

It was as wonderful and refreshing as the African culture of hospitality that I was experiencing for the first time.

 

I hardly knew the family; I went over to see the week-old baby with my roommate, who works for them. But I was welcomed into the home as if I were a long-time friend or family member. Just when I was wondering how long we should stay, the baby’s mother, who was recovering from a C-section, went into the kitchen and before long an aroma similar to that of pancakes on the griddle wafted into the living room. Her older son brought out a plate of chipatis, a traditional African snack of pita-like tortillas cooked in oil. They were delicious, like the conversation with Grandma.

 

This dear elderly woman, whose skin smoothed over a high forehead and wide cheekbones, talked of her past career as a midwife and matron, a supervisor of nurses. She said everything with a smile on her face, even a laugh in her voice. We listened to stories of women giving birth without pain killers; sometimes she would have three women giving birth at the same time and she’d have to run to another patient before the first child’s umbilical cord had been cut. “But it was so wonderful,” she said. “So amazing.”

 

Peace shone from her eyes. In the time I sat with her, I could feel her grace, love and kindness. Beauty fashioned her smile. She made me feel interesting and interested. We spent over an hour at the house, a pleasantly unhurried hour. No one seemed to worry about things that needed to be done. No one seemed stressed or frazzled because a new child had entered the household. No one was eager for us to leave. I could have happily spent the rest of the day at their house, leaving my own to-do list behind. And when it was time to leave, she lavished us with long hugs and tender handshakes, saying, “asante, asante sana, thank you.”

 

In Tanzania, there’s always time to simply be with other people. In fact, my guess is that in Tanzania, that’s what time is for. I’m so grateful that this family settled in my town and brought their culture with them. Our own culture will be made the better for it.

 

 

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