That's the answer I give when people ask me how my trip to Tanzania was. It was more, so much more, than I could’ve possibly imagined before I went.
It was more beautiful, more wonderful, more tragic, more frustrating, more hope-filling, and more heartbreaking than my mind and soul had capacity to neatly process. It made a mess of me, a right, perfect and timely mess of many of my social constructs and comfort zones.
The land of a thousand heavens, that’s what I named it when the plane was descending through the seemingly unending cloud layer. On the left side of the plane, thick billowy idyllic pillows of cloud stuffing cushioned the heavens above from the ground below.
In stark contrast, on the right side of the plane, filling the full frame of the windows, was the staid and stoic upward-reaching arm of earth matter known as Mt. Kilimanjaro. No apologies or fanfare for its great mass of hulking self. It simply sat there and was.
The juxtaposition was alarming. My brain kept saying the two sides don’t belong together. Earth and sky, earth in sky. And yet there in that place, in Tanzania, it fit perfectly and spoke a good first word for what would be found within its borders.
There were reasons for my going that I knew beforehand, and I was so excited to partner in that work, but I was just as eager to discover all the hidden treasures which were to be mine and mined during the trip. I found them there and I have continued to find them here in my heart and in conversation with the Lord since my return.
As I sit writing this morning, I am almost two weeks past my submission deadline for this post. There’s so much I want to say, so much that I’ve seen and experienced that I want to talk about, but how and where to begin?! I find myself whelmed, to say the least, swimming in the midst of all the conversations, revelation, thoughts and feelings… How do I rightly describe the waters I’m still navigating through?!
The riches of the poor, great wealth amidst great poverty, the holdings of the destitute. This is what I’m left with when I think of my time in Tanzania and the people that I met there and the heart they shared with me.
Honestly, I’ve never before been confronted up close with so much need, so widely spread. Pictures in books or articles online cannot prepare you for how it feels to remain mentally and emotionally present as someone who has in the midst of a sea of people who have-not. I have been afforded a life that when I see or have a need, it can be met or mitigated and moved on from. This existence is far too simple and clean-cut for the big and often messy world in which we live.
Even at forty years old, I might as well be a child when it comes to understanding how people in other countries live on a daily basis. I know how I live, how we in Texas and the U.S. live, and what we consider to be normal and acceptable in our land of plenty. Because of this perspective, it was difficult at first to look out of the windows of the bus we rode around in and see anything but abject poverty staring back at me.
There were times, especially early on in the trip, that I could do little more than keep collected the pieces of my shattered heart, and cry hot heavy tears from my seat at the back of the bus. But as time went on and I became better acquainted with the land and her people, I began to focus less on the hardship and more on the hardiness. Tanzania is a country rich in heart, overflowing with hospitality, and brimming with hustle.
“Karibu Sana! You are very welcome here!” I bet I heard this forty different times as I walked around the outside of the airport after I arrived. In almost every conversation thereafter, whether involved or in passing, there was this greeting. I noticed that when people would say it they would place so much emphasis on the “you”. It wasn’t some passive and perfunctory greeting, it was pointed, and it was personal, and when they said that I was welcome there in their homeland, I deeply felt it.
Almost everyone I met in the two weeks I was there made me feel this same way, truly wanted and welcomed. I mentioned this to someone after I came home and they said, “Well, of course you were welcome, they wanted you to spend all that money you took with you.” After the Lord’s grace covered my initial reaction, I recognized that the heart of the person I was talking to wasn’t near as cynical as they had just sounded.
Of course I met people on my trip who were only interested in my money. Tourism accounts for over 10% of Tanzania’s GDP, and with Covid keeping travel down this last year or so, there are many people who rely on that industry hurting for income. But the vast majority of people I met were welcoming by nature and were happy to have people who were excited to be there.
As you can imagine, I was very excited to be there. Many times I felt deeply honored to be treated so well and dealt with so warmly. I’m certain that what I experienced in my time there was truly the hospitality that the Bible encourages us to display. The companionship, generosity, amiability, consideration, and protection was everything I could’ve hoped for and more as a traveler far from home.
Hustle… that’s the only way I know to explain this people’s drive to earn a living. Everyone is always doing something, always working to provide what they can, and make what they’re able. Many of our drivers and ministry liaisons had side jobs, often multiple streams of income. I bring this up in order to disabuse the unknowing of the faulty belief that people in Tanzania don’t have more because they are lazy. You only have to watch how many people sweep the leaves up off the dirt in front of their houses to know that this is a people willing to work hard for what they have.
I do not mean by hustle that the pace of life in Tanzania is a fast one. (Insert many laughy faces.) “Pole, pole, Manda. Slowly, slowly.” If I heard this once, I heard it a million times. Slowly, slowly. Take your time, at your leisure. It was a pace that reset my perspective on how quickly life would be, and maybe should be, lived. You could try to fight against it, but likened to the futility found in going against a strong current, the best plan was to move with it instead.
There was so much laughter, love and friendship shared there. Whether it was Eveline, who was the housekeeper at the Uhuru in Moshi; or Elenipa, who made the best omelets at breakfast; or Gregory, Alex, Said, and Ismail who served and serenaded us at Farm of Dreams; or Shukuru and Kanti who faithfully wrangled, drove, and watched over all their mzungu marafiki; or Jackson and Hafid who walked us all over Stone Town and prison island; or Martha, Anna, Monica, and John from Kahe House who spend their lives loving on the most special kids; or Fatma at Msaranga school who tirelessly works for the best for her students; or Octavian, Secky, and Kenny who were so kind to me along the way; or Juvenal the tailor who came in the middle of the night to a parking lot to measure me for my very own African dress; or the Fortson’s and everyone at Neema Village in Arusha who give orphaned babies all the love in the world; or Ally, Emmanuel, Hosea, Big Joe, Jackline, Beatrice, and Subira who made our time in Zanzibar so special; or Josey and Katie who stole my heart with their sick dance moves and beautiful spirits, I couldn’t have been better loved or looked after or welcomed than I was by these people in that place.
I bless the Lord for all He gave to me in Himself and in His people during my time there, it was infinitely more than I could’ve ever possibly afforded. These people and this country are rich in the ways that matter most, that transcend socioeconomic status, and penetrate even the darkest caverns of human existence with a bright and shining light of love and life. May the Lord so bless us with His presence that the same might be said of us by the sojourner in our midst.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:8-9
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:34-40
I pray the Lord would give us eyes to see and ears to hear from Him the areas of our own bankruptcy, the ways in which we Have-not, so that we might seek to Have His heart for His people and love and welcome them in ways that constantly point them back to Him.
“But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.” Matthew 13:16