Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reflection Paper #4

As soon as we arrived in Tumbe, I could sense that we had entered a strong rural community. On the walk to my host family’s house, I received warm welcomes from the locals and had barefoot children running up to me and yelling ‘mzungu’ to me, excited to see me in their village. Upon entering the rural village of Tumbe, I realized many changes in the ways of living and cultural practices from the urban centers and even the other villages that we had visited.

Although the children in the rural village of Riruta Satellite had a lot more freedom than children in America have and could run around at their leisure, the children in Tumbe were restricted even less. Every day, I had many children over at my host family’s house without their parent’s knowledge. The parents were not worried about their children at all as they knew that their children would be well taken care of, cared for, and even punished by other community members. Children would go on walks with me and follow me around town without telling anyone where they were going. It was amazing to me how much the people in this village community trusted one another and relied on the other community members to watch out for their children.

In the village of Tumbe, I also noticed how much responsibility the children were given. The women cleaned the house and prepared the food but when they needed help, the children were expected to obey and provide that help. The children in my family obeyed their parents and other elders who asked them to do anything. This is something that is not really thought of in the community but rather just expected. In addition, young children all over the village could be seen taking care of their younger siblings or even other younger children and carrying them on their backs. This responsibility that the children have helps the community operate and work as a whole.

My host family seemed to know every single person in the village of Tumbe. It was incredible to me how my host sisters greeted everyone that they came across from the old to the young and even had a respectful greeting reserved for the elderly. This is something that is highly unlikely to happen in any urban area. Seeing communities like this makes me sad to think about the fact that in America, I often walk down the streets without exchanging words with anybody.

The simplicity and slow pace of life in the village life in Tumbe is another aspect of life that amazed me. As a foreigner who comes from somewhere where life is much more complicated and moves at a much faster pace, the simple, slow village life is something that I am envious of. In a discussion with Ali, an 18 year old boy in Tumbe, I learned how he viewed this cultural difference. As I explained to Ali how much I enjoyed the slower pace of life in Tumbe, he told me of his wish to go to America as the fast pace of life is better and means that people make more money and can gain more material items. The beliefs that many Africans have about America make sense to me but shock me at the same time. They know how much material stuff we have and how much that helps us with education, health care, government, and practically everything else but at the same time it also makes things much more complicated. Ali asked me why I liked the ways of village life more than urban life. My answers made absolutely no sense to him as he has a preconceived notion of what life is like in America. When I told him that material stuff doesn’t necessarily make people happier or make life better, he was just left confused. He didn’t understand how people that have the ability to travel to places like Tanzania and to buy computers, cars, and other expensive items that he lacks could possibly be unhappy. The people in Tumbe appeared much happier than any community of people I have ever come across in America. I guess there are plusses and minuses to both sides, and like the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Machines that can do simple tasks have become such a normal part of life in places like America. I do not think we realize just how much water, electricity, and money we waste by putting our clothing in a machine to dry instead of doing something as simple as hanging them outside on a clothes line. In addition, we throw so much away. It is amazing to see what the people in a village like Tumbe survive on and have in their homes. The children make their own fun and do not have toys like children in America have. Instead, they explore and make their own toys such as soccer balls out of rubber bands and plastic bags. I observed that many of the other items in the house were hand made as well and worked just as well as similar items that would have been more expensive to buy. In addition, I couldn’t help but notice that the people ate all of their food and didn’t let anything go to waste because they understand how lucky they are to have food. Thinking about this makes me realize just how much food the small community of Lewis and Clark College throws away on a daily basis in the dining hall. It is sad to think that the amount of food that is thrown away there could go to save people’s lives in Africa.

My host father, the chief of the Western Region of Tumbe explained to me one night when the electricity unexpectedly turned off that electricity is the biggest issue that the people on the island of Pemba face. He informed me of the fact that the island operates on two separate lines – the old line and the new line. The electric system cannot supply both lines with power at the same time so the electricity is only available to each line every other day. The first night I was there, they had a generator running but I am not sure how often they actually use the generator. I was very surprised to see that my host family had so many electronics in their house. They had two televisions, dvd players, and even a video game console, however, I do not think this is representative of many of the households in the village of Tumbe.

When visiting the primary and secondary schools in Tumbe, it was obvious that they had no electricity. The classrooms were simple and very basic – some desks, a chalkboard, and posters decorating the walls. The classrooms were open to the outside which I can imagine makes it difficult when doing a task that requires quiet such as taking an exam. The walk from my host family’s house to the school took a good 20 minutes or so and we were one of the closest families to the school. As the people of the village rely mostly on walking or bicycling as there are not many vehicles, this seemed like quite a walk for the students.

As respectful visitors to the village, we dressed in our buoy buoys and kangas during our stay. My host brother told me that 99% of the people in Tumbe were Islamic. This was evident by the fact that there were numerous mosques and almost all the women and many of the young girls were dressed in traditional clothing. On Friday, I noticed that many of the men were dressed in traditional clothing as well. It was amazing to me how dedicated these people were to their religion and how they always wore these outfits, even in the hot heat. Even in my family’s house, the women wore their buoy buoys and kangas most of the time.

During a conversation about Islam with one of my host brothers, he informed me that there were 14 mosques in Tumbe. My host brothers and host father would leave the house five times a day and go to mosque to pray with their community. Although my host sisters never went to mosque to pray, I observed them praying in the house one night. My host brother told me that women in Tumbe are not allowed to pray in the mosques although he was not sure why.

The community of Tumbe takes the Islamic religion very seriously and my host brother even took me to the site where they are building a religious learning center for the children of the community. As the community currently lacks such a place, it is their hope that this will help the children become more educated on Islamic values, practices, and traditions.

Although I have experienced village life before, it was very interesting to me to see it in a different setting. It is amazing to see how much of the village life is identical throughout Africa but also to see the differences that make each village community unique.

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