When we were taking Kiswahili lessons, we began by learning greetings. “Shikamoo” for elders, “mambo” for youngsters, “salama,” “umelalaje?,” and much, much more. We learned questions to ask, statements to say, and responses to offer to all of these greetings. Every morning we would greet our teachers extensively, and exchange news of our lives. Godson, one of our Kiswahili teachers, stressed the importance of greetings in Tanzania. “Tanzanians greet even the cows,” he joked.
I have never greeted as frequently and as fiercely as I have for the past two months here in Tanzania. Walking around the city center, we often were greeted by strangers on the street. Every time we met someone new, each one of us exhausted our list of Kiswahili greetings in cordial conversation. Upon entering a Tanzanian class room, our arrival was always greeted with a slow, strong chorus of children’s voices:
“Good morning Teachers!”
“Good morning! How are you?”
“We are fine, and how are you too?”
This part of Tanzanian culture has taught me much about how to teach and serve in the local community. It places emphasis on relationships and human connection; strangers, friends, students, teachers begin every conversation with a pleasant exchange. Similarly, I have come to see that while some of our work can be quantified and measured, much of it is intangible. Apart from the projects that are completed during the lessons and workshops, we cannot see how our teaching has impacted the teachers and students. We cannot know the future of LTP in Tanzanian schools, or how it might affect Tanzanian education in the long run. However, we can trust in the relationships that we have built with the teachers, with the students, and with the schools. It has been an exchange every time we’ve entered a classroom – our experiences for theirs, their knowledge for ours. Because of the time we spent with the local community members, and because of the experiences we shared, we can attribute any lasting impact more to the human connections we made than to visual aids we helped create. Cameras, printers, and paper are transient, while inspiration and impactful interactions are sustained.
After being immersed in Tanzanian culture and experiencing Tanzanian community, I am seeing the importance of the unseen, and trusting in the power of the relationships we have built.