Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What Kind of Helping Hand Is Really Wanted?

He has a strong back, a strong heart, a strong mind, and is very rare in Tanzania or I think anywhere in the world. Yet the longer I am in Tanzania the more I am starting to think that there used to be many, many more Mwita Maswies in Tanzania. Many Americans that come to Tanzania, even those that love living and serving here, have the idea that Tanzanians have a beggar mentality, that they just want to be given everything in life. I think this is misrepresenting what many outsiders see in Tanzania.

The other day Mwita, Anna, and I were walking to our house in town and two men that we passed told Mwita and Anna to ask me to buy them a beer. I am kind of used to this by now so I don’t worry about it, but Mwita was highly insulted that his countrymen would stoop to asking someone else to buy them something they so obviously did not need. He was upset to the point of stopping and telling them everything that was wrong with their request. If you are white and have been in Tanzania long enough you are just plain used to having people ask you for everything from money, to a job, to a beer. However, I don’t think it was always this way or that it is part of their historical culture, I think it has been learned.

Having done some reading on the subject and having lived in Tanzania for a little time you start to understand better what living a life of survival means. I think that Tanzanians have been living a life of survival for so long that they have forgotten what it means to have hope or respect for themselves. They ask because if you don’t ask you won’t have it. It is sad to see these strong people, most of whom work 6-7 days a week at more than one job, feel like their only way to get ahead in life is to have someone give them something. And because of limited resources often times a helping hand of some kind is the most reliable way to get ahead. I think the biggest casualty of poverty besides the death of children is the hope that hard work equals a decent life. The results of poverty in Tanzania look much like the entitlement found in the US when many times it is not the same at all. In the US some people feel like they have the right to be given something, in Tanzania they ask with a humbleness of knowing it is a gift. If people are given something in the US it is their right, in Tanzania they never stop thanking you. If people are refused something in the US it is the “end of the world”, in Tanzania they accept it and move on. Now these are generalizations and not universal truths, but they can be applied on a large scale.

Mwita is strong and strong willed. There are many times he will not ask or asks very humbly. He has great pride in his country and treats every visitor to his country or his home with the utmost respect giving them whatever he thinks they need even if it means he goes without. He also has the mentality that it is better to die strong than to never try, yet that is what many Africans have been doing for far too long...dying no matter how hard they might try.

I think many Africans would be very happy not having to ask for things any more, I think they would be very happy discarding the thought that every foreigner they see has more money than they themselves do. I think they would be so happy to have a future of hope instead of despair where hard work paid off and meant more opportunities, not more disappointment. The equation of the American dream doesn’t work here and I think that understanding that would be very insightful for many who want to help. The idea that education and hard work means you will do well in life just doesn’t compute in Tanzania and they are smart enough here to know that. I pray that I can be a part of the solution to a new equation for Tanzania where work ethic equals hope and opportunity.

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