Homestay: My Week Living Like a Local

November 13, 2013 3:38 pm Published by

Last week I spent a week with our campus manager, Mzee Kitula and his family in order to immerse myself in the language and culture of Tanzania. So Monday after work, I began the mile walk to Mzee Kitula’s house with him. We got off to a slow start as Chris’s dog Maggie would not stop following us! We both had to stop and tell her to go home several times and she still kept turning around and following us. Finally we had to call for Seth to come call her home so we could make our way.

Upon arrival at his house, the kids greeted me and carried my things inside the house. I met Mama Kitula for the first time, and even though she spoke no English and my Swahili is elementary and choppy at best, she welcomed me into their home with open arms. That evening as she prepared dinner, I played American music for their numerous kids on my iPhone.  We had ugali for dinner, which I had eaten at JBFC, but always with a fork. This time it was authentic, we each pulled ugale from a pile as big as a Thanksgiving turkey, and then formed makeshift spoons with our hand to dip into meat stew. Mama Kitula kept telling me to eat more and more despite my claims that I was full. “Bado” or not yet she said in Swahili.

After dinner and our evening chai, Mama Kitula showed me to my bedroom. She tucked me into bed and then tucked the mosquito net around my mattress tighter than I’ve ever seen anyone ever tuck a mosquito net in my life. I guess that’s not saying much since I’ve only been sleeping under mosquito nets for about seven weeks of my life. The next morning I took my first bucket shower, which honestly wasn’t that bad, and despite my fears I was able to shampoo and rinse my hair with plenty of water to spare!

The next night, I sat with Mama Kitula as she prepared dinner and the older kids came over and asked me about America. “How is it different from Tanzania?” I really struggled to answer this question, I didn’t want to glorify the US or make Tanzania sound inferior. Every example I thought of at first would have done that though. I initially thought of the roads, the suburban houses, cable television, plumbing and electricity. I stuck with telling them more about the weather, the four seasons and the landscape of the various regions of the United States. The question stuck with me the next day though and I thought long and hard about how I could have better answered the question.

On my last night of my homestay, it was raining cats and dogs. It was amazing to watch the kids hustle and bustle around the yard gathering rain water in buckets. The two youngest boys that attend Joseph and Mary were busy washing their school uniforms in the water collected from the rain gutter on the house.

The next morning, the girls were doing the dishes from the night before, the younger boys were
sweeping the entire yard of the debris from the storm, the middle boy was helping Mzee Kitula herd the cattle into the cattle pen, and the oldest son was returning from the community well on a bicycle loaded with buckets of water. All of this before school, all before 7 am.

It was then that I was ready to answer their question from a couple of nights before. The United States does have more paved roads than Tanzania and nearly every house has running water, electricity and cable. But lots of kids in the U.S. take all of that for granted. They may grow up not ever learning the value of hard work or the value of a dollar until they are on their own as an adult. They don’t know what it’s like to have to go fetch your family’s daily supply of water at 6 in the morning. They don’t have that sense of accomplishment at such a young age.

So, while life in the US may seem easier to some, it was in my week at Mzee Kitula’s that made me truly come to respect the way Tanzanians raise their families. Raising them to be strong, self-sufficient, capable human beings but also allowing them to have fun and be children.

Blogger Melinda Wulf is JBFC’s new Administrative Director. She moved to Tanzania to work for the organization in October. 

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This post was written by Mainsprings