Understanding the African Culture

Written by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Richard Ross

At the Lubango Center where I work, in the hills of Mwanza, Tanzania, I try to help keep the complex clean. Most of the garbage we generate is burned; there are not many, if any, garbage collection services. Now Tanzania does use marabou storks to process garbage by cleaning areas via their ingestion of carrion and waste. Surprisingly, these storks can swallow anything they find on their way, but that is for another tale.

Marabou stork

The marabou stork

When the office garbage basket gets full I usually take it out and burn the contents. We have a burn area behind the Catechist’s home. Many times the area is piled high with other garbage and tree trimmings. In an effort to try to keep the area clean I try to help burn all of it. This turns out to be not welcomed or appreciated. The Catechist dries out the trimmings and uses the wood to cook his meals for himself and one of his sons. I was unaware that my efforts to keep the area clean were detrimental and wasteful.

It was also interesting on how I found this out. One of the Kindergarten Teachers, whom I have been teaching English to twice a week for almost a year, called out to the Catechist and told him in Kiswahili what I was doing. Then he yelled something to me and the Librarian also explained that he wanted to use the trimmings for cooking. Now I had been slowly stoking the fire for over thirty minutes. She didn’t want to confront me or tell me directly not to do that, but eventually called out to the Catechist and then after I had some conversations with him, I stopped feeding the fire. Because of my status as old (Mzee) and white (Mzungu), out of respect or fear, she just let me carry on and didn’t say anything directly to me, even though we had developed a good relationship in her learning how to speak English. Slowly I’m learning, things I did without thinking in the States are by no means necessarily the right thing to do here in Tanzania!

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