With language school having ended, I have made my way to the village of Baraki, Tanzania for an immersion experience. I decided to come to Baraki following a suggestion of long-time Maryknoll lay missioner Liz Mach. While new missioners study Swahili at the Maryknoll-founded Makoko Language School in Musoma, Liz often invites the students over to her house on Sundays for a delicious, home-cooked meal.
It was during one of these meals that I mentioned to Liz that, although I was diligently studying Swahili, I wasn’t getting the full language immersion experience that I knew I needed. And knowing that most Tanzanians live in a rural setting, I also wanted to see what life was like in a village, before moving to Mwanza for my ministry.
After a little more discussion, Liz made arrangements for me to come out to the village of Baraki to practice my Swahili and live among the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa (IHSA).
In Baraki the sisters run several crucial programs for this rural community. A 70-acre rice farm, a clinic and a large boarding school are just a few of the examples of what the sisters here provide. These institutions aside, the sisters, led by Sister Janepha Mabonyesho, IHSA, are a bastion of warmth, hospitality and goodwill, who are living the Gospel in a passionate and committed way.
One of the most rewarding parts of my time here in Baraki has been the opportunity to meet many long-time residents. The welcome they have extended to me has felt like a complete embrace. My favorite part of learning and using Swahili is the familiarity that is embedded in much of the language. I am often greeted as “kaka” (brother) or “ndugu” (relative).
I still have a long way to go in perfecting my Swahili, but my basic conversational skills have allowed me to start connecting with people in ways that I didn’t get to experience in Musoma.
On my morning walk to St. Consolata’s, the school at which I’ve been helping, I pass many of the same people. I will often stop and chat with Victoria, who works as a cook at the hospital here, and with Godfrey, who has been living in Baraki for a few weeks to fix an oil-making machine; he is also my house-mate.
This feeling of community is continued as I reach the school and am greeted by the students. Eschewing some of the formality that their teachers demand of them, many run up to me to hug me, touch my hair or offer some other sort of welcome. There is a fascination here with my hair that I will never quite understand, but I assume over time this interest will fade.
The sisters who work at the school have been incredibly helpful in integrating me into their ministry. I have taught English to both students and teachers, helped prepare tests, and even started teaching one class of students some of the basic functions of a computer. I have also really enjoyed getting the chance to meet some of the teachers, who have eagerly gotten me involved in their classrooms. I am so grateful that I’ve been able to help — and I think provide some entertainment — for the students, teachers, and sisters here.
Although I know it takes a lot of patience to help me understand what they’re saying, and in turn to understand my broken Swahili, everyone has been totally gracious.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on the way that being here has started to impact me spiritually. One thing I keep coming back to is some of the judgments that I’ve brought with me and that, I hope, are starting to fade.
So much about this country looks different from the United States. Many buildings are not as well-maintained and are made with more simplistic materials, namely concrete. People here dress differently and wear things out of necessity rather than fashion. The resources for the school, for example, are far more limited than what you would find in even an impoverished American classroom. And yet, I have started to notice these things less and less. I have found myself comparing less but noticing more.
I have seen the ways that a lack of money or material items can be an avenue for creativity. This is not to glorify the plight of those who are struggling to have enough food or buy the medicine that they need. However, it has heightened my awareness of the superficiality of concern over aesthetics and instead oriented me, if only slightly, more toward the essentials.
I hope I can use this experience to remind myself of what is truly important for leading a fulfilled, spiritual life.
Sam Janson is a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Tanzania. He just completed his four-week immersion in Baraki and has now started his new ministry at the community health program of Transfiguration Parish in Mabatini, Mwanza. Transfiguration Parish is a ministry of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.
Unless otherwise noted, photos by Sam Janson. Below are a few more photos from his time in Baraki and at language school: