Lent 2023 newsletter
Anna Johnson, Tanzania
It has been half a year since we left our home of Sequim, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula to begin our training as a Maryknoll lay missioner family. We kissed our friends, family, fellow parishioners and pets goodbye — hoping we weren’t completely bonkers for walking away from a comfortable life in the Northwest to relocate ourselves and our three children to East Africa for three and a half years.
It has now been more than two months since we arrived in Mwanza, Tanzania. What seemed overwhelming and strange our first weeks here has now become our new “normal.”
The kids — Josephine, 12; Collin, 10; and Charlotte, 8 — are all attending school in town. They have learned to protect their lunches against monkeys that will steal their sandwiches and very quickly figured out that a rainstorm in Tanzania means sidewalks at the school could turn into a flooded stream within minutes.
Driving downtown Mwanza at first felt like a live game of Mario Kart, as we dodged piki-pikis (motorcycles), buses, bajajis (little three-wheeled motorbikes used as taxis) and pedestrians. Now, a few weeks later, it is all starting to feel strangely normal as Kyle and I drive into town to run a few errands.
Grocery shopping at the open-air market, which gave me intense anxiety the first few times we went, is now one of my favorite days of the week. I love the variety of beans, the colors of the fruits and vegetables, the smells of fresh produce, all mixing together in the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Two months ago our family stepped into a different world when we landed in East Africa; that different world has slowly become our world. “Karibu!” I lose track of how many times I hear this phrase throughout any given day. We hear it when dropping our kids off at school, when visiting a private home, while at the market, even while walking down the dirt paths near our home. The word means “welcome!”
With our pale skins and blonde and light brown hair, we are very clearly outsiders, visitors. And almost without fail, the response we are given is always “Karibu! Karibu Tanzania!” What follows is typically a long exchange of greetings: “How are you today? And how are your children? Your wife/husband? How is work?” The greetings are not hurried. In fact, they are anything but hurried.
In that moment, the person we are greeting is fully present. It is as if for that time the rest of their day is of no importance and they have nothing else to do and nowhere else to be. There is a slowing down, a simplicity, a beauty of being-in-the-moment. It is a new experience for us.
Kyle and I are both in language school five days a week, learning Kiswahili. Early on we spent an entire week learning how to properly greet one another. In English, Spanish and French — languages both Kyle and I are familiar with — greetings would take approximately one 45-minute lesson to complete. We spent five three-hour sessions on greetings in Kiswahili; and I realize we still have much to learn!
Our linear, Western sense of time is not relevant here in Tanzania. Time here is social and relationship-based. It is something I love, yet realize is very counter to my American “get things done now” attitude.
One of the core values of Maryknoll Lay Missioners is to “enter into community with listening hearts and openness … honoring the voices and wisdom of those who receive us.” Perhaps we are bonkers for leaving our comfortable life in the US — but the voices and wisdom of Tanzanians are already taking root in our hearts.
Neither Kyle nor I know exactly what our mission work will be after our language training. We continue to visit ministry sites and are open to a variety of possibilities. But after just one short month in mission, I know that the people here are already changing us, softening us, delighting us. We look forward to the months and years ahead.
Please consider joining our circle of COMPANIONS IN MISSION. Companions in Mission are generous donors, like you, who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information visit Become a Companion in Mission. Thank you so much for your generosity!
Thank you, Ana, for your beautiful newsletter. What an experience you and your family are immersing into. “I know the people here are already changing us, softening us, delighting us.” Thank you for sharing this simple and yet amazing awakening into Tanzania!
How wonderful to read your article. You expressed many of the sentiments we felt while visiting Tanzania for 5 short weeks. The colors, sights, friendliness, language, smells, etc were some things we will never forget. So happy for your family to have this experience and proud of the work you are doing, the lives you are touching and the lives you will bless and change for good. All our best!!
Thanks for the detailed look at your first month or so. The open-air food market, I remember that well from Spain and how delightful it is to explore and take in the colors and smells, and get ideas for cooking. Your changing sense of time, being in the present, is especially interesting. You won’t lose that American let’s-get-it-done-now approach, and probably you shouldn’t, as you get into what you want to do to help these people and this culture. But it won’t be the same, because you’ll know how to turn off the clock when you choose to.
Thank you Anna, I read about your experience with great interest. How wonderful it is that you are taking in the gifts of the Now! Keep the insights coming! Warm regards to you, Kyle, Josephine, Collin and Charlotte!