For the past two Sundays I've been fortunate to be invited into the homes of two different families for lunch. Hospitality plays an important role in Tanzanian culture and I think us Americans could learn a lot from their generosity and willingness to open their doors. Well, at least I can, because on the weekends I have the tendency to want to shut out the world and hide out in my home to rest for the upcoming week!
Last week Chris and I went to the house of a fellow parishioner in our church. Her name is also Katie; she's a petite, quiet, pretty woman with 3 cute little girls. Two of the girls are twins*, both about 6 years old, and the littlest is almost 3. We have seen them at church every week and the girls have become quite fans of ours, coming up after each Mass to greet us and hold our hands. Their mom has been asking us for weeks to come to their home, so we were glad to finally be able to accept the invitation. No visit to someone's home is complete without food, so on the way to the family's home from church we stopped for the mom picked up the staples. Up, up, up we climbed the hills and rocks to their 2-room house. When we arrived we met Katie's husband, who chatted with us while the mom cooked the meal outside on the porch. At one point I went outside to use the outhouse and on the way back I found the twins beckoning me to sit with them in a cool spot under a tree at the corner of the house. They truly knew the best place to sit! Not only was it much cooler there, but it also had a great view of the surrounding hills and the main road down the hill. We had such a lovely lunch of fish, ugali** and veggies. I look forward to the girls coming to the house sometime so we can teach them some of our American boardgames.
Yesterday I went to the house of a coworker who has been promising me for weeks to teach me how to make a traditional Tanzanian dish of spinach and ground peanuts. Mama Hamisi*** is the office assistant at my work, which means that she cooks lunches and chai, cleans the office, makes photocopies and does other office-related tasks. She makes some of the best spinach of anyone I've tasted and I always make a big fuss about it to her. For months she's been telling me she'll teach me to cook it if I want to come to her house one weekend. Because I'm such a homebody I've been kind of reluctant to trudge out to her house on a Saturday or Sunday. Last week she asked me again, shewing away my assertions that she might not want me over to cook during Ramadan since she's Muslim and is fasting during the month. She assured me it'd be no problem and she'd be happy to show me. So after church yesterday I drove over to her house. After introducing me to her 3 teenage daughters and 1 adult daughter (She has 8 children total and at least these 5 all live together. Again 2 of these daughters were twins), we walked down the street to the sokoni (market) to buy the necessary ingredients. Then for the next hour or so we sat in her 2-room house while she patiently taught this American girl to prepare 2 different greens dishes and ugali. Tanzanians cook on the floor and on 1-burner stoves, which are usually powered by charcoal, though Mama Hamisi's was gas-powered. I'm proud to say that I survived the experience with no cuts or burns, despite not using a cutting board or hot pads! When the food was ready I sat and ate the meal together with her daughters. It was such a wonderful experience and I felt so welcome. When we were done Mama Hamisi even sent home a little "doggy bag" for Chris to taste my culinary success.
I'm so appreciative of the people here who are so generous of what they have to give. They teach me valuable lessons about generosity of spirit and I hope I can truly embrace this openness.
*In Tanzania twins are called "Doto" and "Kulwa," regardless of whether they are boys are girls. They will have their birth names, but the oldest will be called Kulwa and the youngest Doto.
**Ugali is a staple food here and most people eat only this each day. It is a thick, stiff paste made of a corn flower and water.
***Women in Tanzania go by their kids or grand kid's name.