I do not know how many of you have seen this movie, but the basic plot is a student comes up with a community service idea. The premise is he will do a nice, out of the ordinary thing for three people in exchange for the promise that these three people will pay it forward by doing a good deed for three more people. Theoretically, if everyone paid forward the kindness that was bestowed on them, people doing random acts of kindness for other people would grow at an exponential rate.
I always thought this idea was so great. A community where everyone helped everyone, with nothing asked of in return, but to pay the kindness forward towards someone else. I never thought that boarding a plane to one of the poorest countries in the world I would find such a community in existence. Stepping off that plane I entered the most welcoming culture I have (and probably will) ever encounter. The most used Swahili word is easily karibu, or, welcome.
Tanzanians welcome you into their country, towns, houses, and stores, to sit and talk, or even to eat their food. If you walk by a person who is eating, they will, almost certainly say, “karibu chakula” (welcome to my food). Now, I don’t actually think they expect people to sit down and start eating off their plates, but if you did, they would be delighted. Every single time I have taken a bus out of my village, I am always getting offered some sort of food from my seatmate.
I realize being offered sugarcane on a bus ride seems rather small and insignificant, but it is the genuine act of offering which makes it so marvelous. People have little, but all that they have you are welcomed to, because of the kindness that is just innately built into their culture. This has taken me awhile to adjust to. It is very American to be much less welcoming. Because everyone is so happy to give whatever they have, Tanzanians start to expect it. It took me by surprise to be asked for a bite of my banana, as I was eating it. “No!” I wanted to say, “this is my banana!” The more apart of this culture I feel, however, the more Tanzanian I become. Every time I board a bus now, I buy some sort of food from the vendors who are constantly harassing me from my window. Then, I go one step further and offer the food to my neighbor.
This is one of the biggest things I will take from my experience, and it is one of the most significant ways I have changed since my arrival here a year ago. I can already see myself, on my return to America, stopping to greet everyone I see on the street and offering food to people. Some (ok, most) may think I am strange (which, let’s be honest, I am), but others may be moved by a stranger’s random act.