“Familiarity in the unfamiliar”

Written by Deborah Dimitruk

Africa, the land of contrasts; colourful kangas and drab cement block homes; beautiful views and yet, garbage on the streets, kind people with smiling eyes and living most challenging lives. Desert and ocean, dry & lush, Islam and Christianity, veils that we westerners think oppress yet for many, they represent freedom; women bridging gaps between traditional and modern and defining their own identities in their own Zanzibar way. Significant social & economic struggle yet people are eager, optimistic, resilient and unbelievably generous. A land of rich and poor, many living without what I consider to be basic necessities, yet they are not unhappy- I was greeted with jambo (hello) everywhere I went and was made to feel very karibu (welcome)!

Africa, the land that so many fear.  The land of Ebola & genocide, poverty & corruption.  I didn’t fear and I am sure I know why.  I saw familiarity in the unfamiliar.  I saw young people, men and women together, sharing, laughing and collaborating for the common goal. I saw families playing, groups of friends socializing and couples sitting together – and remarkably, “courting” in not much different a way than in my own culture.  I saw kindness, respect and generosity for this Mzungu (a stranger in a foreign land) and I saw people, wanting for themselves no different than I have wanted for my family and myself.

In an article I read recently, the author used such words as “splendor and squalor”, “treasure and trash” to describe Africa; while there is a certain truth in these words, I couldn’t help but feel that they only captured the Africa that we see and not the Africa that we feel.  They fail to capture the essence of Africa, which is the people, the cultures, the history and the stories.  So yes, there is work to do to strike squalor and trash from the vocabulary and it will happen in due time. I will choose to remember Tanzania, Africa for the smiles, the colours, the rugged beauty of the land and most of all, the extraordinary people I met on this journey.




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