It has been nearly 15 years since I joined my husband in Tanzania after retiring from a job in the U.S. Although we had spent month-long vacations in Mwika, our home village, practically every two years over 30 years prior to retirement, still settling in to live there was quite a cultural shock, a shock that's magnified by vastly different sights and sounds that surrounded us.
Now that I have lived here long enough for those sights and sounds to no longer rattle my senses, what once appeared as being worlds apart no longer seem so. Instead, I am discovering from day to day how much the Chaggas on Mount Kilimanjaro and Koreans have in common.
The first thing that comes to mind are Chagga women. Yes, like the majority of folks of that gender worldwide, they serve. They serve their husbands; they serve their children; they serve their parents, their relatives. While they are at it, just like their Korean counterparts, Chagga women ruffle a lot of feathers or, as a saying goes in Korea, create a lot of wind with their skirts (chima baram).
Chagga women are fiercely dedicated to their families and their children, and would not spare themselves, toiling day and night to see their children succeed. Aren't Korean women famously so? And in the process aren't Korean women said to raise a lot of chima baram too?
Visits here happen unannounced at any time. According to a saying here, when there is a knock on your door, welcome the stranger in because you never know when the stranger turns out to be an angel. Visitors are always welcomed. At meal time? That's no problem either. The visitor shares the meal with family.
I remember eating at friends' and relatives' homes time and again, while growing up in Korea. No one thought anything of it. This unspoken, gracious hospitality is how it is also among the Chaggas.
Then, after eating, how does one thank the hostess? "Nimeshiba (I am full)," says a Chagga. Isn't that exactly what we said in Korea? Thanking the host for the delicious food, I believe, came somewhat later, after feeling full was less of an issue than satisfying the palate.
One day, an elderly couple came to give a talk on Chagga culture to a dozen American visitors we were hosting for dinner. Their deep knowledge of the Chagga culture and love for it enthralled our visitors. A few days later I sent them by "pikipiki (a motorbike........