Friendship-Urafiki and how hard it is
After getting a couple of nights of sleep and the benefit of warm water I had a little time to reflect on our last week in Tanzania. We were staying with Kumbuka and his family and like in much of Tanzania, the bathroom of the guest house was awful, the leaks in toilet, shower and sink huge and the warm water non-existent without using a bucket and an electric heat rod. Nothing new there. What was new and different was that we got to see a true and typical version of what it means to be a friend in Africa, which is hard work, hard commitment and sometimes having to discard one’s Western individualism and sense of self in the moment.
It all started with Kumbuka announcing to Randy and me that he had arranged a “week’s tour” of a Tanzanian Lutheran Church (his parish) for the American pastors and that we were going to take part in his congregational routine. We were to visit families for at least one meal every day and and at the end of the meal we were to pray for the house and the family. These folks were going all out for the privilege of having the people from America for a meal. We were special….and important and so was our prayer, our presence, the miles we had travelled to be there. And I hated the plan (Western Individualism) from the moment he said it.
“So what if I can’t pray well that day,” I inquired of Kumbuka…”What if I run on empty? (Western individualism).” “Doesn’t matter,” he said (African communalism). “You are a pastor! You are present. You are a guest of honor. I cannot keep you to myself. The folks in my church wouldn’t accept it (African communalism). They believe that you will be a blessing to them. And beyond that, they will bless me for bringing you.”
So our cultures clashed in a major way this past week. We had come to see him and he wanted us to be seen by his congregation. We wanted to spend time with his children and he wanted to claim our time for the leaders of his church. We had ideas about having conversations with him and catching up while sitting under the tree and he wanted us to use our words for the benefit of all. And it was difficult to live in the tension and the compromise all week long. It was difficult to maintain and keep the Urafiki.
Last year, when Randy returned from Africa, some friends recommended that we both read the book “African Friends and Money Matters.” I am glad we did that because it was precisely those differing notions of friendship, of Urafiki, about which this book is so informative and which helped us out last week. And it is only the blessings of God and the willingness to keep our eyes and ears open that keep friendship going in the first place. Thanks be to God.