Knowledge is Life, Not Books

Elimu ni maisha si vitabu. Knowledge is life, not books.

This African proverb perfectly sums up how my experience in Africa, as a student and staff member with Houghton College’s Tanzania study abroad program, shaped why I am passionate about grassroots African development and why I believe in Blood:Water’s work. I could write forever on all Tanzania taught me, but the overarching truth I learned while there is that Africa is so much more than what I perceived it to be. I hate to admit it, but before going to Tanzania, I bought into the idea of an Africa that needed saving, that needed me to save it. It is an Africa not far off from the Africa I read about, studied, and obsessed over at home, but it only took me 10 days of living with a Tanzanian family to learn how I was incredibly wrong. This is the difference between the living Africa and the written one. Elimu ni maisha si vitabu.

When I returned home from Tanzania, I guarded the picture above of my homestay family as if my life depended on it. I guarded it because I knew that when my family saw it, they would immediately see what I had taught them to look for–poverty. But the only thing I see in this picture is beauty. I see riches. I hear the voice of Mama Esinate praying over the house every night. I see Zaituni and Emerete’s pride as they return home from school in their uniforms. I feel the sincerest forms of hospitality, as doors are always kept open for visitors. I hear the combined laughter of village children as I return home soaked in water, because carrying water on your head is a lot harder than African mamas make it out to be. I smell chapati, mandazi, and chai cooking over the three-stone fire. I know the value of hard work, the common sense of not being wasteful with anything, and the truth of relying on God’s providence.

Don’t get me wrong, many of the problems we read about are real and active in African communities, including a lack of clean water and an epidemic of HIV/AIDS, but we cannot view these problems as a singular narrative of Tanzania or the other countries that compose Africa. My homestay family and all those I met throughout my time in Tanzania taught me the value of seeing the full picture, recognizing the tremendous assets held by the African people and their desire to bring change in their own communities.  I learned that development worth fighting for is the kind where Africa is the leading force, and we are just supportive partners. It is a development that recognizes the hope that is in the communities before we even get there.