I have lived in Tanzania for longer periods of time, I have traveled to some of the most remote corners, and I have worked with a great variety of extraordinary Tanzanians. I have worked on a contract for an international NGO, and I have freelanced. One of the things which has offered me the most interesting personal challenge is the Tanzanian concept - and the variations of it - 'tupo pamoja'. Not just in terms of language and actions, but also visually. In English 'tupo pamoja' translates literally into 'we are here together' but there's a whole lot more to it.
In Kiswahili moja means one, umoja means unity, and pamoja means together. Often a fact explaining its own obviousness - but in most cases there is much more to be read between the lines.
Some years ago I met with a Tanzanian friend who had invited me to meet him in another European city than my own. Upon meeting I insisted on taking out money from the ATM. He just smiled: 'What is it with you Europeans? You think we Africans have no money? I invited you, relax!'
I kind of knew. Nevertheless, I had to reassure myself and him that I could take care of myself. That I didn't depend.
We are here together'.
An obvious fact, yes.
But between the lines I realised it was also an affirmation of the fact that what is here is ours to share, and if I do not flex myself along with that I will break the frames of what we have together. And it won't work for any of us.
Generally when I have traveled to villages in rural Tanzania and stayed privately in stead of in guest houses I had to be much better at receiving than giving.
My Danish background made me calculate how I could pay back hospitality - and make it even. Again, the challenge is to receive and know for sure there will be a time when I am expected to return a gesture to the community.
I didn't go to Kagunga Village on Lake Tanganyika alone. In fact, during the night I had been sleeping on that boat among a large group of men for whom this was the only way to reach their village.
I was a guest and dependent on the two men I travelled with. One, a local opposition politican from Kagunga Village who fed enough material for conversations to last for most of the 7-hour long ride.
The men did express concerns. Would I be able travel like this? I told them if they could, so could I. But to be honest I had no idea if I could. One question was the safety on a lake, sailing at night, another the fact that I had little private space for the next 48 hours, on the boat and in the village.
Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Tanzania's first president, has been quoted several times on this topic, once in the New York Times Magazine (27 March 1960): 'The African is not 'Communistic' in his thinking; he is -- if I may coin an expression -- 'communitary'.
It took me years to realise that there is no other way for me than to find my own way of enjoying this collectiveness. I learnt that contribution and participation aren't always about giving but also about the ability to humbly receive. And to accept that sometimes it is actually okay to depend on others.
If not - I would in fact be alone. To be alone was absolutely fine when I worked on a contract with an international NGO which provided my house, insurance, car and a space to complain when I faced problems. When I decided to go freelancing last year without a contract from an international NGO and the formal back-up I had to rethink it all.
It does in fact contain all the right buzz words, many of the words frequently used by the international NGO I used to work for, and which it would apply in its partnership agreements with Tanzanian counterparts.
I have however experienced several collisions within such formal partnerships. Often it is too much about what every one has to add in stead of what the common value could be when working together.
Personally, I cannot say I have sorted out the tupo pamoja. It does still collide with how I was brought up in Denmark which then, and somewhat still is, was defined by the social-democratic idea that we are not just equal, we are also entitled to the same. It taught my generation that our government will look after us, and that we do not have to depend on each other.
It also means that I can walk through Copenhagen on my own, greeting no one and never being greeted by any. Danes may even reconsider offering an invitation out of fear of being rejected whether those invitations are adding new friends on Facebook or for a party. What if that one says no...?
I am not promoting Tanzanian culture as a perfect example. Tanzania is as imperfect as many other cultures (read here) and tupo pamoja is frequently used as an empty, general phrase.
It has however challenged my insight and added value in regards of self-confidence and relationships. As an individual you simply feel stronger when you try to make the power of we work.
More photos here: