One of the most incredible things about life here in Dar, more incredible even than the beach, ocean, and glorious sunshine, is life in community.
There is something about life here that draws people together–even people who, in other contexts, might never be friends. I’ll readily admit that, as a twenty-eight year old single, I never anticipated that most of my friends would be at least ten years older than me, or that most of their references to pop culture of their youth would leave me clueless due to the generational gap. But those same friends are the people I can’t imagine life without.
People here in Dar look out for each other. Perhaps this observation is especially relevant to me because I’m leaving, or because I’ve been the benefactor of this sense of community, or because of the current chaos I’m walking through. Regardless, the life in community that seems to come as a part of living here is a beautiful gift.
Living in community can mean having a friend show you to the “best tea shop” in city center, or having an unofficial rideshare to work or events. It also can mean late-night conversations, a shoulder to cry on, or trips to the hospital. Whatever it is, it is the continual give-and-take of community brings life to all its participants.
The contemplative melancholy that comes with preparing to leave home gives special meaning to participation in community, and so the last few weeks have been full of gratitude for the many people surrounding me.
Two weeks ago, when my motorcycle sale turned into theft and bank fraud, the communities around me stepped in. The church and HOPAC communities gathered to pray, and my hockey mates made phone calls and connections. People put me in contact with department heads, bank managers, and security operators. Others drove me across town and covered classes while I spent days at the police station and bank seeking resolution. Some people made sure I was eating, while others just held me up when I felt like falling, or created opportunities for me to step away, spend some time at/on the ocean and re-stabilize emotionally.
But life in community is never a one-way street. Last Saturday, at the end of my “time-out” day, I rushed out of a school awards night in response to a phone call telling me that a friend was very ill and needed to be taken to the hospital. I borrowed another friend’s vehicle and drove her to the hospital late that night. By time I ensured she was taken care of, settled into her room, and the vehicle was returned to its owners, I had only an hour before I needed to leave my house again for church the next morning and the start of another busy week. Before sleeping, I sent a message to an unrelated Whatsapp group, containing a number of women who also knew this friend, and they rallied to bring food, arrange transport, and sit with my friend at the hospital. This is the norm. When I’ve been sick in the past, the response is always the same: people have driven me to the hospital, brought me soup, and covered classes when I was too sick to teach.
Life here is a community affair. We celebrate together, and even spend months planning massive parties to surprise members of our communities. The events of life, the anniversaries, engagements, weddings, birthdays, births, and promotions are all cause for celebration and gathering together. But we also mourn together. We gather with food, transport, contacts, cash, and resources to do whatever we can to help, no matter the problem. It could be as simple as calling a bajaji or a fundi, or as complicated and deep as a death in the family or work permit issues. The community is there. Doors are open, tables welcoming, and hearts available. There are couches to crash on and cars to borrow.
It has been an incredible four years of being surrounded by a number of different communities. Communities that stepped in during my first month in Tanzania and cared for me when I had malaria in a new country and didn’t know even a word of Swahili. Communities that offered vehicles so I could take students surfing or to the Escape Room. Communities that held me accountable as I worked through an eating disorder. Communities that let me call and ask questions about Swahili translations or culture. Communities that sat up late at night and listened to my rants, or who called and messaged to check in on me. Communities with connections. Communities that throw massive 50th Birthday Parties together. Communities that offer their washing machine or dryer when mine is broken. Communities that come willingly with a hug or a shoulder to cry on.
I know community is not limited by location or city, but I also feel that it is the one thing I will miss most when I leave Tanzania. I will certainly miss individuals, but more than that, I will miss the collective communities I am so privileged to be a part of: the hockey guys, the Gideon gals, the Young Life family, the Ocean Sound team, my connect group, and so many more. I will miss the security of knowing I am not alone, that others have my back–and that I have theirs.