Furaha na amani! Joy and peace!
And greetings once again from Mwanza. For two weeks this month I was privileged to visit Kenya, the country where I was raised from age three until age eighteen. It was a delight to visit with Mom & Dad in the Kerio Valley and taste some of our delicious Cheptebo mangoes. I was also able to see old friends and faculty at Rift Valley Academy, where I was a boarding student 5th – 12th grade. And it was a special joy to be in Nairobi at Archbishop Makarios III Seminary on the Feastday of St. Makarios the Great, where the Liturgy was celebrated by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya.
But it’s also very, very good to be back home in Mwanza, in my new home! I’ve been away since signing the lease, and so I am just moving in this week. I’d like to tell you a bit about what house-hunting can look like in urban East Africa.
When I moved to Mwanza in September of 2010, I began looking for a place to live the same way I would have done in the States. I went to the part of town I wanted to live in and started walking around, chatting with people, looking at houses. In urban Tanzania you don’t see “For Rent” signs the way you do in North America. But there are “agents” who know the local situation, and who will help connect you with a landlord… for a cut. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, white skin is seen as a sign of wealth, and so can attract possibly unscrupulous people. I would find that, by the time I actually looked at a house, there might be as many as five “agents” in on the deal, each expecting a cut of the profit. This means that I was being offered rather inflated housing prices.
And so it became necessary for me to conduct my housing search by proxy, with local leadership at the Archdiocese doing the initial work. It was a sad learning experience for me– as a North American, I want very much to be self-reliant and not to have to depend on others. Learning to depend on local leadership is of course a very good thing, and local leadership is very dependable. But even they did not find the task easy.
Mwanza has a population of two million and rising, as it is one of the most rapidly growing cities in Africa. Although Tanzania is still about 85% rural, our country is undergoing intense urbanization, and cities are overflowing their resources with great speed. So there’s a severe housing shortage. To find secure and adequate lodging near the Archdiocese office, with a trustworthy landlord, proved to be a time-consuming and difficult endeavor.
After many false starts and more than a few dashed hopes, in early December of 2010 my priest, “Father P”, was introduced to a local property owner. “Mama F” lives on the hill just above our Archdiocese office, and below Father P’s house. She and her husband were expanding their compound to include two small apartments within its walls. She had heard that Father P had an associate looking for a place to live. So Father P and I climbed the hill to investigate the new apartment and to meet Mama F. It was still under construction, but I was assured it would be finished by Christmas. The initial rent offered was reasonable, and so we started negotiations.
Mama F and her husband proved to be trustworthy and kind, and construction proceeded apace. Every time I visited the site, I saw progress, and Mama F seemed eager for me to get to know her family. And so by mid-Christmas, just before the New Year, Father P and I sat down with Mama F and her husband Bwana S to finalize negotiations and sign the rental agreement. In a PS to this email, I would like to tell you what this negotiation looked like.
So now I have a place to live! In the three years since our Church moved headquarters from Bukoba to Mwanza, we have been searching for property on which to build a Cathedral and other Archdiocesan facilities. We have only just concluded negotiations and outright purchased property… yes, after three years of searching. My own housing search has helped me to understand and identify with the issues our Archdiocese faces as we develop an infrastructure in Mwanza. And it has helped me to identify with urban Tanzanians, who face similar stresses as they try to make a go of life in the city.
I am grateful for your continued prayers, encouragement and financial participation. God is using you to care for me as I learn to see the world through Tanzanian eyes, and as I continue to study Kiswahili. Thank you for the many ways that you support my work here in Tanzania.
By your prayers in Christ,
PS At the end of December 2010, I signed a rental agreement for lodging here in Mwanza. This is how it went:
In North America, my experience with rental agreements is quite businesslike and efficient. I look at the place, meet the landlord, fill out the application. The landlord does a background check, and then might invite me to sign the rental agreement and pay the first month’s rent. I sign, write out a check, and get the keys in short order. While we might exchange short pleasantries, signing a rental agreement does not really involve a relationship. In fact, I might even be doing business with a “property manager” who works on the landlord’s behalf.
Not so there on the hill in Mwanza. By the time we sat down to go over the rental agreement, I already had a relationship of several weeks with Mama F and her family. When Fr P arrived, we were invited to sit in the courtyard with Mama F and Bwana S. Their teenage daughter brought us sodas, and as the four of us sipped we talked about the weather, about sports, about the economy, about the recent electricity problems, and about many other things. Eventually, Bwana S asked a four-year-old daughter to bring out the rental agreement. She handed a copy to each one of us (written in Kiswahili of course), and together the four of us went over each point, with much tangential conversation around every piece of the rental agreement.
The young daughter then carried one copy of the rental agreement, with a pen, to each of us. I signed as the tenant, Mama F signed as the property owner, and Father P and Bwana S signed as witnesses. Bwana S then returned the signed rental agreement to an envelope, and proposed that we go look at the apartment.
So we did, and there was much conversation about the window screens, and the paint on the walls, and the neighborhood in general. We then went back to our seats in the courtyard and conversation began afresh– about social problems, employment, water, the weather, the economy… I noticed that nobody ever disagreed with anyone else. Instead, if Bwana S said something that Fr P might not have the same opinion about, Fr P would look down and laugh a bit, and would then say “Yes, you are right. And also…” and would then proceed to offer his own point of view.
After another hour or so of visiting together, the three Tanzanians all– seemingly at the same moment– looked at one another and said, “Haya.” (“Alrighty then.”) This was the signal for me to pull out my money pouch and hand over rent for the entire year.
The largest denomination of Tanzanian currency is worth about $7.00 in US money. Most transactions are done using cash. Rent in Mwanza is much lower than in an equivalent North American city– Atlanta, for example– but still. Can you imagine paying an entire year’s rent in five-dollar bills?
First I counted out the money, and then handed it to Bwana S. He counted it, and handed it to Father P. And Father P counted it, then handed it to Mama F who placed it all in an envelope after counting it herself. This took maybe twenty minutes, and then our negotiation was concluded. Now I have a real relationship with my landlady and her family, and know that here in my apartment I will be part of a small community in this neighborhood.