Stories from Karagwe: Kara on Religion

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

This blog entry is part of an ongoing series from Amizade’s semester Service-Learning course in Tanzania. Today’s entry comes from Kara Naseef, a junior international studies major from American University.

Marium (a fictional character): Harbari za Asubuhi? (how is your morning?)

Me: Nzuri! Umeamkaje? (good! How did you wake up?)

Marium: Salama! Umeenda kusali leo? (peaceful! Did you go to pray today?)

Me: Ndiyo! (yes!)

Marium: Kanisa gani? (which church?)

Me: …..

Most secular study abroad programs do not have regular discussions about religion.  Our group consists of diverse religious believers in a country where asking about religion often comes before learning someone else’s name.  For us religion is a natural topic of conversation and question.

Our location in rural Tanzania, still permits access to international news.  While the world debates whether or not Korans found in the incinerator of a US military base further indicate deep mistrust and disrespect of Muslim tradition and practice, we discuss the ways in which such conversations about religion can continue.

Why is it so hard to argue with someone who is working in the name of religion?  Challenging religion confronts the most fundamental beliefs and in turn appears to undermine faith.  Tanzania is teaching us that these difficult conversations are necessary in order to educate ourselves and to figure out how to respect and appreciate diverse perspectives.

Each member of our Amizade community has our own belief system and a different story that brought us to feel such a way.  This is my story:

Every so often I still wake-up around 5:30 imagining the Arabic call to worship coming from the neighborhood Mosque that interrupted my dreams during a fall semester in Zanzibar.  And shortly there-after the roosters signal the beginning of sunrise so I figure that I might as well start my day.

I walk out of my bedroom at Misha Guest House and cross the gravel parking lot towards our common eating room.  As I approach I hear Christian-worship music and the voices of my classmates and teachers singing along to our friend’s MP3 player.

It’s Sunday and everyone else has chosen which Church they will be attending: our teachers head off towards the Lutheran Church, a few wonder into the Catholic Church and a couple take a taxi to the neighboring town for the service at the Assemblies of God.  But where will I go?

Living in Tanzania for the past 7 months has allowed me to experience many sects of Christianity and to better understand Islam by empowering me to initiate and participate in conversations that are often considered taboo at home. Raised by a Catholic father and Jewish mother, it took many years before I could even attempt to identify my position on religion.  But eventually, after years of attending Hebrew school at my own will, I decided I must be Jewish and since then I have embraced this fact.  I am Jewish, Santa Clause comes to my house, and I spent three months as part of a Muslim family.  To an outsider my varied identity may be cause for alarm but to me it’s all part of becoming a better global citizen.