My grandfather and I sat to discuss his trip to Africa this past April. As he highlighted experiences in the trip, I heard him speak on the rural outskirts and the urbanization in Tanzania. My grandfather’s anecdote enlightened me on how ignorant I had become dependent on the U.S to convey the true beauty of Africa. If you Google “Africa” you may only see a giraffe or women head porters — but there is much more beauty. I decided not to highlight Africa’s beauty with the U.S beauty standard or propagate negative stereotypes of Africa as a nest of poverty and violence. I instead will resolutely highlight the contrary to the U.S mass media- people in developing countries are not incapable or passively waiting to be rescued but content with what possessions they have earned.
On April 7th, 2022, my grandfather, Pastor Ralph Garth of True Vine Ministries and his associate pastor Jonas Mwakajumba visited Jonas’s birth country —Tanzania. Missionary trips to other countries focus on spiritual development, community development, and enlightenment connections. Their visit was based on ministry arrangements, however, the trip was life-changing. Flying from Amsterdam without an understanding of the urbanization of Africa, he did not expect to see a Kentucky Fried Chicken or the cityscape Dar es Salaam and candidly, I did not expect to hear about it. I researched articles such as “Urban Growth in Tanzania: Exploring Challenges, Opportunities and Management” on huge cities and urbanization in Africa from journalists and news sources from the US. Each article beautified the tall buildings and fast cars in Dar Es Salaam which are antithetical to the villages rich in resources, agriculture and diversity. I learned every part of Africa does not have a demographic issue.
Bishop Daniel Moses Kulola hosted my grandfather in Africa and he has assisted me in writing this article. He personally sent me a few pieces of photography to use, courtesy of Craty Cleophace Photography. The art captured as photos expanded my view on life in Tanzania. Kids playing with bikes, in the river, pushing their brothers and sisters in wheelchairs, grandparents smiling and laughing — something of true beauty. These people in poverty that seem to be helpless in commercials in the United States are all of a sudden faithful in the unwavering challenges they face and radiant in the life that they live. Bishop Daniel Moses Kulola of Tanzania told me, “We are not poor, we are rich. For example here in Mwanza we have gold, at least all the areas are full of gold, not far away from here we have diamonds,” adding, “That is why I will always choose to live in Tanzania rather than even in America. I say this because I have been to the USA a number of time. We are a bit far away from you in morals, families matter, respect, resources, and eating organic food than there in the US. Life has no stress here like in the USA.”
Being a U.S citizen, the stress here is great upon so many people from matters such as taxes and credit card scores. My view of Africa and what it is growing to be is changed for the better, forever. I am not saying people are not living in poverty — I pray and work hard daily to be able to make a difference one day and that ramifications in the government change. I am saying don’t be shortsighted in what and who the people of the continent are. The thing is, both are Africa. The flaw is not that the story portrayed in the US is untrue — but it is far too incomplete.
“I learned early on that in fighting against systematic oppression, dehumanization and colonization, who controls the narrative shapes the reality of how the world views society– It controls who’s loved, who’s hated, who’s degraded and who’s celebrated.” – Colin Kaepernick
Pastor Garth was shocked that a part of Africa was developed contrary to the media and commercials. For example, during the 2014 World Cup Delta Airlines tweeted the final score of the World Cup game between the US and Ghana, 2-1. It showed the Statue of Liberty to represent the U.S., and used a giraffe to symbolize Ghana. NBC News also reported that giraffes aren’t native to Ghana (a West African country with more than 25 million people). This tweet caused a media uproar that led to Delta Airlines apologizing for being inaccurate and inappropriate. This proves the unenlightenment and small, vague perspective in the United States of a continent that is more than three times the size of the U.S.
Throughout the interview, my grandfather spoke continuously with adoration about how insanely beautiful Tanzania was in every part. He told me about the fried bananas, fish and beef meals, and even cashew trees (I know what you’re thinking, that is a thing). Preaching in the town of Lindi led the pastors to people that were in need of baptization. Pastor Garth was allowed to baptize five people in the Indian Ocean and the youngest was a girl from a nearby village. Pastor Garth regarding the young girl, “My heart went out to her. Not knowing if she was poor or middle class, I felt God led me to help her so I asked could I be her spiritual father. Rasina is her name!” After spending time with Rasina and her family, he discovered that her father passed away and her mother had given her away to her grandparents. The grandparents made a living out of what little they had. Rasina’s family lived in a house made with mud and straw — her house did not have electricity. After my grandfather landed back in the states, he began contacting Rasina’s family and preacher in Tanzania. She was no longer in school and her family had no way to contact anyone. She calls and texts often with updates on her life. She now is back in school, has a new bed, a new phone, and her family was able to buy food. The family was also able to purchase a solar panel which uses photovoltaic effects to convert light directly into electricity. Every month, my grandfather and grandmother assist her with financials that have greatly accommodated her family’s financial situation — and only adding to the joy they shared. You see, joy is not about money and it cannot be stripped away.
Joy is faith. Joy is love. Joy is contentment in what is and what will be. – Nevaeh Jashae Foster
I interviewed Pastor Jonas about the trip and asked him two questions that I was terrified would come off offensive. Before I get into that, Jonas lived in Tanzania up until he was 32 years old. He has family that are in Africa and America. Senior Pastor Garth spoke on his behalf, “Jonas loves Africa. He still speaks like them and eats like them. He doesn’t want to get caught up into only what all America has.” The question number one, “Is the underdeveloped portrayal of Africa in the United States offensive to someone who was born there or is still residing?” Pastor Jonas explained that he would not describe it as offensive because ‘that’s how it is’ in the states. He says the continent is so big that it is unfair to vaguely describe it as poor. My favorite part of the interview was his thoughts on the word ‘poor’. Jonas says, “Poor is not about money. Actually in Africa, poverty is based on infrastructure, life expectancy, water, power, life, roads.” It is almost as if poverty in Africa was determined and projected by U.S global standards.
The second question, “Do people living in Africa, living in poverty specifically feel that they are poor?” Jonas emphasizes, “Of course they feel they are poor. The leaders of the government are suppressing their people. There is no freedom. They don’t have the power to go against their government or they will be punished.” More than anything- Africa is poor in government. There are no welfare or retirement plans, if you do not have a family to work for you while you are elderly, you must work for yourself to survive. ‘Work ethic’ is generally defined as ‘a value based on hard work and diligence. In many countries including Africa, there is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character.
Pastor Jonas ended the interview by adding, “But people are filled with joy there even with all that we have in the United States, many people are ungrateful and unsatisfied. Things are changing. I have seen a lot of changes since I left 23 years ago.” A fun fact Pastor Jonas wanted me to share is Tanzania is the only place on Earth that has tanzanite – one of the rarest gemstones on Earth. It is also home to Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake and the second largest freshwater lake. Tanzania’s wildlife parks do feature 10% of the world lion population. Bishop ended with a strong statement regarding my argument for the article, “This is true, any one who comes to Tanzania with negative thoughts, when is here automatically changes… the media have been used badly to make Africa or Tanzania bad and poor which it is not.” With knowledge and adoration for this continent that I once knew little about but now hope to soon visit, I can gracefully say Africa is rich in the most salient attributes such as: agriculture, natural resources, disciplined faith and religion, work ethic, diamond, gold, arable land, renewable fresh water sources, and most significantly jubilation and culture.
Above photos by Craty Cleophace of Craty Photography and used with permission.