Jon and I accepted an invitation to go to a church our first weekend here. Tanzanians are generally very religious and devoted to their faith. It is very odd to find a Tanzanian who does not identify with some faith. About 35% – 40% of Tanzanians are Muslim, but this population is generally along the coast. Then, about 45% – 50% of Tanzanians are Christian. According to the Lonely Planet Tanzania guide, the remainder of Tanzanians follow some type of ancestor worship, or worship of the land and various ritual objects. I don’t think I’ve met a Muslim in our village since we are so far from the coast. One of the first questions you will receive from a Tanzanian when you first meet them is, “What religion are you?”. It’s really difficult to try to explain concepts like atheism or being agnostic, so it’s easiest just to identify as whatever religion you know the best. So, we’ll just say we’re Christian because we can talk about that better than anything else.
Peace Corps also encourages (highly encourages) us to get integrated into our village as quickly as possible. We thought that attending church would be an easy way to meet people, be seen, and get integrated. As far as I can tell, the church we attend is a non-denominational Christian church. There is a Roman Catholic church down the street, but they don’t have a priest. The first week we attended, many of the students from our high school were also there. They took up about 1/4 of the church. These students provide the gospel singing and dancing which is phenomenal. I was pleased we went simply to see these students sing and dance. There is one student who plays a drum as well. The remainder of the church congregation are some teachers, and many people from the village. Of course, the whole service is in Swahili, so we understand very little of the message.
The first week we attended, the principal or mkuu of our school introduced us to the congregation. We were pleased that we were able to get an introduction to many villagers so early on. We also got to meet the pastor personally and he is very kind. At the end of church, everyone goes outside and they auction off items. Basically, someone will bring in items as a donation and then the church auctions them off to people to get money for the church. The first week, people donated eggs which were bought and then given to Jon and I. They also auctioned off pencils.
The second week we attended was slightly different than the first week. The biggest thing we noticed was the church went from one hour to 2.5 hours. The students were having a break from school, so they were not in attendance. There was an additional pastor and we played a game. Basically, the church has been trying to build a larger church for the last two years. So, this week included a game which took about one hour to do, but raised money for the new church being built. If you chose, you could buy a card for 1,000 TSH (TSH = Tanzanian Shillings) (like 75 cents). Then, inside your card is a prize. You could win a piece of candy, soap, pencils, a notebook, or the grand prize of a T-shirt. Jon and I each bought a card and oddly enough we both won a notebook which we were happy about. Then, we did the same auction at the end, where again, the eggs were bought by someone else and given to us.
I hope that we can improve our Swahili to talk to people more. Also, it will be interesting to see if church begins to make more sense to us as our language improves. Overall, it’s not too bad not being able to understand anything because the singing and dancing is entertainment enough. In fact, in the Tanzania Lonely Planet guide, it marks church singing as one of the top 10 cultural experiences!