MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

The sole Canadian at a Swahili church service

It was my first weekend in Dar es Salaam and Curtis my fellow intern/ roommate was in Kenya so needless to say I had to find something to fill my time. This is why when our security guard, Joseph invited me to church with him, there was no way I could turn it down. 

We were a little late when we walked in, so most of the seats were already full.  As we walked right in front of the whole congregation, I could hear a whisper go through the crowd.  I took the last seat available and tried to listen as they rambled off in Swahili for a few minutes before turning toward me.  The pastor was looking right at me, I wanted to run.  He called me in front of the room, introduced me as “Sister Mary from Canada” and asked me to dance with the choir.  There was no way I could say no, so I tried to copy the choirs moves as best as possible.  When I finally get somewhat close to the step they were doing I lift my head up to see almost every one of them with a cell phone or camera pointed at me!  They had me dance a few times before they let me return to my seat.

After the service, they were having a fundraiser for a new member to buy him furniture for his house.  It was an odd tactic but I went with it.  They had an envelope of money that was donated to him, then someone would pay money to open that envelope and show the congregation how much money was in the envelope.  Immediately they came up to me to be the first one, but all of these instructions they were giving me were in Swahili with a lot of hand gestures, one of them being the pastor pointing to the envelope then at the congregation.  So me still not aware of what I am doing and why, I gave him a few shillings and went to the front of the room.  I open the envelope, I pull out a 10, 000 shilling bill and I throw it into the crowd.  The congregation is roaring with laughter, my cheeks are bright red so I take my seat. 

The next women goes up, pays her fee and opens the envelope, she pulls a bill out, raises it in the air and places it in the basket next to her as she sends a glance and smile my way.  Hmm, that makes more sense.  They let a few more people go by until they finally ask me to go again so now knowing what I am suppose to do, I am back front and center.  This time I have 5 bills in my envelope, the first 4 I did exactly what I was told but the fifth I faked a throw into the congregation and then placed it into the basket, again I had the whole room filled with laughter.  So needless to stay most of the service was spent laughing at me and my lack of understanding for Swahili but it was quite enjoyable.

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