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Say "Tanzania" out loud

July 01, 2024 

That’s how I’ve always said it too

I’m going to bet you pronounced it “Tan-zan-KNEE-ah.” But alas, that isn’t how anyone who is native to the country says it. The correct pronunciation is “Tan-ZAIN-ee-ah.”

(For those of us from Illinois, we have an excuse – after all, we grew up in a state whose towns include New BUR-lin, A-thins, VIE-enna, and KAY-ro. So you can’t blame us for not being the most accurate at getting international place names right; and yet, I must shamefully admit I’ve always silently, and hypocritically, corrected anyone who says “Illi-noise.”)

Even though I visited Tanzania for an extended time several years ago, and was back again for two weeks last year, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I learned I’ve been mispronouncing the country’s name all along – and I have said “Tan-zan-KNEE-ah” over and over to the people here. Cringe.

This visit I acknowledged my mispronunciation to Sister Hellen, who just shrugged. No problem, she said. I could tell she wasn’t really worried about it at all. She’s used to the Americans saying it that way, I suppose. And while my mispronunciation of the country’s name is not an international crisis, it has started me thinking over the last week.

Confident misunderstanding

What else about this place have I been confidently misunderstanding?  What do they confidently misunderstand about America?

These questions are important for all of us to ask. Some of the answers are distressing, some embarrassing, and some are funny. For example, many people here believe it is always cold in America, especially when they learn we are from the Chicago area. Last August, one local said I must find it very hot in Tanzania. However, this time of year it’s the “winter” season with high temperatures only about 75-80 degrees with no humidity. I replied that actually at home it was much warmer than it is here. He looked at me with disgust. “No it is not,” he stated, and walked away. He would not put up with any more of my ignorance. (For the record, he probably also says “Illinoise.”)

Relationship building

Sisters standing in front of new bedWhen it comes to global health partnerships, I’m learning we must be especially aware of these confident misunderstandings – and show grace when we see them in others (as Sister Hellen and the Tanzanians have shown me). Our partnership with the team at St. Joseph Hospital is new for Mission Outreach in that we’ve never developed this kind of in-depth relationship directly with an international partner before. In doing so, we open ourselves to risk; the risk of realizing we’re wrong, the risk of needing to change our perspectives, and the risk of discomfort when we are not sure or don’t know.

This morning was one of those times. Ratish and I were at the St. Joseph administrative team meeting to discuss the container process; what went well, what could be improved, and how we will move forward. I’ll admit I was nervous going into the meeting. Overall, this has been a big success; but it hasn’t been perfect, and I expected we would both share feedback that challenged the other.

That’s exactly what happened. The list of things that went right so far outweighed what didn’t –a relief for us all. We shared openly how we both could improve next time and what we would do together to solve problems and prevent even “near misses” we identified. 

As I watched and listened to the conversation, my nervousness vanished. The exchange was not between “donors” and “recipients.” Instead, I was witnessing colleagues working together for a common purpose, which is to improve patient care. This conversation most likely would not have been possible last year at this time, and it didn’t happen by accident. Such rapport is deliberately and carefully crafted by people choosing to listen, to share, and to respect the other. It requires patience and grace from each person. Most importantly, it requires trust that is built and must be protected by all.

You don’t have to travel to another continent to encounter people about whom you may have confident misunderstandings. I’m seeing I’m pretty full of them even about people in my own community. And it’s a lot easier to hold on to that confident misunderstanding than it is to risk being corrected.  

Partnership possibilities

But as Ratish and I have learned, the joy and possibilities that come from partnerships that require some risk result in incredible achievement – things that we could not do without each other. Because we have chosen to embrace that risk, the teams at Mission Outreach and St. Joseph Hospital are celebrating and planning projects as partners, knowing that our efforts will be blessed by others who will join, too. 

Our colleagues (and now friends) at St. Joseph have shown us the potential of a future together. We’re looking forward to learning much more from them, and they are looking forward to working with us too…even if we do occasionally still slip and say “Tan-zan-KNEE-ah.”

Sister sharing information 

Say "Tanzania" out loud