Monday, January 9, 2017


Greetings, dear readers, and once again, Toa wishes a very happy new year to you all.  This first week of 2017 has already been fraught with challenges and complications, but we are working through them, one by one, and hoping that the light on the other side of this tunnel will shine through and guide us to a better place.

In light of my somber mood, and taking advantage of the fact that school still has not started in earnest and we are in a bit of a "honeymoon period" work-wise, I am going to take this opportunity to ponder, if y'all don't mind.  The object of my reflection is a word, a phrase really, that the night guard at my house (the norm here in Tanzania) said to me the other day upon seeing me for the first time in 2017.

"Tumechaguliwa."  We have been chosen.

He said it once and I said, "Huh?"  He said it again, and I paused to catch the meaning.

We have been chosen.

We have been chosen to enter the new year.

We are the lucky ones who have been chosen to enter the new year.

We are the lucky ones who have been chosen to enter the new year unlike so many others whose destiny was different.

We are the lucky ones who have been chosen to enter the new year unlike so many others whose destiny was different and who didn't heed the call.

My first thought was that Ibra's sentiment was a matter of Fortune, an acknowledgement of the providence bestowed on us by powers up high.  Obviously, it is not a given for any of us to still be here from one year to the next or even one day to the next.  Accidents happen, illnesses ensue, all manner of tragedy is, of course, possible.  Is this a Tanzanian way of looking at things?  Probably.  My American self rarely ever impugns more meaning to the new year than what I'm going to do on New Year's Eve.  It's just a day to say "What are we doing tonight?  Where"s the party at?" or "I can't be bothered to stay up until midnight.  I'm just going to chill at home with the cat(s)."  And then the following day comes.  And the next and the next until we are far away from New Year's and well into, well, the current year.  I certainly have never regarded it as my good fortune to "have been chosen" to pass into the new year.  Maybe this is the year to start….?

Another idea is that Ibra could have been referring to Fate, which is different than Fortune.  He and I were both "fated" to enter 2017 whereas others were not; we were pre-destined to live another year.  Fate has an element of "being written in the stars" whereas Fortune seems arbitrary and whimsical.  This then means that whether or not Ibra and I are here in 2017 has nothing to do with actions we may or may not have undertaken ourselves, nor our good luck, but is something that is beyond our control.  We were meant to be here.  Another Tanzanian way of looking at things?  Sure.  By taking away any consequence of action, it is pretty easy to say, these things are in God's hands, we mere mortals have no control.

And speaking of God, whichever God you pray to, we can acknowledge the religious underpinning to this sentiment as well.  The Book of Matthew says, "Many are called, but few are chosen" in reference to Jesus's parable of the wedding feast, the idea that being called to the kingdom of heaven is like being invited to sumptuous celebration.  However, in the parable, the many would-be guests ignore the invitation in favor of their own busy schedules and worldly pursuits.  They have indeed been "called," but only the truly pious are "chosen," i.e. only a few can actually hear the word of God, and understand what will happen to them when the end of age comes.  Again, a Tanzanian way of viewing the world?  Definitely.  At least amongst the Christian population of this country, and many Tanzanians are fiercely Christian.  You're gonna be shocked but I actually like this exposition best.

Fortune makes us passive bystanders in our own lives, attributing positive outcomes to serendipity, "happy accidents."  Likewise, Fate robs us of our action.  If everything is pre-destined, then we are just rolling merrily down the stream, bobbing up against whatever is in our path until we finally plunge under for good.  Matthew's parable is the only way in which we human beings retain our free will and dynamism.  We are all given the same shot at being wedding guests, but it is those of us who hear the unspoken call, the silent cry, who end up attending.

I'd like to think that Ibra's statement is akin to us being invited to the wedding, and I hope to use the remainder of this year to try and be worthy of making the cut.  I'd like to right my wrongs, love my friends and forgive my enemies, learn and teach and teach and learn, and most of all, not to waste a single day.  After all, not everyone is chosen and I'm hoping for a repeat appearance in 2018.

By the way, in case anyone was wondering what I replied to Ibra after his pronouncement, I said:

"Yeah, bado tupo."  (Yeah, we're still here.)

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