I had my first real conversation with a Tanzanian yesterday.

Arriving in a new place often leads to very superficial conversations. Introductions, purpose for being there, where I came from, etc. Very boring stuff, sometimes.

I am currently staying with a co-worker as I search for my own room, and last night another resident in his compound struck up a conversation with me while I was getting water. His name is Chris, and we started discussing the usual. He just finished a finance program, and is trying to occupy his time until his degree comes through and he can get hired. His church choir fills that void.

Only he doesn’t call it a choir. He prefers to call it a ministry. A choir is too uptight for what they do, he said. They don’t all throw their hands in the air at the same time like a choir; their movement is more free.

I asked about the style of music they sing, and he was surprised that I am unfamiliar with a lot of gospel music. He then found out that I don’t go to church.

I almost ended the conversation there, but he said something that made me continue. He said that I could tell him about my beliefs if I wanted to, but he didn’t want to push me because he didn’t want to offend me. This surprised me, because I was worried about the opposite – that I would offend him. Is this guy actually able to have an open conversation about religion? I thought I would test it out a bit.

I am not very religious at all, and I certainly don’t follow any organized religion. I can be spiritual, though, and I also believe in science. Chris listened and seemed a bit doubtful of some of my ideas, especially regarding mixing the forces science and nature, but not once did he mention God or Jesus. He questioned me often, to clarify and to make sure he understood.

I am often hesitant to talk about religion, especially in Africa. Missionaries brought schools and education, but from my experiences they also made people generally unquestioning and closed-minded when it comes to religion. Chris’ family, however, was never very religious. He chose to follow Christianity on his own. I have more respect for this than for people who follow blindly without ever questioning. Although I can sense how strong his faith is now, I think his past opened his mind a bit more. As a result, maybe he didn’t judge me as much as others would.

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