Communicating Over Language Barriers in Tanzania

In early September, a delegation of diocesan leaders from across the United States visited Ethiopia and Tanzania to get a first-hand look at CRS work. The following is a reflection by Dianne Hanley, associate director, Parish Social Ministry, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Baton Rouge.

When I returned to Baton Rouge, people kept asking me how I communicated with the people in Ethiopia and Tanzania. Many people in the cities knew a little English. In Tanzania, everyone seemed to know how to say, “Welcome.” But the communication question brings to mind a time when I was with a large group of Ethiopian villagers at one of CRS’ projects.

There was a man standing next to me who caught my attention. He pointed to a piece of food that he held in his hand. It looked like a potato. He brought it to his lips and pretended to eat it. He offered it to me to eat. I said no thank you (in English). He then took a bite. Then he made hand motions showing me that it came from the ground. He made more motions that looked like planting a seed and harvesting.

Even though he did not speak a word of English and I did not speak his language, we communicated. He wanted to share with me and I wanted to listen. That is where communication begins, isn’t it? And that is how I communicated with people in Africa.

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