In honor of Women’s History Month, Face2face Africa is highlighting young women entrepreneurs and artists that embody the stories of perseverance, progress, and empowerment in a new series called “Faces You Should Know.”
Justa Lujwangana (pictured) started her company, Curious on Tanzania, out of a need to introduce her friends to Maasai culture and her village in Tanzania. Curious on Tanzania creates an authentic travel educational experience through cultural immersion activities. Lujwangana also hopes to bring sustainable socio-economic development to the community by promoting ecologically and culturally sensitive business activities for the purpose of community building, employment, and economic self-reliance. Face2Face Africa spoke with Lujwangana about her vision for Tanzania.
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Face2Face Africa: Tell us a little about your voyage and transition from Tanzania to the States
Justa Lujwangana: It was my mother’s dream to migrate to the United States. The family back home did not support her move, but with five kids to support, she held on to her dream and brought my siblings and me to America. I arrived at 12 years old. Four brothers and a sister went back two years ago, but we never abandoned our traditions and culture. My family in Tanzania is basically the entire village; I will never date anyone from there because we are all most likely related!
F2FAfrica: Why did you make the choice to specialize in tourism development?
JL: I want to help sustain my tribal cultures through Curious on Tanzania. My mission is to educate people about the richness of Tanzania and its diverse heritage and culture. Promoting Tanzania as a destination is my passion, and who better to show you Tanzania than a Tanzanian? If I were a foreign visitor to N.Y.C., I would want to visit it with a local, wouldn’t you?
F2F Africa: What makes Curious on Tanzania different or unique from other travel companies offering trips to Tanzania?
JL: Our trips offer an undeniable authentic travel and educational experience. Experience is not bought; it is experience through the homes of families in villages, tasting traditional foods, dancing to bongo music, feeling the vibes, and just fully immersing yourself in the local culture. To help do this, I came up with an idea that would provide an introduction to Tanzanian lifestyle. I often host monthly social events and forums in my home so that people can get a taste of Tanzanian culture. Invited guests are encouraged to sample local food dishes and learn traditional dances. I also sell Maasi clothing and jewelry made by local village women.
F2FAfrica: Your method sounds like a great way to proudly maintain your traditional lifestyle and cultural identity.
JL: Yes, it is, and my guests interest to travel to Tanzania is further peaked.
F2FAfrica: What kind of impact does Curious on Tanzania make on the local women in the villages, and how do you tackle the issue of gender bias and disparities?
JL: There are many programs that address this question. First, I believe education is key: Educating a women educates the village; I believe women should stand up for other women through empowerment and share their resources. My company works directly with one Maasai family. The same strength, confidence, and independence I acquired from my mom and grandmothers are what I pass on to the women of this family.
I am committed to my traditions, and that is what drives me to give back and support my community. Listening to my mom and grand mom was always a fascinating experience — the stories they use to tell us were better than watching TV. My mom often encourages us to maintain our language. For example, she made sure we communicated weekly with our grandmother in her traditional language of Kihaya to keep the bond. I speak four languages all together; speaking Swahili with the grandparents was not acceptable.
Additionally, my mom also stressed managing family economics. For example, a Maasai having a cow is the same as having money or a bank account. Although it is not acknowledged as currency by the government, many traditional families such as mine abandoned the colonial Catholic values. My mother grew up in a large family of women and became more independent and strong learning from her mother’s and grandmother’s mishaps. And I, in turn, learned from hers.
F2FAfrica: Tell us a little bit more about growing up with so many women elders in your life, with 35 Grandmothers and three Mothers who did you listen to and mostly look up to?
JL: OMG, everyone! I had to obey and listen to each and every one of them equally. There was always unity among the women when it came to raising the children; anyone could discipline your butt! My grandma loved entertaining people and keeping the culture in business, and all family matters was essential.
F2FAfrica: What is your experience regarding the practice of female circumcision?
JL: It is outlawed in Tanzania. My mother, sisters, and I did not experience that; our tribe does not practice those rituals. When I attended school in neighboring Northern Uganda, I heard stories about it, but in my culture we don’t practice it. I did, however, know of classmates and many other sad stories about female genital mutilation and sexual slavery. However, I do want to stress that not every African women is inundated with grief and despair. Through my company, I would like to help erase and correctly get rid of negative stigmas. It is not good for business, and it is not good for women empowerment!
F2FAfrica: What are your favorite Tanzania dishes?
JL: Tanzanian cuisine is a mix of Indian, Middle Eastern, and Bantu Africa influences, so we have several tasty dishes. One of my favorites is a dish called “motoke.” It is a combination of plantain, tomatoes, onions, and fish. In the village we also eat grasshoppers and ants, a delicacy fried in their own oil put in a pot and left to roast.
F2FAfrica: What does it taste like? Don’t say, ‘Like chicken’?
JL: It tastes good, real good! We only eat a special kind, not just any old grasshopper.
F2FAfrica: What major holidays do you still celebrate while here in America?
JL: Our weddings are traditional. We observe Tanzanian Independence Day on Dec. 9th.
F2FAfrica: Do you celebrate International Women’s Day?
JL: No, but I would love to start an event each year here in Brooklyn to observe with my local community.
F2FAfrica: Tell us a bit about the beauty practices of Maasi women and also share a bit about the traditional Maasi textile prints and jewelry.
JL: That is one thing that makes me most proud is to be able to talk about and share the beauty rituals of Tanzanian women. The Maasi women exclusively do not focus on their beauty like other women. Some tribal traditions call for them to shave their heads and showcase their beauty. They enhance their looks by wearing the colorful glass beads on their hands, ankles, ears, and necks. The glass beads were originally made using a mix of cow remains and clay and early Europeans imported later glass beads.
The bright cotton shuka cloths is used to wrap the body and to keep warm. Authentic Maasi textile print is 100 percent made by Maasi. The bold bright red, blue, and yellow colors represent the sky, ocean, animals, and sun. The men are out in the field; it is said that the animals are afraid of bright red colors so they won’t come after them. Women’s traditional khanga dress is very colorful with different prints. Their textiles include more blue than reds. You can often find encouraging word statements at the bottom of the fabric.
F2FAfrica: What do you feel is your responsibility as a future African women leader?
JL: Women embody strength and power; we are the true strength of all of Africa. I feel like I need to share my experience with others using my own experience. People have mixed perceptions of Africa, and I feel the need to educate people about Africa. People are not always suffering. We are having fun, and our lives are not as stressful as here. You are sitting on goldmine and don’t know it until someone else see it. I want to ensure that my little sisters and future daughters have a secure place. There is an abundance of opportunity for investments in Africa, tourism, telecommunications, mining, and agriculture in some sectors — just to name a few.
F2FAfrica: What advice would you share with young woman such as yourself looking to become entrepreneurs?
JL: There is no one way to generate success. I would say, Go inside yourself and do what you enjoy the most and see how to turn it into a business. I attended school for nutrition, but I want to go deeper and do more. Don’t focus on money first; it is too short of a goal to use to follow your dreams.
F2FAfrica: Where do you enjoy living the most? New York City or Tanzania?
JL: Before I had the idea of moving back home and becoming a dietician, but after my experience, I have to be more on this side and in between outreaching efforts. I have to be able to reach different groups or people, schools, social and community organizations. It is more feasible and productive to hold my events in N.Y.C.
F2FAfrica: Is there a large Tanzanian population here in N.Y.C. and the States. Where can you find Maasi men?
JL: Maasi Tanzanian men would not be found in America; they love their tradition and would not seek to date outside of tradition. The Tanzanians in the States migrate according to tribal connections. Most are from Dar es Salaam. l reside in Texas and my tribe is in New York.
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