Profile of Mama Tabia and Msembe

written 12/29

If you have been following this blog, you have often heard little tidbits about Mama Tabia and Msembe, our landlords. They are important people in our lives, as we see them everyday and they are often the first people we greet when we walk out of the house. We’ve learned quite a bit about them during our time here, so I want to share this with you and give you a small portrait of the people we spend time with.

Mama Tabia

She is a large personality, kind of a whirlwind, and the first person to give me a hug here. She is warm and inviting, pushy, and the queen of the bomba. She draws women towards herself and knows much of what is going on in the town. She has taught us to cook a number of Tanzanian foods and is a great resource on Tanzanian life. In many ways, she is like a mother hen that has taken us under her wing and watches out for us.

She was born in 1948 and has had 9 children. They were all with her first husband, who died. Msembe is her second husband and they have no children together. At this point only the youngest son still lives at home (he recently finished secondary school and is waiting for his test results to find out if he scored high enough to continue his education.) The other child that we have met is going to be a doctor, which means that he will earn a lot of money, have a very secure income, and worked very hard in school to pass all of the tests to be allowed to continue his education for so long. I am not sure if this one child’s success is due to his own drive and determination or to Mama Tabia’s pushing, but it is clear that she values education and has been fairly well off in order to send so many children to school.

She is fairly industrious- the bomba was installed last year with her and Msembe’s savings (a huge amount for Tabora) and they should start seeing financial returns in about two years. This is incredibly long-term planning for a family in this area. When she buys chickens they are incredibly precious and she watches them like a hawk to keep them safe.

Currently, aside from her son when he is on break from school, there are two children living with her. They are Mary, her 17 year old niece, and Bano, her 16 year old grandson. Mary helps out with a lot of the cooking, cleaning, and household work when she is home on the weekends from school. Bano’s mother died a few years ago, so he came to live with Mama Tabia. As mentioned in an earlier post, he is mentally disabled and so does not attend school. He spends his time wandering around Tabora and helping out with household chores. Because these two kids are fairly old, Mama Tabia spends very little time watching them and is able to conduct her social life without having to worry about small children.

She was raised Christian but converted to Islam when she married Msembe. Her children are a mix of Christians and Muslims.


He is one of the most well-educated men in Tabora. Consequently, he knows more English than most other people (although it is fairly limited) and has a vast array of knowledge that constantly surprises me. He listens to the radio most days and keeps up to date on global news, something that I have not heard anyone else doing here. He attended both secondary school and college to become a water treatment plant officer. For 16 years he worked in the water treatment plant that is visible from Tabora, and brings the water to this area that allows people to live here.
He also served as the Chairman of the village for a number of years and was on the schoolboard. He is a well respected man in this town, and we are lucky to know him so well.

He is always eager to learn more and so often asks us about America and, at one point, asked me for the dictionary and spent two days reading it to improve his English.

He has another wife in Tabora and two other houses. I have never seen him at his other house (which I have visited a few times), so I have no idea how evenly he splits his time between his wives. He always sleeps at Mama Tabia’s house, however. He has a number of children with his first wife, but I do not know them very well. When Mama Tabia is around, he spends his days out and about, sometimes biking into Korogwe. When Mama Tabia is gone, he spends a large number of his days selling water at the bomba. On those days the bomba is much quieter than if Mama Tabia was there. He listens to the radio, is bored, and really enjoys getting to talk to us to break up the monotony of sitting in one place all day. When Mary can watch the bomba he is delighted and takes off because he is not trapped by selling water. Both he and Mama Tabia work on their corn and bean farms.

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One Response to Profile of Mama Tabia and Msembe

  1. Thanks for sharing your take on these people.

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