Masare: a treasure found 24 years ago

Masare left his home of Tanzania, refused the French and flew half way round the world to grace Skyline students with his presence. (Diana Diroy)

Masare left his home of Tanzania, refused the French and flew half way round the world to grace Skyline students with his presence. (Diana Diroy)

“An agent of the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry came to talk to me and said, ‘We would like to train you as a diplomat and to work as the ambassador in the embassy in France.”

When approached with this offer at the age of 26, Johannes Masare was quite flattered, but did not accept such a proposal.

“Many of my students know that I can’t be a diplomat,” Masare said with his distinct but articulate accent. “If I’m working for the United Nations and there’s something my government supports, and I oppose it, I’ll vote against my government. I can’t be a diplomat because I say and act in what I believe in.”

Although Dr. Masare, a Tanzania native, is a political science teacher at Skyline, he does not fail to teach and share his own history and values with his students and colleagues. In fact, it is this passion of teaching that overrode the option to be an ambassador.

“I turned down the offer,” Masare said with a warm smile, “because I wanted to be a teacher.”

Masare who came to the United States as a student, to further study economics and political science at UC Berkley, was originally from the Wanajimba clan, which means “Sons of Lion.”

He described bravery as the Wanajimba’s most important value. They are the protectors of the tribe, the Iraqw tribe, and it is their duty to be at the forefront of any battle. Masare’s father and brother once had to battle the Barbaig, another tribe that was stealing their cattle, but since society has changed and grocery stores have resolved such livestock problems, Masare has never been in such confrontation.

“Since my lifetime many things have changed,” Masare said, “We don’t do the traditional things we used to because now we can get food at the store and supermarket.”

Masare did not lose touch of all his traditions. In fact, when he was younger, he had gone through initiations. According to the Wanajimba, in order to be a man, Masare had to survive out in the wild for a week having to find fruits to eat, poisonous plants to avoid, and recognize herbal medicines.

“We didn’t have any doctors or nurses,” Masare explained, “So in my tribe, most people are taught how to recognize many, many kinds of herbal medicines…through a bark of a tree or through many medicinal plants that can treat a wound or a headache.”

At the age of 28, Masare decided to leave home. Tanzania, which only later in 1992 became a multi-party system, was one-party regime at the time and had no other ideologies. Masare always wanted to be a teacher and if he stayed in Tanzania, he knew he couldn’t teach any other ideas contrary to their own. So, he left.

When Masare moved here, he changed his last name from Mwanajimba, to Masare, which is his father’s first name, because it was hard for many people to pronounce his original last name. Since he already taught at the University of Dar-es-Saalam, which is in a modernized city in Tanzania, before coming to America, the states were not so much a culture shock to Masare. But he was still quite surprised with certain things about America’s culture.

“In my culture there is no word to describe a beggar or millionaire,” Masare said. “They are just people.”

Masare was shocked to see people on the streets with their hands out asking for money and food. In his village, in which he still visits when time and money permits him to, there was always enough food for everyone; there were never any beggars.

Donna Bestock, dean of Social Science and Creative Arts here at Skyline, has known Masare since he first came to Skyline 24 years ago. She describes him as a “treasure.”

“He brings, both to his students and his colleagues, a perspective that we otherwise don’t get,” she said. “He is very generous about sharing his cultural perspective and it’s a very peaceful, compassionate, open caring kind of culture that he comes from.”

Lori Slicton, an anthropology professor at Skyline and a long time colleague of Masare, agrees with Bestock.

“He gives a lot of himself. He is one of the most generous individuals to the community, not just the campus, but in general. Johannes is a gift to the entire community.”

“I’ve never had a professor who cared so deeply about his students,” Marc Conui, who is taking Masare’s class this semester, said. “He realizes that the students are the future of America and he wants them to get the best education.”

So, with all this praise, it’s no wonder Masare decided to become a teacher rather than a diplomat.

“It’s expanding the horizon of the minds of my students,” Professor Masare said, “Nothing is more important than that.”