What we’re looking for in life is frequently not what we find. Call it fate or coincidence, a journey of self-discovery will often lead a person to an unexpected place. Director Eliaichi Kimaro found just that in her documentary A Lot Like You. A first generation American, born to a Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Eliaichi was raised in Washington, DC surrounded by her mother’s family. When her parents retired and moved back to Tanzania, she decided to travel with them to find out about her father’s past and her roots among the Chagga tribe on Mt. Kilimanjaro. What Eliaichi finds is that she shares more things in common with the women of the Chagga tribe than she could ever have known.
Throughout most of the film, viewers learn about the lives of Eliaichi’s father and mother. The success that her father found in a very difficult school system in Tanzania allowed him to move to America to continue his studies. That’s where he meets Eliaichi’s mother. Struggling through the turmoil of America in the ’60s, the story of their love is touching and funny. This was not a time of acceptance for interracial couples, so the odds were always against them. That their love survived is a strong indication of their strength, and this is reflected in Eliaichi as her story of growing up is intertwined with events in the film.
It’s when Eliaichi begins to focus on her aunts and uncles in Tanzania that the film starts to find its real focus. As her aunts reveal some of the massive cultural differences, Eliaichi starts to realize that her own childhood is tied directly to events in her aunts lives. She had originally been searching for her roots among the Chagga tribe, but Eliaichi soon finds connections between the path she’s chosen in life, and the lives of the women in the Chagga tribe.
It’s very interesting to see the differences between cultures as we learn more about the lives of the Tanzanian people. Some of the stories are uplifting, while some are heartbreaking. While Eliaichi begins to find what she was looking for, and more, the women of the Chagga tribe that she speaks to also find peace in sharing their stories. Even though Eliaichi may have started searching for a way to bring some meaning to her life, by listening to members of her family, she has helped to heal the differences and problems they had with each other. It’s an unexpected turn of events, and probably not something that Eliaichi had anticipated.