One Year in Tanzania: reflections

Well, as of Saturday, September 27 I have been in Tanzania for a year! Crazy to think that time has passed so quickly. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on some things I love and some more tricky things about life in Tanzania.

Let’s start with the trickier (okay or flat-out hard things) so that I can end this blog post with the things I love.

1. Money. Ah, money. The thing about being a white person in a primary tourist driven city is that the color of my skin shouts “MONEY!”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t go on safari or have an exotic vacation or whatever, but many of the locals here just see westerners who come in, stay at extravagant hotels and go on week-long thousand dollar safaris (or FLY out on a private plane to the Serengeti to stay in a crazy luxurious lodge). They just assume these holidays are parallel to how every single western lives every day of their life. This leads to children following me when I’m walking saying things like “give me money”… It also means random strangers will approach me and ask me for money. Or acquaintances. Or just about anyone, with no hesitancy. 

2. Money part 2. Tanzania is still a mostly always cash society, using TSH (Tanzanian Shilling). The smallest denomination is a coin worth 50 tsh (about 3 cents) and the largest is a bill worth 10,000 tsh (about $6). Can you imagine trying to deal with everything when the largest bill you can have is only worth $6? Not to mention the ATM doesn’t always have money in it… or perhaps that day the screen is just frozen… so you really have to keep track of how much you have and definitely do not wait until the last-minute to visit the ATM.

3. Greetings. Pleasant enough, but also occasionally overwhelming. The journey from where I am currently staying to Neema House takes about 1 hour if I walk, then board the dala dala and then walk again. If I happen to be walking between 5-7pm the number of people I will pass is HUGE. At any point in the day you will always pass many people but I’ve come to find at that time is when there are SO many people it’s almost overwhelming. Especially on the days when I don’t really feel like talking to anyone and EVERYONE wants to be greeted. You do not just walk past someone on the street without acknowledging them. And this is SO much more than just “Minnesota nice”. A typical greeting could look like this to a person I don’t even know. Every single time I pass someone.
“Person – Hujambo? (hello/are you well)
Me- Sijambo. Shikamoo mama/baba? (i am well. Shikamoo (greeting of respect) and title of mother or father (or perhaps grandfather/mother)
Person- Marahaba. Habari za leo? (response to greeting. How is the day/what is the news?)
Me- Nzuri. Habari yako? (Good. How are you?)
Person- Salama. Mzima? (I am well. Are you okay?)
Me- Mzima….(I am okay.)  followed by me trying to keep on walking…

This is just a SAMPLE. Maybe sometime I will do a blog all about greetings.

4. Language
It’s been a year and I still feel I have barely grasped the surface when it comes to Swahili. There are few things more frustrating that not being able to communicate. To some degree I can, but the depth in which comes so easy in English is missed when you have the language skills of a 3 year old.

5. Time. So often I just have to remember things will get done “eventually”. There is African time and Mzungu time. Mzungu (key word for white person) time is on time, or maybe even early. African time is it happens when it happens, no hurry. Thing could mean waiting days or weeks for something. It also means most things happen when you least expect them.

Okay enough of that. Things I LOVE about Tanzania.

1. The people. In spite of not feeling like greeting everyone some days, or feeling like a walking cash box, the people are (mostly) genuinely kind and loving. I’ve been invited to so many people’s homes to share meals. I’ve been asked with genuine concern about my health after illness. People love the chat, and they love to share time with you.

2. Fashion. I have a tailor I visit often (although it has been awhile) and she makes clothes for me from time to time. Dresses or skirts with beautiful kitenge fabrics. The colors are so bright and vivid. And they are everywhere. Granted in Arusha more and more western clothes are becoming common, but the tailored-to-you-kitenge outfits are still very popular, especially on sundays, and I love seeing everyone all dressed up for church. And really, in general, people get dressed up here all the time. You don’t leave your house in sweats and a t-shirt. People always look proper and well put together.

3. The weather. Everyone knows I hate the cold/winter (why did I land in Minnesota anyway? hah) But here the coldest it seems to get is maybe 50F, and that’s at night in cold season. Generally speaking the days are quite pleasant and it rarely gets above 85 F.

4. Swahili. Though I know it is a challenge it is a wonderful fun language. I am really enjoying learning more of it and I love to listen to it.

5. Simplicity. It’s funny how grateful you can be for a hot shower when the electricity has been off for days, or how I don’t have to worry about buying a pair of $100 jeans (not that I ever did that in america but I’m trying to make a point.)

6. New friends. I’ve made some wonderful friends here, Tanzanian and expat, that I value and treasure. And though I might not be the best at being intentional and setting up time to spend with them, I know it’s something I need to work on and plan on working on it. If you happen to be one of them reading this, hold me to that. Let’s get coffee or lunch or something?

7. Public transport. Though crazy and erratic and occasionally terrifying. I know I can hop on a mini bus and get downtown (eventually) for about 30 cents. I also know if I’m in a hurry I can hop of a piki piki (motorcycle taxi) and get from my house to Neema in 15 minutes instead of an hour. Or if I’m out late with friends we can get a taxi home for maybe $6 total. Public transport is plentiful here, which is good because I don’t have the money for my own car, haha.

8. MANGO SEASON. Which I am patiently awaiting. Enough said.

I’m sure there are many many more things I love and even things that challenge me about life in Tanzania, but these were the first things to come to mind.


3 thoughts on “One Year in Tanzania: reflections

  1. Pingback: 31 Day challenge | Send Kelly

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