“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde
As someone who’s “travel experience” prior to this internship consisted of leaving the resort in Mexico to walk across the street and buy inexpensive bottled water, I have been amazed by the cultural differences. Since arriving in Tanzania, I’ve been noting some of the contrasts to my own culture.
Time. Considering I am frequently running behind in my life at home, I am loving the concept of time here. My readings have mentioned that it would be considered rude to leave a conversation or not greet a friend in order to go to another meeting. People have been late to meet us and say they will be there “soon”, which has typically meant about 20 minutes. If someone says they’ll be there in “20 minutes”, expect to wait about double that. I have found that people here are so relaxed and not in a rush to complete tasks.
Greetings. Proper greetings should be completed before getting to the purpose of the conversation or meeting. Handshakes can be long, complex, and people seem to have their own style. Respect and age difference are important in greetings. Saying “Shikamoo” to an older person shows respect, and a pleasant “Marhaba” has been the response with a smile. Greetings take a lot of time. You ask the person how they are, how their family is, what they are doing, how was their day, what they plan to do… and it could go on for a long time. But no matter what you questions asked, they will always have “no problems”.
Travel. The traffic and traffic patterns here are a perfect example of an “organized chaos”. People drive on the opposite side of the road than Canadians, but there really doesn’t seem to be any sides to the road. The pikipikis (motorcycles) weave around traffic and drive in the center lane. Bajajis drive around the cars. All prices are decided by the driver, but anything can be negotiated. Walking or crossing the street turns into needing to run across the street; cars will not stop for you. The traffic here is INSANE. They’ve suggested that if taking a car, give yourself about three times what the drive should take to wait in traffic. Also, don’t make eye contact with the people on the street. They will try to sell you the weirdest things and are not afraid to get in your face about it.
Community. I can’t say it enough, the people here are wonderful. In the guesthouse, we are treated as their guests, and the quality of their day directly relates to the quality of ours. The sense of community is wonderful. People are connected, and refer to each other as brother and sister. Some of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting have been here in Dar es Salaam.
Restaurants. Your wait for food is no exception for the concept of time. Expect to wait a long time for your food, but trust me, it is worth the wait. The restaurants we’ve visited have had fresh, delicious, and inexpensive food. Great music too. The locations of the restaurants are unreal. The restaurants we’ve visited have amazing patios, views, tables literally in the sand on the beach, a gorgeous views of the ocean.
We still have so many places to explore and so much to learn.
* these assumptions are generalizations and my observations may not apply for the entire culture or all areas of Dar es Salaam and Tanzania.