Reflections of Tanzania

Herés what I wanted to post when I left Tanzania but never had the chance to finish: now may 3, 2008- 3 months later


Tanzania  never felt right yet I’ve had a difficult time in translating my emotions into word form.  I thought my first reaction was influenced on my arrival into a hell hole hotel room in a humid, stinky and dirty city, alone. Zanzibar was nice but the ‘not quite vibe” took presence. Yet I pressed on.


It’s funny when you deny feelings and try to continue on pretending like their not there. They always have a way of being honest and truthful. Ignoring feelings doesn’t make them go away. Emotions are another form of intuition- always accurate  no matter if you like it or not.


I’ve disliked the constant harassment of men in the street, on the minibus, anywhere I go- always asking my name, where I’m from and if I’m married. I know I’m in a different culture and one dominated by men but I will never enjoy the standard 3 questions.Do I always have to be bothered, questioned, talked to. After all, it’s nice to be able to walk  down the street, lost in my thoughts not having to respond to anyone or anything. It’s annoying when I’m told I’m being rude or disrespectful. I want to say FUCK OFF! Yet I refrain. But it’s what I’m usually thinking. And whose really being rude? honestly.


Being a mzungu (white person) and always called one in the street is endearing for the first few days but then it’s down right annoying.  There is a strong expectation that all muzungu’s equal money. We’re all wealthy and we should share it.  Ok, maybe in some weird way it makes sense after hundred’s of years of colonization, its time to have reverse discrimination.? However, three months later, it’s not an excuse or justification. I want to be treated equally. Fairly. I’m surprised at how angry it makes me knowing people will take advantage of me, if I give them the option. I usually question, if it’s a mzungu price or Swahili price when I’m in a market or buying from a hawker on the street… and three months later I say “mimi mbongo”(I’m African). They laugh and realize I know the score. They always have a “special price, for you my friend.” Always question, always bargain.


I realize Tanzania is a country based on tourism and I’m sure a lot has changed in how people view and consider tourist over the last 5-10 years. People go for a month to see the main tourist sites: Mt. Kilimanjaro, Safari in Serengeti and Ngorogoro crater and then Zanzibar. They minimize their interactions with locals, rely on ‘safe’ tourist transport and never really experience the country outside tourist boundaries.  Sure, I’ve met some backpackers but most of their time was limited to the main sites and then they were leaving Africa. Tanzanians have utilized tourism to their advantage whether it’s hawking their wares on the street, being a tout trying to sell you a safari or a walk to a nearby waterfall, making you feel sorry for them, begging,  etc. Problem is, the majority of tourists visiting Tanzania are in the country for a minimal amount of time and don’t really take the time to realize how life really is. Many come to the country with visions of what and how Africa is and while they may have a slightly accurate opinion, you can’t use this mentality as a blanket for each culture or each country. Often, tourists use their wallets as a means of making themselves feel good and ‘doing their part for Africa.” Many envision Africa as a continent in need of major help, thanks to the media’s representation of all the negative  afflications on the continent. (yes, occassinally their are positive stories but surely, not enough considering the size of this continent).



A child puts his hand out begging for some money and a tourist hands him some shillings (.50-$2) or a guy shows you around for a bit and you think, hey I’ll give this guy $5 or 10 (as I might back home). What’s it too me, they think? Yet, one must keep the standard of living in perspective. Every action has a reaction and an impact. It’s not easy, I know. I question how much to tip a guide or if I should in a  restaurant because that’s what were accustom to in the States. (TIpping has gotten out of hand in the US but that’s another topic)


If a manager of a hotel makes 100,000-400,000 a month ($90-360) then $5-10 for a few hours of showing someone around is gold. Thus, proliferating the errorenous idea white tourists have money and freely give it out.  In the long run and short, the tourists aren not helping the people- it creates false impressions and expectations about what a tourist represents. Money. Sure, Africans can use some money and it will go further for them but it’s all relative. The idea of saving money is almost non-existent in Tanzania. The touts who make a lot  in a day or over a week often spend it quickly. It’s likely because their not used to having a lot of money and/or they assume it will continue to come easy.


Look at Americans with all the knowledge about saving and a good percentage are in debt… just imagine how it is for a Tanzanian without the resources to know about finances and saving. Education is key.


Education plays a role yet I didn’t encounter many Tanzanians who completed secondary school, let alone university. Josephine(manager of Kilimanjaro Backpackers hotel) understood the importance of saving and what it would mean for her future.


So in a nutshell people come to Africa with a certain vision, don’t stay long to get a better sense of how everything works, offer handouts and creates a belief among Tanzanians that whites have it all and will/should share.



I shared my frustrations with another backpacker about people giving money to child beggars, asking for money or sweets or pens .I thought she would agree with me but surprisingly, she told me she had given candy and shillings to children before. WHAT!?? WHY???  First off, most of the children whom are begging are missing school to beg, and many have been told by their parents to do so. I think it’s the first phrase in English chilren learn. HA. It’s crazy when you’re in a very remote area not seen by many whites and a child comes running up to you:’ muzungu, give me money… sweets… pens.” Where did they learn this? And how many muzungus thought it would be thoughtful or nice to be handing things out. Parents seem to know people are much more sympathetic to children holding out their hands than adults and they keep having the children do it because it works… right? You wouldn’t keep on unless it wasn’t successful!

Secondly, giving to begging children just encourages them to continue doing so, with many missing school so they can make some money begging on the street. Giving candy to kids may seem nice but there access to dentist is likely to be little to non-existent. All of a sudden, these little nice things are actually not so nice in the long run- missing school, cavaities, and becoming accustomed to white people handing things out. Even on demand.  There were a few signs in Tanzania strictly advising people not to give money or sweets to children because of the reasons I’ve stated above.



It’s one thing to offer handouts in your own country when you have an idea of how the system works, resources available to those on the streets or in uncertain circumstances but it’s a whole new ball game when it’s another country, different social struture and network. As guests in another country, it’s important to be aware of our impact. What we do and how we go about our lives in another country speaks volumes without a word being said. Just as they advise travelers  to keep their environment in mind when making choices, the same goes for interacting with the locals. Think before you do. Take tipping for an example: in local restaurants tipping isn’t done. So why would a western person do it? Because we have more money? Because it’s what we do in our own country? How will this change the way they work?  does it?


Think about it

It’s not always easy. When we have something that is relatively easy to attain- money and in larger proportions in comparison with someone with very little and with minimal access to resources and education (especially in comparison to how materialistic the west is) we think ok, I can part with a little money, someone else can make it go a lot further than me. Think twice. How will this person think about it after? HOw will they treat the next traveler? How does it affect their culture and way of interacting with other cultures?


This is the basis of what I witnessed after 3 months in Tanzania. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. My frustrations on a tourist/local level drove me nuts but upon further thinking I realized this is just the tip of the ice berg.


The original direction of this writing was to end with corruption and colonization still existing in a new way. Somehow this seems to need a whole new page and me to sit and try to convey what I only have a gist of.

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