During this first week, it was hard to have first impressions or preconceived notions because we had not yet interacted with anyone outside of our staff at the refuge camp area, but now I have had an extra week in Tanzania exploring cities and national parks and have developed a few thoughts.
I am not entirely sure what I expected in Tanzania, but I know that everything I have experienced thus far would not have been imagined even in my wildest dreams. I think I expected to struggle adjusting to new foods, a fear that was almost completely diminished when I had my first taste of our amazing camp food. I also didn’t expect the stark contrasts between the westernized tourist areas and the rural mud-stick hut areas almost next door to each other. Though some of the main differences I have encountered between Tanzania and the United States lie in the customs and common attitudes of how people interact with each other. Here are just a few examples of these differences:
1) In Tanzania, it is always customary to say hello and engage in a brief greeting to any and every stranger you pass on the street (I have found this is only true in certain areas back home for me).
2) When asked how your day is going, never respond “bad”, things are always good. Unless of course, there has been a death.
3) There is no rush when it comes to service. You may wait over an hour for your meal order. Things just seem to run at a slower pace and people often spend a tremendous time eating and talking before paying the bill to leave.
4) Clapping is the appropriate way to get someone’s attention, whereas yelling is considered rude.
5) Locals will often approach you on the street hoping to practice their English and then become essentially your personal tour guide taking you around the city for hours to find whatever you are looking for. The only compensation they ask for (if any) is usually just that you will visit their relatives’ store, in hopes that you may make a small purchase.
6) You must bargain if you want a good price as you are almost always quoted double the value of an item and expected to haggle your way down to something reasonable.
7) Public displays of affection are basically non-existent. Although behind closed doors affection is allowed to be expressed fully, once in public even hugs are considered inappropriate.
8) Depending on the area you are in (rural, city, campground) the appropriate attire changes dramatically, especially for women. While on safari it may be appropriate to wear shorts and a tank top, in many towns and rural areas you must cover either your knees, shoulders, or both with a traditional fabric cloth known as a kanga.
9) It is easy to find a good full meal for about 2,000 Tanzanian shillings, the equivalent of just over $1 USD.
10) There are distinctly different greetings and methods of addressing people depending upon if they are younger, older, or your peers. It is rude to mix up these greetings with the wrong age group.
Each day my mind continues to expand as my brain is shaken by new ideas and the complex issues in wildlife conservation and political ecology. I am thoroughly excited for my next few weeks where I will be living in a remote village with a local family, taking Swahili classes each day and being fully immersed in this unique culture.