Having been stranded at the Dubai airport for six hours tonight with another two to go, I’ve had some time to think about what it really meant to live in and now leave Tanzania. The last few weeks have been such a mix of feelings. Going to Tanzania my air was filled with excitement and questions of the unknown – how will life be like on the African continent I’ve so long wanted to visit? Well, turned out life is life, wherever you are. I went with an open mind, took everything as it is, and averted a culture shock until the last month of my stay. I don’t know if it was the fact that I finished working, which meant a break from the daily routines I had gotten used to, or the fact that a lot of people I knew, Tanzanian and foreigners alike, started slowly pouring out of the country for travels or to return home, or maybe it was because I moved out from the apartment I called home for the past 7 months and moved into my Tanzanian neighbour’s place who had a lot of friend’s staying over in her small flat, but something happened then.
I think I’ve learnt more about Tanzanian culture in the past month than during the whole seven months preceding that. I’ve spent most of this time with local friends, going where they go, eating what they eat, doing what they do. Not that I didn’t do it before, but I always had work colleagues and flatmates that reminded me of Europe and life there.
But now, Tanzania has come rolling over me, big time, during the past month. I’ve soaked up as much as I can of the unique experiences I could’ve only gotten there, but at the same time it’s been overwhelming and have made me think about home and where I come from a lot too. I guess the ‘honeymoon’ period of my stay in Tanzania came to an end and I got to see the ‘realer’ side, if there is one. It’s all so fresh in my memory that I can’t put it into words yet, but even as I’ve left the country there are still a lot of stories I’m going to tell, so the words will come. For now though I’ll just leave you with a few thoughts I’ve had on the go.
Five things I already miss from Tanzania:
1. The people – it’s usually bad to generalise, but I think you can forgive me if I say that Tanzanians are truly friendly, warm and open-hearted people. Taught me something about human character.
2. The colours – I’ve only been at Dubai airport for a few hours, but already the bleak faces and dull-coloured clothes of Westerners (I’m not any better in my black dress and white sneakers) are putting me in a depressed mood.
3. The warmth – I used to complain about the constant over 30-degree heat, about sweating even in the evenings and not being able to wear jeans, socks or long-sleeved shirts ever. I take it all back. It was freezing in the airplane and it’s freezing at the airport and I want the heat back. How will I ever survive Finnish summer?
4. The cheap beer – if you get half a litre of tasty beer for 0.75€ in a bar, there isn’t much you can complain about really.
5. The surprises – with every turn at a street corner, every encounter, every place you visit, there were surprises in stall. There are so many contrasts in Dar (and Tanzania too), and for someone coming from outside there’s always something to marvel about. Finland offers little in this way, at the next street corner there’s another shopping mall, every other person on the street wears an H&M t-shirt, and even the smallest villages have the same supermarket as in Helsinki. In Tanzania, you might find a sparkling and modern café in the middle of run-down township houses, or while passing the daladala stand see a guy shouting out and pointing daladala destinations while holding a live pigeon in the other hand, or being awe-struck by the scenery whichever part of the country you visit.
Five things I’ve been thinking I won’t miss from Tanzania, but probably will once I’ve gotten settled into normal life in Finland again:
1. The mosque – the little mosque in the corner of our street, the one that all the bajaj drivers knew when I told them where to take me. If only they would have taken singing lessons before blasting out their prayers from the loud speakers every single morning at 5am and multiple more times during the day. But as I was sitting here at the airport in Dubai, someone started singing prayers from the airport’s mosque/prayer room, and the Arabic sounded so pretty. There’s a Finnish saying, ‘aika kultaa muistot’ (‘time makes memories golden‘), which I‘m quite sure will happen with the little mosque too now that I don’t have to be woken up by it.
2. The hole in the floor – also known as a toilet. Tanzanian toilets are seldom equipped with toilet paper, a toilet seat or running water, so it makes sense to have a hole in the ground instead – more hygienic and easier to maintain. But damn am I tired of squatting down for every single errand. I’m sure once I see a Finnish nightclub’s toilet at 4am I’ll be dreaming about the holes in the floor again though.
3. The traffic and roads – the traffic is a nightmare, really. Nothing moves in any direction, and the sandy and bumpy roads which are currently overflooded because of the rainy season do not help. Rush hour is basically the whole day. For example, when my friends came to pick me up to drive to the airport today (yesterday? I haven‘t slept all night), I had saved 4 hours for getting from home in Mikocheni to the airport before take-off, which on a good day takes 20-25 minutes. I got there about 1½ hours before the plane left.
4. The constant bargaining – it’s tiring to have to discuss the price every single time before you buy something, whether it’s a ride or a product, the same one you get everyday. And sometimes you can’t be sure whether it is the real price or the mzungu price they’re quoting. When you don’t have enough money though, bargaining can come very much in handy, and knowing people also gets the price down. There’s no way to cheat the organised pricing system in Western countries.
5. The timelessness – I expected life in Tanzania to be slower than in Finland or London, and I got that. Tanzanian time can be called pole pole (‘slowly slowly’), because there is never a hurry anywhere. I got quite used to waiting for meetings to start 30mins later than indicated and if you were stuck in a traffic jam and couldn’t make it to someplace on time, well, everyone in Dar knows how the traffic jams are and you can’t do anything about it. In the end I wanted to accelerate a bit, my Finnish punctuality started creeping out and now on my return I need to pick up the pace again, rush from place to place like a headless chicken. But for what?
Kwa heri (goodbye) Tanzania, I won’t be gone for long.
Written 11.5.2011 from London
Minor reverse culture shock going on.
I arrived at the airport in London, and started laughing by myself when an employee there was directing us all to queue in one line along the wall. In Tanzania queueing doesn’t exist.
I paid 150 times more for my 30 minute train ride to London than for a daladala ride in Dar es Salaam. Of course the comofort levels are completely uncomparable, but I wouldn’t say the daladala rides were that bad after all. Just have to get used to everything being expensive now.
I’ve tried talking Swahili to everyone in the airplane, in shops, to my friends. At Dubai airport, when a saleswoman approached me I just wanted to say naangalia tu (‘I’m just looking’). A random guy opened a door for me in London and I replied asante. The friend I’m staying with in London already knows the meaning of pole (kind of like a ‘sorry, I feel bad for you’), as it was widely used by everyone in Tanzania, whether you spoke little or much Swahili.
And if it’s not in Swahili, I’ve still tried being friendly to people. In Tanzania greetings take up half of the conversation, and even if you pass a stranger on a street you usually ask how they’re doing. In London people might ask that too, but when I walked into a restaurant yesterday evening to meet up with friends, and stopped to ask how the receptionist was doing, I got some funny looks. Oh yeah, this is London, people don’t care that much.
As I was sitting with my friends talking this and that, the music was quite loud so I couldn’t hear exactly everything they were saying. I kept on hearing mentions of places in Dar es Salaam, until a second later I always realised of course they’re not talking about that.
And finally, it’s gonna take a while for me to get used to hot showers, tap water, normal flushing toilets, not having to worry if there will be electricity to charge my phone at home, not spraying mosquito spray when I go out in the evenings, understanding what everyone is saying around me, feeling cold, sleeping under a duvet, all the white people. The things I’ve taken for granted all my life.