Things I Love (and Hate) About Tanzania

Ok, so it’s always touchy saying anything negative about a place where one is not a native. Therefore, I am balancing the negative with the positive. I’m also using someone else’s list. My friend Alice, a Peace Corps volunteer here at Sega, recently wrote such an excellent, funny (at least to me living here), and accurate blog entitled “Things About Tanzania That Piss Me Off.” Since I figured I could do no better, I am simply adding one additional item and then stealing hers wholesale (with credit to her of course).

However, on the positive side, there are several things that I love about being here so I’ll give you that list first.

1) The early mornings and the evenings. Both of these times of day are sublime. The sunrises and the feeling of daybreak is quite beautiful. The sun is not yet scorching between 6 and 6:45am so this is when I sometimes go for a run and it’s a gorgeous time.

Gardening at sunset

Gardening at sunset

In the evenings, the sky is usually stunning, the air is balmy, there is the happy sound of girls around the campus, and sometimes there is a fantastic sunset. Plus, we are sitting on our porch with our cocktail of choice, so what’s not to like?

2) The red, red earth of East Africa. The color is so distinctive and so gorgeous. When I put up a new background photo up on my

Facebook page of me at Sega when I first got here, a fellow I went to high school with said he could recognize it as East Africa from the color of the earth.  The smell of the earth, especially when it rains, also deserves a mention. I can’t describe it but I know I will miss it. It definitely smells different here than at home and it’s a strong, wonderful, earthy smell.  Sadly, I don’t know how to do a scratch and sniff in a blog so I can’t share it with you.

3) The birds.

The charming, tiny Cordon Bleu (internet photo)

The charming, tiny Cordon Bleu (internet photo)

As I said in my last blog, I saw an incredible variety while on safari, 45 different ones to be exact and those were only the pretty ones I identified.

Here at Sega, there is a tiny, bright turquoise bird called a Cordon Bleu that flit around the Sega campus and I love seeing them each day.

4) The tropical fruit, in particular the mangoes, pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, and avocados.

Papaya from off the ground. Yumm!

Papaya from off the ground. Yumm!

Over the holidays, I was on Mafia Island for a few days and I took a tour of Chole Island nearby where there are no motorized vehicles. The mangos were literally falling off the trees in front of me as I walked along so I picked them up and sucked the juice and pulp out. Pretty fantastic!

5) The laughter and good spirits of the Tanzanians. I love their welcoming behavior and the warm way in which they greet one another.

Socializing with staff on our porch.

Socializing with staff on the porch

It is absolutely true that people here are more relaxed, more social, and more jovial and warm with one another than are North Americans. They are not in a hurry so take time to smile, greet, shake hands, laugh, and connect.  Sometimes it gets a little loud in the staffroom but then I remind myself of how nice it is that, while it may be loud, it’s a happy, friendly sound.

Now for that other list.  I am adding only one item to the negative column but it’s big. It is knowing that I am in a country where there are groups with cultural rituals that include the mutilation of young girls. I saw this on the front page of a newspaper recently and it made me mad enough to spit (as my mother used to say). I don’t know how to make this a link so you may have to cut and paste into your browser if you’d like to read it.


Alice on her porch



1. People throw trash everywhere, and there are no cans, at all, for waste.

2. Women, who appear to have most of the jobs and all of the domestic duties except hard physical labor like ditch digging (which still leaves plenty of physical labor, believe me), get no respect from men. Young pretty ones will get flirted with and catered to, but that is to get them in the sack, and that’s not respect.

3. Shopkeepers consider that the sidewalk in front of their establishment is theirs for display, customer service, excess inventory, etc. This leaves the pedestrian in the street, not a safe place to be. (See next)

4. There is a hierarchy of being on the street, which goes like this: Trucks, then buses, then cars, then motorcycles, then bicycles, then hand-pushed carts, then pedestrians. It’s as if there is a caste system in which not having wheels makes you an Untouchable. No crossing, no matter how many pedestrians must use it, is safe for the walker, no consideration or even quarter is given. To travel down the street is to be constantly shunted aside by the merest sort of wheeled vehicle, and many times there is no safe place to be shunted aside to. It does not matter if you are facing oncoming traffic or not, you will still be unseen, ignored, turned in front of, in constant danger of being run down or side-swiped.

5. No napkins. Ever. At nicer restaurants, they will bring a few to the table if you ask. Nevertheless, the country eats like Arabs, with their right hands. Since services, especially restaurant service, are universally sub-par, if you choose to do so, you sit with your dirty hand until they bring a washbasin, which may not happen at all. Or there may be a dirty little sink somewhere, with no soap or towel or water. Or, you can carry wipes, or a handkerchief, or, as I have seen many times, wipe your dirty fingers on the tablecloth. Yuck.

6. No toilet paper. Ever, except in the nicest places. Not only that, but public pit latrines are gaspingly dirty, and rarely have running water and soap. I am resigned to using them, but come on, do they have to be filthy? Don’t these people know ANYTHING about germs, which are no respecters of the right/left hand dictum? No wonder there’s so much dysentery, cholera, typhoid in the country.

7. Maybe this shouldn’t piss me off, but people don’t read books. Therefore there are no bookstores.

8. No scotch tape, and duct tape is so dear as to be unaffordable on a Peace Corps salary. Come to mention it, school and office supplies generally are just plain crappy, that means pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, greeting cards, and there is no such thing as index cards. The exception is staplers, which are okay, and in constant use.

9. No movie theaters except in Dar es Salaam. This is a deal breaker for me in considering long-term residency.

10. Boring cooking. People, unsalted over-milled hominy mush at every meal is just not appetizing. Besides ugali, there are about 3 recipes of actual Tanzanian food: Meat stew made with tomatoes and onions, pan-fried chicken, and greens cooked with onions. Oh, and I am forgetting chapatti. Everything is cooked stove-top with lots of oil. There ARE good and hot peppers, but you have to ask for them.

11. And yet, they have satellite TV, everyone has a cell phone, they have Beyonce and JayZ and South African Soap Operas. They follow English Premier League Football. Most middle-class people drink water out of plastic bottles, which they then throw in the streets.

12. They have something they call the internet. Teasers.

*as opposed to the regular things which go along with Tanzania being a developing Equatorial nation, like heat, humidity multitudinous and/or lethal snakes & bugs, rutted dirt roads masquerading as streets and boulevards, clearly unsafe highways, no books and chalk in the classroom, and too many people living in daub & wattle huts, erected in right of ways. These do not piss me off, as they are not solvable or unfair. They do, however, drive me to drink.

And please remember, this is my own list of things to be pissed off about. It’s not the Peace Corps list, nor do they endorse it. They have their own, I’m sure.


4 thoughts on “Things I Love (and Hate) About Tanzania

  1. Love both your lists. Alice’s #10 especially reminded me of my time in Zambia. The rare visit to Lusaka and an Indian restaurant was like finding an oasis in the desert.
    Wish I could pop over to join you for a sunset cocktail, though.

  2. Someday in the future when you are back in the comfort and order of the USA , you will read these blogs and remember all the good experiences. Time and distance are wonderful filters………..

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