Monday, November 1, 2021

The Many Faces of Tanzania

Tanga anchorage

We met a Tanzanian woman named Happy (isn't that a great name?). She visited Europe for the first time a couple years ago and although she enjoyed it, she explained why she wouldn't want to live there. In Tanzania, even though people don't have much, they will help as much as they can you if you are in need. Contrast this with Europe, where people expect themselves and others to be self-sufficient. If someone needs help, the government might help, but the culture is not one of widely sharing.

Mohammed of Koma - fisherman, teacher, community activist

Those weren't Happy's exact words, but it's the gist of what she was saying. I wonder if that sentiment--that Tanzanians believe that more fortunate people should share what they have--is the basis for one of the more annoying aspects of visiting Tanzania for Western-minded foreigners. Does Tanzanian culture spawn the idea that foreigners (who in the minds of many Tanzanians are all rich; relatively speaking, they are not totally wrong when it comes to most visitors) should share what they have with less fortunate Tanzanians?

A house on Kilwa Kilindoni. Guard goats.

Particularly in areas visited by a lot of tourists, like Zanzibar and Arusha (the starting point for most safaris and near Mt. Kilimanjaro), the touts and beggars can be overwhelming. There are more ways for people to make money off tourists than you can shake a stick at--from selling tours and knickknacks to steering people to a specific store, bus or restaurant. Saying 'no, thank you' seems to be akin to an invitation for the hard press. And when it becomes clear that you mean 'no', it can transition to just plain begging for a 'gift' or 'help'. Like many countries that rely heavily on tourism, Tanzania's tourist industry (despite its lack of restrictions during Covid) has suffered mightily and the desperation in some people is palpable.

Kids having a laugh on Koma Island

Even in the less tourist-ridden spots, if the price isn't marked, foreigners can expect to be charged much more than locals for produce at the local market, clothes or for a taxi ride. Although this isn't uncommon throughout the world, the magnitude of the overcharging can be much bigger. Some of these guys are really shooting for the stars. Whereas in Southeast Asia, you might be asked for two or three times the local amount, in Tanzania it is common for the starting salvo to be ten times the local amount. On the other hand, in Mtwara, which seems to have very few foreign visitors, there don't seem to be Mzungu (literally 'white') mark-ups. A police officer in Mtwara that Matt was chatting with did ask whether we were rich though.

Mosque ruins in Kilwa Kisiwani

My attitude towards these tiny 'injustices' has evolved during our time here. Mainly, this is because the strength of the dollar makes everything really cheap, especially compared to the crazily expensive Seychelles. Negotiating beyond a certain point often means quibbling over pennies. I used to feel that the fleecing of foreigners translated to a lack of respect for us suckers (and I still feel like some places and people do get a measure of joy from it), but really most people are just trying to make as much many as they can and it's not all about me.

More mosque

It took us a couple of weeks of day-hops to move from Tanga to Mikindani/Mtwara. After returning to Stone Town and spending a couple of days in Dar es Salaam, we visited a small island called Koma. We had heard about it from other cruisers and friends. The highlight of the visit was Mohammed, a fisherman who has started the equivalent of a Head Start program for pre-school aged children. Although he has no formal training, he has taken it upon himself to teach the young children of Koma until they start Primary School (there is a government school on the island) at the age of seven or so. We were able to donate our globe and some books and spent some time with the many children and seeing the villages.

Inside the Gereza/Fortress ruins at Kilwa Kisiwani with Jemila, our guide

We also made a stop to see the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We hired our required guide, who purchased our permits, and took a boat to the ruins, some of which date back to the 13th century. We saw a lot of incredible historical places and ruins in India and Cambodia, but it was still an interesting visit.

Teaching the kids the card game Uno

Frisbee anyone?

As I write this, we are in Mikindani doing our final fuel and food provisioning and boat projects and taking care of formalities in Mtwara. As soon as the weather forecast is favorable, we will start making our way to Richard's Bay, South Africa. By the time this post is published, we should be on our way to Richard's Bay. The journey can take a little over a week or as long as a few weeks, depending on the weather and whether or not you have to stop along the coast to wait for weather. I just said some form of 'weather' three times in a row, so it's time to go.

Mohammed with some items bought with money donated by Steel Sapphire

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this interesting blog.
    I remember very well fighting off the women at the Tanzanian border who tried to « gift » us with jewelry they hade made. I really felt for them but if you gave money to one you’d have dozens more begging for your «attention ».


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