Disclamer: Please note that my goal in this personal blog is to not create any generalizations or false assumptions about the cultures and philosophies of Tanzania. If that is the case, I would kindly ask you to contact me and let me know where my posts may have come across as insensitive or inaccurate in my perceptions of the cultures and social life here in Tanzania-Africa.
Well, first let me say that I made it! Yay! My dream is coming true as I write and I still cannot believe that I am in Africa, let alone in the beautiful city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The first few days after my arrival were challenging both mentally, emotionally and physically. My first few interactions with the local residents, however, were extremely positive and continue to be every day as I become oriented with my social-cultural surroundings. I have never felt so welcomed as a foreigner as I did this past week! I instantly felt like I was part of what Yale Richmond and Phyllis Gestrin (2009) refer to as the “‘We’ culture” that is so widely recognized across many ethnic groups throughout this beautiful continent (p. 8). It’s like being adopted into a new culture and extended family!
After settling into my new home and familiarizing myself with the transit systems here, I feel like I have properly arrived and can begin my exploration of the city’s economic, cultural, social and geographical surroundings. While writing this blog post I began to feel overwhelmed with deciphering what I have all seen, smelled, heard, and tasted this past week; but first let me take a few steps back and start from the pre-existing presuppositions that I had coming into this country.
Coming into this internship was both nerve-wrecking and exciting. After growing up in an international family, and having heard endless stories of my relatives’ overseas adventures in both the developed and developing countries, I thought I had a fairly well-rounded understanding of how to navigate myself through this upcoming adventure. Although I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared for culture shock to occur upon my arrival in Dar es Salaam, I was surprised to see how much I took for granted from just my own economic class status. It is one thing to learn about it through the textbooks, and another things to experience just how great the income gap between the Global North and Global South really is.
For example, one thing that really fascinated me was my first walk through two different informal make-shift markets that people had on the side of the roads, in both wealthy and poor neighborhoods. It was amazing to see was that no matter how little people seemed to have, there was always a culture of busyness and productivity; however large or little the residents were doing, there seemed to be a sense of hope and happiness amidst the deprivation of social-economic sustainability. According to Richmond and Gestrin (2009), despite the European colonialists’ efforts to establish a Protestant working culture and frugality of resources (especially income), local ethnic groups continue to foster their hope and happiness through material consumption (p. 20). Africans, according to Ghanaian Historian, A. Adu Boahen, take ethnic and social pride in this sort of “flamboyant lifestyle” (Richmond and Gestrin, 2009, p. 20). He further argues that this sort of social-economic practice comes as a psychological symptom from the continent’s colonial history, that is deeply rooted in capitalist values such as work and consumption (Richmond and Gestrin, 2009, p. 20). He describes this social-economic influence as:
“…Thus, while in Europe this full ethic led to the rise of capitalism…and with it the scientific and technological breakthrough, in the African colonies it only generated the ostentatious consumption habits which are still very much with us” (Richmond and Gestrin, 2009, p. 20).
Although this understanding of African consumerism is understood from a historical-Ghanaian perspective, many of these lavish-looking lifestyles are also apparent in Dar es Salaam. As I walked through some of these makeshift markets, I noticed that there were a variety of designer clothing brands such as Adidas, Converse and other electronic brands (ie: Sony, Beats, etc.) being sold and worn by people who do not seem to earn a sustainable living income. I should also include that many of the women, no matter their socio-economic status, commonly wear lavishing traditional dresses with beautiful jewelry whether they were handmade or bought at the local mall. For example, during rush hour traffic, street vendors (dressed in brand-named clothing) will approach the stopped cars and begin selling electronics and other products for as little as a few hundred Tanzanian shillings (less than a Canadian dollar). That said, not every local person wears expensive clothing or live a lavished lifestyle. I have seen people who live in poverty wear not only name-brand clothing or traditional dresses, but also something as little as ripped, dirty clothing (which seems to be the norm with children living in poor conditions behind the informal markets).
As I continue to explore this beautiful city, I hope I will be able to notice the varying patterns of how people identify and orient themselves both socially, culturally and economically.
Although I was unable to take photos of the markets, below is a picture of a goat near one of the many street vendors that I see throughout my travels in the city. Please excuse the horrible phone camera quality, this was taken in a bajaji (auto-rickshaw) 😉
Richmond, Yale., and Gestrin, P. (2009). Into Africa: A guide to sub-saharan culture and diversity. (2nd ed). Boston, MA: Intercultural Press.