The experience of living and working in Tanzania has afforded me the opportunity to get up close and personal with a country that I would never have thought I’d visit if you’d asked me 10 years ago. It has been a beautiful journey of discovery and enlightenment for which I consider myself to have been truly blessed. The path has been long and winding, filled with highs and lows that have contributed to the person I am today. So, Tanzania, here’s what I like about you…
With more than 260 tribes and more than 100 tribal languages, Swahili is the unifying language of the country. While families will strive to maintain their tribal language and dialect, most Tanzanians can speak Swahili and thus communication across the tribal groups is not an issue. Being a ‘bantu’ language, it was relatively easy to pick up, using common words and similar sentence structure. I was able to make myself understood despite not being fluent. I enjoy the musical sound of the spoken language and, of course, as with any language, there are some phrases that only sound good in Swahili and can’t be translated into an English equivalent. The Tanzanians believe that their Swahili is pure in comparison to the Kenyan version, which they find to be more “street-wise” and interspersed with slang. In my humble opinion, I’d agree.
People and culture
The experience of living and working in Tanzania has afforded me the opportunity to get up close and personal with a country that I would never have thought I’d visit if you’d asked me 10 years ago.
No hurry in Africa. Peace, love and all things good seems to be what they live by. Granted, such an attitude has its time and place, and in other instances can be very frustrating, but on a social front it really helps you settle in. The converse is also true: there are some very rude and confrontational people out there too, but my experience has been a pleasant one. A person will always enter a room and greet all present, then go about their business. Respect for elders is also key; you must always offer the greeting “Shikamoo” when with an elder. I thoroughly enjoyed being on the receiving end of such greetings from young children shyly mumbling their salutation, without any coercion from a parent or older sibling.
Tinga-tinga art and Zanzibar doors
Art made to order and art while you wait. The tinga-tinga artists are fairly versatile in presenting their work to you in a format that you request or you can browse through endless pieces of their work for your purchase. Tinga-tinga art is bright, hand-painted art depicting various aspects of life, from nature and animals, to urban areas and villages. The artists are often found painting in the open and it really is amazing to witness their creativity and the ease with which they work. A school of fish on a wheel cover or a caricature of animals in the wild is presented in this quirky, attractive artform.
When you travel to Zanzibar and walk through Stonetown, the buildings, and in particular the artwork carved into the doors, complemented with brass features, is a real marvel. The amount of time it would have taken the artists to work on these pieces must have been extensive and the weight of some of the doors is incredible. The style of the doors is a depiction of the mix of Arab, Persian and African culture and aesthetics and how it shaped a style that is uniquely found in the maze of streets and alleyways in Zanzibar.
Bajajis and piki-pikis
Tanzania was my first introduction to the bajaji, a three-wheeled motorcycle more commonly known as a tuk-tuk, and to the piki-piki, which is a motorbike taxi. The drivers of these vehicles are definitely intrepid thrill-seekers, capable of weaving between traffic and swerving around the sharpest corner at alarming speed. The bajajis are pimped with plumped seats, rain covers, sound systems, quotations, stickers and many other paraphernalia that depicts the driver’s pride in his vehicle. It is amazing to see how many passengers and luggage a driver can fit onto the back of his bike (unfortunately without helmets), but this is an accepted norm. It’s terrifying and intriguing to see the piki-piki screaming around with their passengers holding on for dear life, or music booming from a piki-piki that is chugging along, leaving a trail of smoke behind it.
Tanzania is a mixture of sounds, and their traditional sound was another presentation of the mixture of the various cultures that have influenced the country. There’s the lazy, melodic sound of the older music, which makes you want to sit under a palm tree and enjoy the sea breeze. Then the wail of taarab music with its distinct Islamic influence, the hip-hop of local bongo flavours, complete with oversized pants and dark glasses, and of course, the energetic waist-winding and twerking that accompanies the ndombolo music punted by various self-proclaimed orchestras. A night out dancing was always good fun and at one club they would also have a session of Indian music.
Street food! Chips mayayi – basically a greasy chip and egg omelette – is best served with beef mishkaki (kebabs) and fresh chillies that will cure any hangover. Roast chicken and chips, fried plantain, roast banana and a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the market. Kiti moto, literally meaning “hot seat”, is the colloquial term for roast pork, an appropriate term considering the vast Islamic population for whom eating pork is a sin. Then there is the seafood: fresh, straight from the ocean to your plate, or the buttery taste of Tilapia found in lake Tanganyika. Roast sweet potato served with a fresh tomato mix, fragrant rice, pilau rice, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, coconut water straight out of the coconut (I never acquired the taste) and a locally produced ice cream by a company called Azam. The eastern influence on Tanzanian cooking makes for an abundant use of spices, jazzing up the simplest of dishes.
The beautiful beaches of Zanzibar Island, the vast Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater, home to a spectacular range of wildlife. While I haven’t made a trip to the top of the Kilimanjaro mountain yet, I have seen the island, roamed with the beasts and enjoyed so many other experiences and yet, there is so much more to share and experience.
Tanzania, it has been a fun ride. I can’t wait for us to meet again! Asante sana.