Instead of learning about babies in Tanzania at the baby clinics yesterday, I learnt a lot about Tanzanian culture and myself.
For a start, I learnt the difference between wazungu treatment and wageni treatment. The first is for white people and it’s about making Tanzania look good to westerners; the second is for any visitor and it’s about hospitality. We got wazungu treatment at the first clinic we went to and were out in 5 mins; we got wageni treatment at the second one we went to.
At the second one, we had more opportunity for interaction, but because I was feeling out of place and unsure, I read the situation negatively. Later, our language tutor explained that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was thinking!
I thought: These other women who have to wait while I go straight in must resent me.
They were thinking: It’s polite to let this visitor go first, and I don’t mind waiting.
I thought: Why don’t the other mamas smile back? Are they trying to tell me they don’t want me here?
They were thinking: Don’t make eye contact; what if she speaks to me in English and I’m embarrassed because I can’t understand or respond?
I thought: Why won’t the nurse let me join the information class? Do they think I’m being a pain?
They were thinking: What if one of us says something this educated mzungu knows is wrong?
I thought: Why does the head nurse keep asking me if I want anything else? Is she trying to get rid of me?
She was thinking: If this mzungu doesn’t get everything she wants, I might get in trouble!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.