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One year in: tricky things

There are many things to love about life in Tanzania, but there are always some things that come more naturally than others. Some aspects of culture are still tricky for us, and some things we’re just not that used to yet, or able to function as well in. That’s not bad, it’s just another step in adjustment, and that takes time! Here are some of them:

  • Cash. With no credit cards or the like, we have to be so organised with getting money out of the bank, and the ATMs aren’t always reliable. It’s also harder to keep track of money.
  • House help. Despite how great Mama Velo is, I still find it weird to have her come every day to clean. Partly that’s the power dynamic of employing someone (and I think this is different to having a cleaner in Australia) and having someone else in the house, but mainly it’s that it feels like a luxury. We could get a washing machine (they are available here) and Arthur and I could manage the rest quite easily, (seriously, the floor does not need to be mopped every day!) though perhaps this is a testament to our low standard when it comes to housekeeping!
  • Conversations at depth. I find that while people are happy to have a chat, I’m not sure how to move a conversation past that. Open questions are met with vague responses rather than taken as an invitation to expand.
  • Being known by everyone. I don’t mind the attention so much but I find it hard to remember all the people we’ve spoken to. Because we stick out, we are easy to remember but sometimes one Tanzanian face looks like another Tanzanian face. Mind you, this goes both ways. I’m frequently mistaken for our blonde English neighbour!
  • Guessing ages. Greetings in Tanzania are predicated on whether a person is older or younger than you, but Tanzanians seem to go from looking 25 to looking 60 without much in between. It leads to all kinds of awkward situations!
  • No stuff for mums with pre-schoolers. I dream about going to the park, or a mums group or Bible Study or Mainly Music, about play cafes, playgrounds, and libraries. Or even playdates!
  • Money is a constant and tiring struggle: working out how to be OK with being wealthy by Tanzanian standards; feeling like budgeting is a squeeze; trying to be generous when we’re not sure of the best way to do that.
  • No PDAs. (Public displays of affection.) This is not a big deal, but some days I do wish Arthur and I could hold hands when we go for a walk.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

3 replies

    1. I don’t think anything would ‘happen’ Ben – it’s just not that culturally appropriate! (Maybe we’d get told off by various passers by?) We’ve seen other expats do it and from time to time a uni student couple or two, so it’s not taboo or anything, but it’s also not common. It’s a bit like girls wearing jeans – a few do it, but I choose to wear skirts because it’s more culturally respectful, doing what’s ‘normal’ rather than looking for what we can ‘get away with’.

  1. Just to reassure you on employing a domestic worker – when we were serving in Zimbabwe in the 90s we had the same conundrum and odd feelings as you: being rich expats. But when you employ someone in Africa, we were told, that’s a family that has a wage, can be cared for and has an employer who takes an interest. We were able to provide for our worker’s children’s health and schooling, as well as giving her decent leave and paid trips home to see family.
    This was the key that unlocked it for us.

    That’s what you do, too, as Mama Velo’s employer – help her provide for her family.

    On a slightly more selfish note, it also means you and Arthur are free to carry out the ministry to which you are called.

    And I liked the video which showed you carrying your baby African-style! Good cultural stuff which we, alas, failed at.

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