The lady at the post office looked at me like I was an idiot. And wasting her time. Just, you know, making a fuss for no reason. I was back for the second time to tell her that our PO box needed fixing. Half the screws on the inside which hold the lock onto the box were missing; the other half were loose. Basically that means every time you put the key in, the lock system falls off. It’s not very secure! I’d already told her once, and in response she’s cobbled the box back together. Unsurprisingly, by the time I returned the next week, it was broken again. So she’d ‘fixed’ it again and that was when she gave me the look. The one that said, ‘What is your problem, lady? How hard was that? Why did you need me to do that for you?’ I swallowed hard, because I wanted to give her the exact same look. Couldn’t she see that a temporary solution was no solution at all? Isn’t that exactly what the last week had proven? Of course not. See, I come from a risk averse culture. We do everything we can to prevent problems from cropping up. We fix things before they’re a problem. However, Tanzania is a risk tolerant culture. Problems are going to happen anyway, and the important thing is how you deal with them when they happen. To me, it looks irresponsible; to them, I look uptight. It’s like this chair from outside that same post office. To me, it looks like a broken neck waiting to happen, but to the post office lady, it’s a perfectly reasonable solution which means she doesn’t have to buy a new one. It’s like how the university maintenance wouldn’t fix the faulty gas line to our oven even though we’d pointed out it was dangerous. But once it started spewing fire over the kitchen, they bought us a new one immediately and 6 guys turned up to install it. It’s like how people don’t see road rules as all that important to follow, but there are whole crowds who turn up to deal with car accidents. It’s risk averse cultures vs risk tolerant cultures. I totally get it. My culture says, ‘What if one of us is the 1 in a hundred case? Better to be on the safe side.’ Tanzanian culture says, ‘There’s a 99% chance everything’s going to be fine. Those are pretty good odds!’ And where my culture might blame people for whom things go wrong (‘why didn’t they take precautions?’), Tanzanians see things going wrong as a part of life, and all join in to help. So I thanked the post office lady for her help. And I’ll probably thank her again next week.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.