I’ve been reflecting recently on how being in Australia has shown me that I’m more Tanzanian in my parenting that I had thought. When I was in Tanzania, I thought I was quite Australian, so it’s been a discovery for me. If my parenting feels so foreign in Australia, what was it that made it feel foreign in Tanzania? Here are five things.
1. Bed times
Tanzanian kids generally go to bed at the same time as their parents. That Arthur and I put Elliot to bed early in the evening and then spend time together is considered weird, though also somewhat miraculous. It has its inconvenience though, because it means without a babysitter we can’t go out in the evening, which is prime time social time for all Tanzanians, including families.
Tanzanians are amazed when they see our kids’ books, and the assumption is that Elliot is able to read them to himself, not that we read them to him. When I tell them about the Australian government’s recommendation that you read to your kid for 20 minutes a day to help their (pre-) literacy, this comes across as a funny wazungu belief.
3. Non-corporal discipline
Slapping, pinching or beating your child are common methods of punishment in Tanzania. Time outs or 1-2-3 are simply not done. Talking to your child instead of inflicting a corporal punishment is considered permissive.
4. Learn by play
Tanzania has a rote learning culture, so the assumption is that you learn things by being told them and then memorising them. Learning by discovering them for yourself is quite foreign. Aussies are often surprised when I tell them this because they imagine that a free rein for Tanzanian kids means they have lots of opportunity to explore the world, but this is to some extent a learned skill. Aussie kids learn it even as babies by being stuck under mobiles or having toys put just out of their reach.
Whatever your conceptions of dirty African children, lose them. Playing in mud is discouraged. So is sitting on the ground without a mat. Forget about smearing your food on your clothes! ‘Chafu chafu!’ It’s dirty! Tanzanian kids’ clothing is often pristine, and people regularly point out to me how grubby Elliot is.
From what Elliot wears, to the rhythms of his day, to discipline, to the activities we do, my parenting in Tanzania is at odds with much in Tanzanian culture. For all the things we are finding a clash in Australian culture, these things are relatively ‘normal’ for our generation of parents here in Adelaide.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.