We had a friend over for a 6pm dinner, later than usual for us, but very early for him. Like, 3 hours early. It is not unusual for Tanzanians to eat dinner at 9pm. While it is a symptom of modern life, and the pace and busyness at which middle-class Tanzanians live their lives, this is not its origin, our friend explained.
He said, in the old days in the village, Mama and the women were in the fields until just before dark. When they got home, they had to prepare the meal, and because there was no electricity or appliances, this would take many hours. Dinner was not served until 8, 9 or 10pm. This is the rhythm of life in Tanzania and why people eat dinner later.
One intriguing thing to me about this is that he said while the food was cooking, everyone would sit around the campfire waiting for it, and this is when they would tell stories. We often hear people speak wistfully about this sometimes mythical past with its stories around the fire, but this was the first time I realised the context of that: hungry tummies, cooking food, and everyone waiting.
Many Tanzanians lament the loss of wisdom, culture and intergenerational interaction that has become a feature of their modern lives, and it’s instructive that this was able to happen simply because people were together, waiting for a meal. It did not have to be organised because it was built into the fabric of the day’s timetable.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.