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No homes among the gum trees: on seeing American style houses in Tanzania

A contact at Elliot’s new school offered to help us with our house hunt. As she was networking on our behalf, I heard her say to another missionary, ‘Did you see that beautiful big American style house? The 2 storey? I wonder if that’s available.’ I realised that her idea of a nice home and ours were quite different. I began to wonder if there was another cross-cultural layer going on.

I asked my American friend, “Is the stereotypical suburban dream home in the US a big 2 storey?”

While it’s not her dream, she confirmed, “Yep, 5 bedrooms, the master and guest in the first floor, three others and a playroom on the second. All bedrooms have their own bath, plus a half bath for dinner guests near kitchen and office.”

I was amazed at how well this describes the houses we have been seeing, and rejecting! (Seriously, who cleans all those bathrooms?! Let alone the social and ministry barriers of a house like that.) Tanzanians have their own reasons for building these kinds of homes, but we are Australians, in Tanzania, seeing American-style houses!

It got me thinking about how Australian expectations for a home might different from other expats, including Americans. Take this song:

Give me a home among the gum trees

With lots of plum trees

A sheep or two and a kangaroo

Clothesline out the back

Verandah out the front

And an old rocking chair.

I sent this to my friend and she said, ‘how many bedrooms?’ and it came to me: the song doesn’t say, because an Australian home is all about the yard! Space enough for a clothesline! Lots of big trees around! In my imagination, the house in the song is a bungalow, but it doesn’t feature much in the song. And I guess therein lies the difference.

Homes are changing in Australia, with ‘a home among the gum trees’ featuring less, though Arthur’s parents still live in one. But the appeal of a natural backyard in which kids can play remains.

And so we have worked out that our hope of finding a humble home with a shady backyard is somewhat due to our cultural background, and that our difficulty with finding such is not only because we are in Tanzania, but also because the kind of house we are after is different from what other expats may be after. I now realise why our home in Dodoma, with its simple bungalow and frangipani and flame tree shading a large yard, was so wonderful: the university where we lived was once a school run by CMS Australia, so I suspect the homes were built in a more Australian style.

It’s not that we want to create ‘little Australia’ in Tanzania. But we are looking for something that will work for us as a family for the remaining 5+ years we have in Tanzania, and for better or worse, all members of our family have Australian needs, to varying extents. We don’t need gum trees and plum trees – we’ll happily take mango and frangipani!


Categories: Tanzania Tanzanian culture Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

6 replies

  1. I live in Sydney and sadly these kind of houses (big backyards) are scarce and cost a fortune. Units and apartments are the go to for young families trying to get into the market :(

    1. Ugh, Sydney! All deoends where you live of course! Things are much more affordable in Adelaide, but even so the home among the gum trees may be of the collective imagination more than a reality. Even so, when we have been in apartments in Australia, we still have had access to space, trees snd play equipment at public parks, which do not exist in Dar.

  2. So interesting that your previous, and ideal, home was Australian. No wonder you can’t find what you’re looking for! It must be exhausting! Praying 

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  3. Love your insights, Tamie, and also makes such sense of why it’s been so tricky. It’s also making me look differently at my plum trees!

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