All Things Tanzanian

When I chose this program back in the spring, I knew I would eventually face cultural differences and language barriers. Luckily, our CIEE Study Abroad Advisor Mary and the information given by CIEE was really helpful in preparing me for most of the differences and potential challenges. After being here for a little over four weeks, I have definitely fallen in love with the country, culture, and (especially the) people.

Tanzania is an ethnically diverse country with many different tribes; and within each tribe, there are different beliefs, ideas, and practices. However, overall the culture can be described as welcoming and the people here are extremely friendly. Tanzanians do not rush, and “Tanzanian time” is a very real concept here, which means that five minutes can actually mean fifteen, and a meeting at 2:30 pm may not actually start until 3:45 pm. We’ve also learned that saying “no” doesn’t really fit in with the culture– Tanzanians want to carry out requests and help others constantly. One time in Dar, a man walked with our whole group for fifteen-twenty minutes to help us find a hair salon for some of my peers; and he simply did it because he wanted to help and could.

Tanzanians also love their music and parties. Weddings here are extravagant and our program director told us Tanzanians would actually love if we crashed a wedding. We have yet to crash a wedding but we’ve been tempted! Tanzanians love to dance as well; whether it is to more upbeat and contemporary music, or to traditional African songs and instruments.

In comparison to the U.S., Tanzania as a society is definitely more traditional and collectivist. They greet everyone and it is often rude to pass someone on the street without acknowledging them with a greeting. There may be some laws or beliefs here that could be considered past its time, but I know we are surrounded by a society that is respectful and caring.

Kneelength, Please.

Tanzanians generally dress conservatively, meaning most of the women wear dresses or skirts past knee-length and shirts that cover their shoulders. It is also often cold at nights so Tanzanians often bundle up (in what Americans normally wear as winter clothing). We’ve seen a couple of younger women wearing pants, but most of the time, they are wearing dresses made out of a fabric called kitenges. Our program director has a friend named Agnes who is an amazing seamstress. Check out some of our Agnes-made outfits below!

These outfits are obviously very different from regular American dress. On RUCU’s campus, girls are required to wear dresses or skirts passed the knee and men have to wear collared shirts and pants. Whereas on Wofford’s campus, most ladies wear whatever is comfortable (which varies from shorts and leggings) and on most days nice shirts but paired with jeans. The dress code can be uncomfortable somedays, and it has definitely made us aware of how clothing can either make you feel like yourself, or a totally different person. We look forward to the weekends when we can wear pants and just feel a bit more like ourselves (aka Americans). However, we have loved having Agnes make us very Tanzanian clothing and it is nice to (sort of) fit in every once and a while.

Ninajifunza Kiswahili.

I am studying Swahili. There are over 130 languages spoken in Swahili, but the national language of Tanzania is Swahili, which we are all required to learn as a part of the program. Paulo Keteme is our Swahili teacher (and program coordinator) and he is an amazing Swahili and over-all language teacher. Just in our third week, we’ve learned verbs, dates, prefixes, pronouns, sentence structure, greetings, and self-introductions. I am able to have short conversations with Tanzanians now, which is really enjoyable. I love being able to communicate with the people and assimilate more than most wazungu, or foreigners. The way Paulo teaches has helped me and other students retain the language better and faster. It is definitely a hard language to learn, like most languages, but once you understand the rules, the only step left to do is practice and memorize words. Practice makes permanent!

Let’s Talk About Food!

Tanzanian cuisine varies by geographical region (coast versus inland). Tanzanian-specific cuisine includes foods called ugali, a cornmeal porridge, plantains, and chapati, a type of flatbread. Many meals also come with rice (or versions of rice like pilau, fried rice, biryani), and side dishes of veggies, greens, or beans. A considerable amount of foods are inspired by Indian cuisine, so if you love Indian food, like pilau and curries, Tanzania is a good place to be! Here in Iringa, there are around five-six options for restaurants that we enjoy and can get (trusted) food from. As Americans, we honestly do have to be careful about where we get our food because of health safety. For example, I won’t be eating any street food because of how it’s prepared. Also, when we order fruits and vegetables, we have to ask if they’re washed with tap or filter water. For now, most of the Tanzanian food we have been exposed to is various curries, biryanis, chicken, fish, and rice or chapati. I am sure that in November during our village stay, I will be exposed to more Tanzanian foods. For now, I will gladly take the time to review and rate our favorite Iringa restaurants! Even though our restaurant options are limited, we’ve can’t complain because its all such good food!

Clock Tower:This restaurant near RUCU is our daily lunch break option because it is fast and also affordable. Most of us order the veggie curry and rice (its the best dish there in my opinion), which also comes with a side of beans and greens for around 5000 TSH. When we’re not in a rush, the menu includes burgers, curries, and other Tanzanian snacks like chapati, meat chops, and ugali. $ | 5/10

Ruksanas Indian Restaurant: This is one of our favorites! They serve Indian food, so paneer, curry, masala, etc. The only downside is its the furthest place to walk from RUCU but we also don’t mind. On really hot days, we take a bijaji for 1000 TSH/person. Another downside is that rice is a separate price from the dish you order, but I promise its so worth. A normal meal costs most of use 12500-14000 TSH (rice and drink included). Their free appetizer mixed pakora is definitely a highlight of each meal. Also, they deliver! $$ | 8/10

Mama Iringa: A taste of Italian when we need something….else. As of today, we have yet to go to Mama Iringa because it’s an hour walk or 20-minute bijaji ride, however, they do deliver, which is an option we use often (there are delivery charges and a charge per box but honestly it is so worth it. There are kinds of pasta, and pizzas, and very Italian appetizers. We also recently visited the restaurant, which provides a European aesthetic! $$$ | 9/10

Hasty Tasty Too: Personally, I like this place and their food but it has received mixed reviews from our group. Hasty Tasty is a Tanzanian restaurant that offers a variety of foods on its menu. They’re also a decent brunch option because the pancakes are chapati majis, which are sweet and similar to crepes. $-$$| 6/10

Nnema Craft: I talked about this restaurant in my last blog. It is a nonprofit that employs Tanzanians with disabilities in the restaurant and craft center. The menu includes sandwiches, Tanzanian snacks (samosas, chapati, rice, and ugali), curry, and even lasagna. They wash their salads with filtered water and also offer coffee, teas, smoothies, and fresh juice. $$ | 7/10

Wikiendi in Iringa

Karibu Tanzania! Tomorrow marks our third week of classes and the fourth week of being in Tanzania, but honestly, it feels like we’ve been here way longer than that.

Weekend 2: Basket Weaving

Normally when students study abroad in European countries, they’re able to spend the weekends traveling to neighboring countries. In Africa, its not so easy to take the train from Tanzania to places like Kenya (considering time, immigration, and distance). So instead, our program directors plan different things for us to do on the weekend so we don’t bore ourselves with homework and Netflix. For example, last weekend, we did a basket weekend activity and learned about the Hehe tribe.

Basket weaving was very relaxing and we had expert basket-weaving mamas to help us along the way. At first, the process of weaving was a bit complicated, but once you understand the pattern and get a rhythm going it’s just all about pulling the straw tight and not making any mistakes. However, it was really easy to get distracted with the kids that were in the room, and there was even a baby named Baraka who got most of my attention. At one point, one of the children went around to all of us students and “Shikamoo-d” us. When greeting someone older than you, Tanzanias say the word Shikamoo to which the response from said elder is Marahaba. To show ultimate respect, the younger person will place their hand on the elder’s head while saying Shikamoo. We all felt very honored and Tanzanian after the child greeted us in this manner.

After about an hour of weaving, trying to better my Swahili, and falling in love with baby Baraka, it was time for us to leave. Before we loaded the bus, basket-weaving mamas sang and danced for us. Paulo explained to us that guests who come to learn about Tanzanian culture are considered blessings to Tanzanians. The ladies danced and chanted for us to show their appreciation for visiting them and spending time with them. I appreciate them so much more though for welcoming us into their home and for taking time out of their day to teach us such an amazing skill!

After that, we visited a museum and learned about the Hehe tribe– the ethnic group based in Iringa. We mostly learned about the history of Chief Mkwawa, who was the Hehe tribal leader during German colonization. He is also known for committing suicide to avoid German capture. Years later after World War I, a stipulation in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles included that Chief Mkwawa’s skull be returned to the Hehe Tribe to reward them for helping the British. However, the skull was not formally returned until July 9, 1954 and it can be found at Mkwawa Memorial Museum in Kalenga, near Iringa. Fun Fact: our program director’s son Juma went to school with the current chief of the Hehe tribe: Adam Mkwawa.

I won’t bore you with the details about our classes in Tanzania this past week– as I also plan on doing a blog solely dedicated to the academic part of our program later on in the semester. However, on Monday’s from 9:00 am-10:30 am we have visits to NGO’s. This past week we toured Neema Cafe, a nonprofit that employs deaf workers in their restaurant and craft center to provide training and employment opportunities to Tanzanians with disabilities. Neema Cafe is a favored location for foreigners in Iringa, and through our visits and meals there we’ve made lots of friends and learned Swahili sign language!

Weekend 3: Cooking

On Saturday we learned how to cook chapati, chapati moja, kuku (chicken), and a Tanzanian beef stew. Chapati is a type of flat-bread made with flour, water, and oil and chapati moja is made with flour, water, oil, egg, sugar, and salt. I like chapati moja a lot better because it is sweeter and tastes like a crepe! Chapati is often paired with most meals with or instead of rice. We arrived at our cooking location at 2:45 pm and we were not able to eat until around 6 pm! Everyone helped by cutting vegetables, sorting through the rice, stirring pots, kneading and flipping chapati, and cutting meat. We learned how to cook Tanzanian dishes, but more importantly, I think everyone gained a deeper appreciation for American kitchens and Tanzanians who cook (mostly the mamas but no matter how gender-based and conservative Tanzania is, I know there are men here who cook; including one of our cooking instructors from yesterday named Chris!)

We don’t have access to a kitchen here at RUCU so we won’t be able to cook for ourselves again until we return back to the US– but it definitely felt good to make our own food here in Tanzania for once!

Thanks for reading! Sending love and smiles from Tanzania!

New Home in Tanzania


It is our second week in Tanzania and classes have officially started! A lot has happened since we arrived in Iringa after our week in Dar. There are nine of us this semester (which is better than the average number of four students they get) and we’re all getting pretty close. We’ve had lots of time to get to know each other while we wait for our dinner that often takes an hour after we’ve ordered. Our program director Justin is truly one of the coolest people I’ve ever met and never gets tired of our questions (or he’s just really good at hiding when he’s annoyed with them). Our Swahili teacher Paulo has been teaching us lots of words, and I can officially count in Swahili!

Ruaha Catholic University — my home for the next two months!

We are spending the first two months of the program at Ruaha Catholic University for classes. The campus is small, just like Wofford. The dorms here are small but livable and all of us except one student have roommates. My roommate Caroline is really fun, and our personalities balance each other out. The most interesting part of our dorm routine is the showers– we take bucket showers because the water here is so cold. We have hot kettles to warm up water and my secret is four kettles and covering the bucket after each pour so the steam stays in. Afterward, I fill-up the rest of the bucket with the cold water but it’s still so warm!

My handy-dandy bucket for my bucket showers!

For our entire program, we are also expected to do our own laundry….by hand! I’ve done my own laundry a few times before in the Philippines, but four months of handwashing will be a first for me. Sunday was laundry day and the women’s dorm has a laundry room. We have two guys in our program and they came to our dorm to do laundry as well (for instructions and because they could not find their laundry room). A couple other girls had their own techniques and everyone who was new to handwashing took tips from all of us. I do the following: 1) Fill one bucket with soap and water– this is where all the dirty clothes go. 2) Soak then scrub scrub scrub!!!! 3) Ring out the soapy water (really good) then place it in a larger pan of clean water. This will hopefully let the clothes soak in clean water. (If you think about it, it is just like a washing machine). 4) Last, I ring out the water, check for soap, and rinse if I have too. Disclaimer: jogging pants and jumpsuits are not fun to handwash. Maybe in four months, I’ll have really good arm strength!

My first set of laundry! Mom would be so proud.


Traveling to Tanzania was not much of a challenge for me; I’ve traveled a lot with family in the past and this is my third trip on my own. Plus, I’ve been to the Doha International Airport in Qatar before, so my layover there was relaxing. Culture shock has been occurring in small instances– I’ve been craving American food, staring is not rude here, and the toilets take some adjustment. I had my first clinic trip on day 6 so that added to the adventure! If we get a fever or anything worse than a common cold we have to visit a doctor– considering the country we’re in and how easy it is to get sick per the food or water. But no worries! My doctor gave me a very strong anti-bacterial, I am taking lots of vitamin C, and drinking lots of filtered water!

I grew up in the Philippines, and Tanzania has a lot of similarities to the country so adjusting here has not been as difficult. The biggest challenge is definitely the language, but as I said, our Swahili teacher Paulo is really good and I’m learning a lot; I just need more practice. The food here is pretty good, they have a lot of Indian dishes and I am a big fan of rice so I’ve been eating a lot of curry, other chicken dishes, shrimp (which is a tad pricey), and fish.

Any major differences between Tanzanian culture and American culture (or also in my case Filipino culture), we’ve all been somewhat prepared for or just see it as different. Well, we were informed during orientation to expect marriage proposals, because we’re American, so Justin and Paulo gave us a few different strategies. These strategies included saying we were already married, saying no forcefully with intense body language, or grabbing one of the two guys in our program and calling him our boyfriend. At first, we thought it was really funny but both Justin and Paulo were very serious with explaining to us that this would very well happen and the man would be adamant in his proposal. None of us have received a marriage proposal yet but we have four months left… so wish us good luck.

Tanzanians also dress conservatively: women wear skirts and dresses past their knees and shirts with sleeves. However, their clothing is extremely colorful and bright— but mostly the women. A lot of men wear solid colored shirts and pants. On-campus, women also follow a dress code of skirts or dresses only (no pants). Men on campus have to wear khakis or pants and collard shirts. Off-campus, we can wear whatever we want but we try to assimilate to the Tanzania style of dress and cover our shoulders and knees. Justin introduced us to Agnes, an amazing tailor here in Iringa who has been working with him for nine years. The other day she took us to the market to buy kitenges, which are a type of fabric used to make clothing here in Tanzania. She is currently making the girls dresses and skirts that we will be able to wear in a couple of weeks!

Kitenges: fabric used to make Tanzanian clothing.

Well, its time for homework: study for a map quiz for History of East Africa, reading for the research methods class, flashcards for Swahili, and more reading for Community Development! Badaye!

Orientation Week: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Greetings from Tanzania! Hujambo? I landed on August 24, 2019 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s first capital city. (Fun fact: in 1974, Dodoma was declared the new capital.) We will be spending a week of orientation here in Dar es Salaam and then travel to Iringa on Thursday, August 28, 2019. For the week of orientation we will be staying at Catholic guest house called Consulata.

Day One in Dar: Fish Market and Money

Our program start date was on August 24th, the day we were all supposed to arrive, but for blogging purposes August 25th is going to be “Day One in Dar.”

My first Tanzania breakfast included toast and maandazi, a doughnut like pastry that I covered in butter and brown sugar. YUM! Orientation started at 9:00 am, and there are a total of 9 students in my program, including me. We introduced ourselves and learned our first bit of Swahili, the major language spoken in East Africa. After learning some essential greetings, we discussed what orientation would include and talked about safety and cultural awareness. Public transportation in Iringa will include taxis, bijajis (a three-wheeled cab) and motorcycles, or boda-boda, which we are absolutely not allowed to ride because of how dangerous they can be. When discussing cultural awareness, we learned that the current political situation is somewhat unstable so it is an extremely sensitive topic but Tanzanians love to discuss religion.

Around 11 am, we left for the fish market. Our program director, Justin Beckham, said that the fish market is a very different and interesting experience for a lot of students. It was also our first time out in Dar es Salaam, and meeting Tanzanian people. A man was selling coconuts just outside of the market, and Justin bought some of us fresh Tanzanian coconuts. Quick disclaimer: for those of you who don’t know me, I grew up in the Philippines and I spent my summer vacation there (I flew from the Philippines to Tanzania). So, I may often compare Tanzania to the Philippines, as well as compare Tanzania to the United States. The coconuts in Tanzania were oddly sweet, and not the kind of flavor I was used to, however during this experience we learned that its not really a “thing” in Tanzania to walk and eat– so we stood there inevitably drawing a small crowd while sipping our fresh coconut water.

Afterwards, we took a lap around the fish market, which had three sections: fresh fish and other oceanic creatures, shells, fried fish. I made eye-contact with a lot of dead fish and and even saw a large group of women in their colorful dresses bidding on fish. Before we left, one of the students asked if we could try some of the friend fish. Justin bought some tilapia and many friend minnows– both were very good (sorry mom).

Loco for cocos and new friends!

After our yummy snack, we headed to the mall so we could convert money, eat lunch, and buy sim cards. Justin stayed at our table while we all went into the mall to convert money and go to the pharmacy; in other words, he threw us into the wolves den on our very first day. Dar es Salaam is a major city so a good portion of people do speak English, but that still did not stop us from looking like lost puppies at the bank. We got into the wrong line for money conversion, and the security guard had to inform the pour tourists that we needed to photocopy our passports to convert our dollars into Tanzanian shillings. After the mall, we went back to our hotel and took very long naps. Dinner was at 7 pm and after dinner, some of us stayed up in the common room and had very interesting conversations.

Day Two in Dar: Museums and Dancing.

Day two had a similar morning: breakfast, Swahili, and orientation. Today’s orientation included discussing culture shock or differences. We talked about PDA and how there is little to none of it, staring (which is not rude here!), and the observed dress code. It was a quick discussion and then we left for the National Museum. The museum had an art gallery, a natural history portion, and a memorial for the people who died in the Tanzania Embassy bombing. After about an hour at the museum, we left for lunch.

We had lunch at a cafe, and I tried mutton biryani for the very first time. Mutton is lamb and biryani is a Muslim inspired mixed-rice dish. It was not my favorite meal.

After lunch, we visited our second museum, the Village Museum. This was an outdoor exhibit that displayed the different types of village houses made by different ethnic groups in Tanzania. Per each ethnic group, the houses were either shaped differently, had a different number of rooms, or were made using different soils or sticks. After we toured the museum, we watched profession dancers preform two types of Tanzanian ethnic dances: a harvest dance and an initiation dance preformed by two different ethnic groups. I appreciated how culturally embedded the dances seemed to be– along with their songs and shouts. It made me all the more excited to experience ethnic dances in the villages when we go in November. Once they were done preforming the dances, they dressed us in ethnic wear and showed us some dance moves. We then loaded the bus and headed back to the hotel where I took a very long nap.

Day Three in Dar: Beach Day

We literally spent the whole day on an island. It was a really relaxing day and we had interesting conversations about relationships. That’s about it.

Day Four, Leaving Dar: Bus Ride

Not the most fun day.. We left Iringa at 5:30 am and drove from Dar es Salaam to Iringa. We stopped a couple of times for the bathroom, and our breakfast and lunch were both grab-and-go. At one point, we drove through Mikumi National Park, which is a national park divided by a highway. We passed a lot of giraffes, baboons, and ampalas!

When we arrived at Ruaha Catholic University, we unpacked, ate dinner, and went to bed.

We do not have air conditioning or wifi in the dorms at RUCU, but most nights here are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and we’re at at least 5500 ft elevation. In other words– fuzzy blankets are necessary at nights.

If you made it this far, then you are extremely dedicated to reading my blog (hi mom and dad). For the rest of the trip, I’ll reduce blogging to at least once a week. Tutaonana!

Pre-Departure to Iringa, Tanzania.

Mambo! My name is Vera and welcome to my blog, All Things Tanzania. For the next four months, join me as I learn Swahili, experience life in a village, and study courses related to community development at Ruaha University College.

In one week, I will be boarding a flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. My program will actually take place in Iringa, Tanzania, however we will spend one week in Dar es Salaam, the country’s old capital, for orientation. The new capital of Dar is Dodoma. It is unconventional for a student to choose a program in Africa, but I chose to take advantage of an amazing opportunity and travel to a part of the world wherein I’d probably never be able to visit again.

I first started looking at study abroad programs when I was a freshman in college (early start). I thought I had my heart set on going to Haifa, Israel for an international relations program, however, sophomore year, I decided to switch to a double major: B.A. in History and B.A. in International Affairs. This altered my schedule and pushed my ability to study abroad until the fall of my senior year, which I chose to do.

Why Tanzania?

When I first visited the Office of International Programs, they suggested various programs that were located in Europe; I told them that I was certain on going somewhere in Asia or Africa. My searches were limited to programs in those two continents and after scrolling a few times I saw a program called “Community Development, Language, and Culture, in Iringa, Tanzania.” The classes offered included Community Development in East Africa, Educational Issues in East Africa, and History of East Africa. I felt my heart flip three times over and instantly knew this program was the one for me! Community development is in the realm of my career aspirations. I also knew that these classes in this country would bring about new challenges and once in a lifetime experiences, and that’s exactly what I wanted in a study abroad program.

Even better, this program also includes a one-month village stay. During this village stay, all the students will be working on a research project– we all have a research question about community development that we will attempt to answer based on information gathered from staying in the village and talking to the villagers. We will also volunteer with a local Non-Government Organization! This part of the program is really what solidified my decision, considering my passion for NGOs.

Most Challenging Part: My Parents.

The most challenging part of this whole process was getting my parents to agree to the fact that their daughter would travel all the way to Tanzania and stay there for four months. My mom constantly worries about the health risks, meanwhile my dad excessively reads news about Tanzania and its surrounding countries. Regardless of their fears, I am lucky enough to have their support for my decision to study in Tanzania! My parents know that I have a passion for community development, especially since I plan to get a Masters degree in Community Development after I graduate. My career goals include nonprofit management and the dream is to work for UNICEF, so I hope to gain a lot of skills and learn research methods from this program. 

Traveling Anxiety?

I am not that worried about adjusting to the city, or way of life (i.e. we will be taking bucket showers and hand-washing our own clothes). I grew up in the Philippines, and also have been spending my summer here, and am very used to protecting myself from mosquitoes, cold bucket showers, (sometimes) washing my own clothes. However, since I will be spending the next four months away from any family, I do home that this experience makes me more independent and strengthens my ability to adapt to my circumstances and surroundings. I welcome all the self-growth that Tanzania is willing to provide! I am also looking forward to the Tanzanian FOOD!

Around 8 days from now, I’ll land for the first time ever on the African continent. I haven’t started packing and I still have to find/buy a water filter… I have started my checklist though, so maybe tomorrow I’ll start packing..