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.
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.
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