List of Do’s and Don’ts in East Africa

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By Carrie O’Callaghan
Tanzania, East Africa

We thought we’d compile a top ten list of do’s and don’ts based on our experience thus far living in Tanzania.

1. If you can’t afford to pay for local transport your chances of getting a ride depend solely on your ability to run and jump onto a fast moving vehicle. Believe us, we’ve seen people (who should contend for Olympic medals) run and jump onto the back for a pick-up going 30 mph with 50 people in back.

2. There’s no such thing as a full bus. Anything is possible, even a person sitting on top of a bus, holding both a baby and a basket of avocadoes.

3. Anything (and we mean anything) can be carried on your head, from a few coins to a bar of soap to a whole tree, people here can carry anything.

4. No matter what you ask people the answer is invariably ”yes”. Examples: ”How do we get to town today?” Answer: ”yes.” ”How much for the room?” Answer: ”Yes.”

5. If you want something done- ask a woman. Men here spend the greater part (okay all) of the day drinking the local brew, Mbege, and staring into space (probably thinking about what their wife is going to cook for dinner). The women spend the day working relentlessly in the fields carting loads of firewood, grass and chicken feed up long steep roads.

6. If you’re a homophobe don’t come to this country. What we mean by this is you can be caught quite off guard by the number of times you see men (who are actually just good friends, not lovers) holding hands. At the same time it is completely socially unacceptable for men and women to display any type of public affection.

7. If you’re a woman driving for the first time in the village don’t stall the car in front of two hundred school children who are so bewildered to see a woman driving that they can’t even move.

8. Blatantly staring at foreigners is completely socially acceptable, so is pointing and yelling the swahili equivalent of ”white person, white person, white person!” (Although, it should be noted that we’re not convinced you would get any different reaction from Americans in the back roads of the mid-west were you to place an African out there).

9. You can make money doing anything, even charging someone 50 cents to weigh himself or herself on a bathroom scale that’s probably broken in the middle of the sidewalk.

10. The used clothes industry is big here, you could be out in the middle of the bush and there’s someone wearing traditional African dress walking alongside someone who’s smoking pot wearing a ”DARE: To Keep Kids Off Drugs” T-shirt.

11. Prices here are open for debate and bargaining is a way of life- especially for Mzungus (white people). If you want to know the price an African paid for the same thing you want to buy just take the price quotes, take away 90% of that, divide that figure in half and you have the ”African Price”, too bad you’ll never pay that little for anything. The difference is only pennies but it’s the principle of the matter.

Something that goes inherently along with this topic is that Africans are never too proud when quoting prices. One guy looked us straight in the eye when he told us he would ”cut us a deal” and let us rent his car for $2,000/month- how do you say ”yeah right” in Kiswahili?

12. Learn to view power failures as romantic because it’s guaranteed that the power never runs 24 hours straight.

13. When you’re trying to say ”We want to meet your son” don’t confuse the swahili word for ”meet” with the one for ”buy” as Donovan did yesterday. ”Yes, sir, we’d like to BUY your son.” What’s even stranger is that he wasn’t terribly apprehensive about our initial statement.

14. We figure the two English sayings school children learn here are ”Good morning teacher” and ”give me money.”

And the most important survival tip we’ve learn so far is:

15. You’ve never known a really good day until you’ve had a solid poop.

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