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Tanzania Culture vs the Tourist

Cultural additions are the latest fashion when taking a safari in Tanzania. I think this is a good thing although I must admit to having one or two misgivings. The people and culture of Tanzania are wonderful and to share this culture is an inexpressible privilege.A genuine experience, a cultural encounter of the third kind should be top of your list if you are planning to pack your bags and head out for sunny Tanzania. There are, of course, many pseudo experiences on offer.

An off-the-shelf cultural tour just won't cut the mustard; you will quite simply be left feeling ripped off.Every town in high season has its groups of self conscious western tourists doing their best to fit into the surrounds, when in fact they so painful don't belong. The white skins of the northern Europeans freshly pinked from the cruel African sun. There they stand huddled into a group unsure of which way to go, what to do and looking thoroughly harassed.A good start to enjoying your cultural experience is to organise a home visit and not to try too hard. Show respect; and don't be afraid of the dreaded silence.

Sometimes it is better to accept the silence and thereby allow everyone to settle into the stillness. We in the west feel a silence is a void that must be filled at all costs. Do not fear the silence; fear being the fool who rushes in to make a noise where none is necessary.The visit to a school or better still to visit a home cannot be rushed.

Leave your watch at the hotel; it is an instrument of torment for a westerner in Africa. To share food, if offered is a must, to refuse is a slur to your host. Once you have eaten don't hang around for too long. Your host will normally wait for you to say you are leaving.

It is not rude to leave as soon as you have eaten. Many times the finishing of a meal can signal the end to the visit.Your new found friends will now be able to show you places you would not normally get to see.

You now have a personal guide who knows the area and the language, who is not trying to sell you curious or a safari you don't want. Suddenly you are not a tourist.The next stage is to progress from the home visit is short term voluntary work. These may last from a day or two to a few weeks, hospitals, schools or building projects are the norm. The experience is life changing ? for everyone. Remember, however poor you may think you are, by third world standards you not.

Do not resent your guests if they seem preoccupied with what you consider to be your money. Accept it, deal with it, and don't make into an issue of discontent.These trips can end in tears if not handled properly.

I have witnessed, very occasionally, people struggling with the local customs, living conditions, food and especially the lack of water. Plan your visit and look for an organisation, or tour operator that is able to place you in a community and situation that you will feel comfortable. Do not try to become a hard core mission worker in one afternoon.The Tanzanian people are truly friendly and love to welcome guests into their homes.

The experience is indeed remarkable for individuals or couples. The secret is to relax and be prepared for a few surprises and don't be afraid to laugh with your hosts. You will return home a better person for your experience. Be warned, that once you begin to enjoy Tanzania you will return again and again.


For more information on these issues or any relating to Tanzania see and http://www. tourism can change lives.

By: Ian Williamson

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