1. Take the time to listen
As soon as you arrive in Tanzania you can’t help but notice how seriously the people there take their greetings. They don’t just breeze past each other shouting, “Hi, how are you?” not really interested in the response. They stop, they shake hands, they ask after family and friends and they actually hang around long enough to really listen to the answers. For someone like me, accustomed to the superficialities of British greetings, it took a bit of getting used to.
The nice thing about it is that it slows everyone down. No one really rushes about in Africa anyway, but this genuine concern shown on a daily basis ensures that neighbours take the time to get to know each other, relatives are up to date with what’s going on in their families and the community as a whole works together to ensure that those who aren’t having such an easy time of it get the help they need. It’s such a simple thing and yet it has such a huge impact on the way their society operates.
2. Welcome everyone and share everything
I often think that here in the UK we’ve lost our sense of community. Neighbours don’t pop round for the metaphorical cup of sugar anymore and you’re much more likely to see large locks on doors and security lights outside a house than a ‘Welcome’ doormat. Everyone seems to be minding their own business and keeping themselves to themselves.
Not so in Tanzania. There’s a kind of ‘open house’ policy where no one closes their door to anyone. During my several visits there, staying with an African family, I would often hear the shout of ‘Hodi!’ (Can I come in?) and the immediate reply ‘Karibu!’ (Welcome!) The guest would then be invited in and offered tea or a bowl of rice or ugali (a kind of porridge made from maize flour). No one was ever turned away, no matter how late it was, and I met some very interesting people purely because they had decided to stop by for a chat, knowing that they were always warmly welcome. If you ever get the chance to visit Tanzania, the Swahili word ‘Karibu’ is the one you’ll probably hear most often.
3. Spend time together as a family
Many people when they think of Tanzania (and Africa in general) focus on lack: the lack of resources, the intermittent electricity, the scarcity of water, the restricted internet access, but very few really get to experience the wonderful warmth of the people and the simplicity of life which makes you focus on what really matters.
The family I stay with, the Kinisis, prepare and eat breakfast together every morning, cook the food for every meal together (which sometimes involves peeling and chopping vegetables under the stars when there’s no electricity) and sit down in the evening to have dinner as a family, sharing the day’s stories and solving any problems which might have arisen. They don’t watch TV or have their faces glued to an iPad, but talk to each other and take the time to listen. They communicate in the most open and honest way possible. I think we could all benefit from a bit more of that in our lives.
4. Embrace music: sing and dance whenever you get the chance!
You cannot go anywhere in Tanzania without hearing music. It will either be the funky beats of ‘Bongo Flava’ blasting out of a passing ‘dala dala’ (local minibus), the sound of a choir’s hymns drifting up and out of the windows of a local church, groups of children playing and singing in the street or, if you happen to be in the middle of nowhere, the beautiful sing-song sounds of the exotic birds in the trees overhead. Music is an essential part of life there and acts as a kind of glue which holds everyone together.
Community events like weddings and confirmations are always loud, colourful and celebratory with dancing, shouting, singing and laughter which means you can’t help but kept swept away on a wave of excitement and obvious glee.
5. Smile and laugh as often as possible
Most of the media would have us believe that Africa is a place of hardship and misery, where one disaster is closely followed by another and day-to-day existence consists of nothing but struggle and adversity. To some extent this is true and during my trips to Tanzania I’ve witnessed pain and suffering which has stayed with me long after I’ve returned home. The amazing thing is, though, that despite these trials and tribulations the Tanzanians are some of the happiest people I’ve met and continue to astonish me with their capacity for joy and mischievous sense of humour. The one sound you will hear more than music is laughter and it’s incredibly infectious. If you’re not laughing before you arrive, I promise you you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a warm glow inside that has nothing to do with the sub-Saharan heat and everything to do with the wonderfully good-natured people.