One of my favorite parts of the trip were the friendships that I made. When you go to Africa you feel vulnerable, and you are. We were all sick at some point, mostly due to the new bacteria and parasites in our bodies. We all had days where we wanted to go home, and days where we thought we would die if we had to leave. Tanzania puts a lot of stress on your body and a lot of emotions in your heart. Everyone has to be very open about how their body is coping and the emotions they are dealing with so that we can watch out for each other. If someone has a bad canker sore, a sunburn, diarrhea, or is feeling down everyone on the trip knows. When you see someone everyday 16 hours a day, you get to know them pretty well. You realize what’s important to them and what they need help with. As the trip goes on certain people gravitate towards each other and make little families. Being a part of a family like that is beautiful. It is a family free of judgment, expectation, chaos and authority. I think that part of the reason we were able to make such great friendships is that we learned from the people. We learned how to love others better than we love ourselves and I hope that we can all bring that home with us.
Learning to bargain in Tanzania was a lot of fun. At first I thought I could never do it, but a girl learns. My biggest learning experience was at the Maasai Market. Men are lined up both left and right in all too literal “holes in the wall” the size of a large walk-in closet. They greet you with “Sista!” And as you navigate from about, shop owners will stop you and say “ Sista! My shop next! I give you good price!” Shopping was extraordinarily fun because it was a cultural experience. Many people wanted to trade me their product for my watch. One man asked if I had a flashlight to trade. He pointed to his and said that his didn’t work anymore. I’m pretty sure it just needed new batteries. Although all of the men claimed to have made everything themselves, we saw some of the same products again and again. Because we were clearly tourists, the shop-owners would try to charge us outrageous prices, often about three times the worth of the product. Once the shop-owners realized we knew what they were doing they would have fun teaching us how to bargain. At one point I asked a man how much he wanted for his product and then told him that he was asking too much. He responded by saying “No, now you say price.” When we really started to bargain well and get the price of the product down, the shopkeepers would tell us “I give you Africa price.” I expected our visits to the Maasai and Hadzappi to be the most influential cultural experiences, and while they were life-changing they showed us only one way of life for one group of people. While shopping we were able to see people from many different tribes use the same skills to either make a sale or a purchase. However, the most important part of bargaining was being able to interact with native people one-on-one.
Arriving in a new country, so different from my own, was indescribable. All the rules change. I noticed this the most socially. Here is Tanzania people’s idea of time, happiness and problems are so different from the U.S. Time is not linear. If the guides say lunch will be about 12:30, then it could very well be at 3:30. Any worry or problem can easily be fixed with a simple “hakuna matata!” Despite the intense poverty that many Tanzanians face, people always seem to be happy and relaxed. Things happen when they happen. No one seems to feel pushed to get things done, yet the people here are some of the most hardworking people I have ever encountered. The thing that impresses me most about the people of Tanzania is how genuine they are. They have self-confidence and are not judgmental. The people want to hold your hand, put their arm around you or call you their friend. All of this left me wondering where America went wrong. Did we trade culture and love for the debilitating pressures of being the powerhouse of the world? When did we forget about people? Tanzania has over 120 different tribes, yet the people are peaceful. When did America forget that people are just people? How do the young Americans attack this problem effectively?