• Ken Baeza

5 Things I Learned about Tanzania

My UWC journey is finally over.

Less than a week ago, I came back home after graduating from high school at UWC East Africa, Tanzania. It has been two wonderful years, and while I would like to share about the lessons I learned by living in the super-diverse environment of UWC, this entry is dedicated to things that I learned about Tanzania by living there.

To be specific, there are 5 things that I learned. The first one of them is the "Pole Pole" culture, or the "Slowly, Slowly" or "Easy, Easy" culture. Basically, the Pole Pole culture is Tanzanians' way of life - a philosophy of life that revolves around not stressing about things and taking everything easy. While at first it was hard to adapt to this Pole Pole environment (especially because it would lead to people being slightly lazy or late for appointments), with time I came to realize that the Pole Pole culture also leads to a more peaceful and worry-free life.

The second thing I learned is that they have a very funny and healthy rivalry with their neighbor Kenya. By living two years among Tanzanians (and some Kenyans), I came to learn that Tanzanians are constantly trying to emphasize how better they are compared to Kenyans (I once even heard a Tanzanian saying that their Swahili pronunciation is better). Of course, this always happens in a very friendly manner, with most of these instances taking place when a Tanzanian student or teacher is teasing a Kenyan one (or vice-versa).

The next thing in my list has to be Tanzanian cuisine. I have a very contradictory opinion about Tanzanian food. Of course, I only had food from my school's dining hall, so I understand that this might not have been the most accurate representation of this country's food. Nevertheless, from what I got to eat, I must say that there are some really good-tasting plates, and others that are not that great. So, my favorite one is without a doubt, chipsi mayai. As Wikipedia puts it, chipsi mayai in its simplest form is a "potato-egg omelette". It's basically a mix between french fries and scrambled eggs. On the other hand, the Tanzanian food that I enjoyed the least was Ugali, which I like to call the tasteless dough (just google it, you'll understand what I mean). Overall, I'm not a huge fan of Tanzanian cuisine, but I'll certainly miss chipsi mayai.

During my two years in Tanzania, I got to learn some Swahili words and phrases that are used in casual contexts. We have the famous "Mambo" ("What's up?"), to which "poa" ("good") tends to be the answer; there is also "Habari" ("Any news?") and nzuri ("everything is fine"). A greeting to show respect is "Shikamoo" (usually employed by younger people to address elders), to which "Marahaba" is usually the response. Another important phrase (at least for tourists) is "Shingapi", which is the term used to ask for the price of something. Lastly, a very funny Swahili word I learned is "Mzungu". While the word literally translates to "white", the term is usually used by locals in Moshi, Tanzania (can't really speak for other parts of the country) to refer to tourists and foreigners. Other from that, most of the words I learned are just not that useful (eg: I know student is "mwanafunzi") - I know it's a bit embarrassing that in two years I only learned a handful of phrases, but don't blame me... it's harder than you think (I tried taking Swahili classes, but ended up dropping 'cause I had no idea what was going on)...

I would like the last point to be about Tanzania's social issues, but I must first confess that I lived in a very privileged sphere during my two years in Moshi. I lived in a place that had access to WI-FI, water, food, and electricity almost 24/7. So, I want to instead focus on one issue that I got to experience first-hand: the issue of government opression. During the rule of late President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, social media was completely banned to silence the opposition during and after elections. We had no access to Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, the App Store, YouTube, nor any Google-related service. The first day of the ban I had to communicate with my family back in Guatemala by exchanging documents via Drop Box, and in the following weeks I had to purchase a VPN subscription to regain access to all the banned platforms. While the social media ban was a big shock, I was far more horrified by the prohibition to spread information about COVID-19. In 2020, the Tanzanian government passed The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations. These regulations included a section addressing "Prohibited Content" - content that is simply banned, content that can not be produced or shared online. The clause that caught my attention was the one that prohibited "content with information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious diseases in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities". Given that Magufuli's government claimed that Tanzania was "free of COVID-19", the regulations implied that raising awareness about the risks of COVID-19 in Tanzania was against the law. This got even worse when a COVID-19 case was detected on campus, and we moved to online classes while quarantining in our rooms - the government came to investigate what was going on to ensure the school wasn't spreading any COVID-related message to the Moshi community. While I really don't know if there is a correlation, after Dr. Magufuli's sudden death, things have changed. Samia Hassan has become the first female president of Tanzania, and since her rise to power, the ban on social media has been lifted. I can now access all social media platforms without the need of a VPN. Moreover, Samiah has also stated that Tanzania will take action in regards to COVID-19. While there is a lot that is hidden from civilians, it seems that Tanzania's future is a rather bright one with the new president.

There are a lot of other things I learned about Tanzania during my two years there, but these five are the ones that I consider the most important. Overall, I must say that Tanzania is a very peaceful, happy, and beautiful country. Its nature is impressive, the people are kind, and there seems to be societal progress taking place. I will miss this place a lot, and I am very grateful with the Moshi community for having taken me under its wings during these amazing years.

Until my next visit to Tanzania, I have nothing to say but Mungu ibariki Tanzania!