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Published: October 11th 2011
This past weekend was one of the best (and most exhausting) I’ve had in Tanzania. I spent the weekend with local friends, being driven (and driving the car myself, yikes!) around Dar to meet new people, visit friends, relax by the beach, and enjoy the party scene. I met the family of one of my friends. They did not know I was coming but immediately they brought out ugali, beans, and goat meat. I found out later they were debating in the kitchen whether I would eat ugali, a traditional Tanzanian maize-based staple. But like a Tanzanian, I dug right in, refusing utensils and eating with my fingers. His mother was especially thrilled. His father and I talked economics and financial crises. And his mother showed me photos from when she visited Washington, DC.
I went to a couple of clubs Friday night that were packed with Tanzanians and a few wazungu (white people) who were an embarrassment to whites everywhere with the way they danced, although they provided a good laugh. Until 4am we drank, danced, and sang along with Bongo flava music.
Saturday was spent hanging out at the beach all day, hopping from club to club, eating fish and chips, chicken and chips, and more chicken and chips. We watched the sunset while Bongo flava and American hip-hop blared from the speakers at the bar. At random points in the evening, people would stand up and start clapping and cheering each other on to dance, or would even stand on the table to bust a move. Lovers would take walks down to the water, and single men would eye up full figured women as they walked by. Local beers and cigarettes were repeatedly brought to the table.
Sunday I went to visit a research colleague at his mother’s home to see his new baby and wife-to-be. The baby’s name is Esther, and she was just beautiful. Only about 3 weeks old. I held her, they served me Tanzania food they had prepared for my visit, and I chatted with the family about the birthing process in Tanzania as we sat in their small living room. Leaving there I felt so happy because I knew they were happy I wanted to visit, and I was happy because they made me feel so much at home.
Sunday night my friend took me to meet one of his friends—one of the founders of Tanzania hip-hop. With inspiration from rappers like Tu-Pac Shakur, he helped start a hip-hop movement in Tanzania by writing and recording songs in his little studio he put together in his small, concrete house. He played some songs for us as we sat there in the studio, his deep, raspy voice rapping to a bongo beat. The wall was covered with foam that all visitors had signed with graffiti, a huge poster of Che Guevara, a flag with the traditional African colors, and Tanzanian hip hip record logos. He told me that in the songs he was rapping about African politics, tolerance, and female genital mutilation. He also started a campaign to do hip-hop without drugs so that kids who are into it do it in a cleaner, safer way. To him, hip-hop is not about the hustle, but rather spreading a positive message to his community and country. Now he travels to other countries and collaborates with artists around the world to write music and lyrics. This visit was another highlight of my weekend. It’s wonderful to watch people who are so motivated and creative at work. We exchanged contact information, and hopefully in the future we will work together on a project.
But I think it was Saturday night that I realized what I love about Tanzanian culture. Tanzanians work so hard because life is so difficult here. To go to school, make any kind of money, or support your loved ones is a major, major feat. Just getting transportation to a decent-paying job can be a major accomplishment, as I saw hundreds of people waiting for and being crammed into local buses on their way to and from work as we drove the streets of Dar. And so when it comes time for Tanzanians to relax, they really allow themselves to enjoy life. As one of my friends said, “I have good music playing, I have my friends and loving family, I have beer, I smoke weed once in a while. What else do I need in my life?” And everywhere we went, he would give small bills and coins to those in need.
Being the social psychologist that I am, I love watching people interact in these social situations—the clubs, the beach, in each other’s homes. And people seem to be truly happy and let themselves go when they are done with work for the day. I almost envy them, because in American culture it’s like you can go out and relax after work, but you’re always concerned with what has to be done tomorrow, or next week, or in the next year. While I would not wish to be in a position where my biggest concern was finding enough money to buy food for the next week or month, having that mentality also forces someone to be more present-minded in general, and that I envy. I try to take some of this present-minded, free-spiritedness home with me after every trip, but American culture gets in the way and I soon go back to my neurotic ways.
The other thing I started to understand better this weekend is young Tanzanian men. Once people hear that I am a psychologist and study sexual relationships and social behavior, many of them begin asking a lot of questions, particularly about love. The stereotype (and a theme that has come out in my research) is that Tanzanian men are never faithful and are always looking for variety in their sexual relationships. But what I’ve found by talking to many men is that a lot of them are frustrated because often times women will lie to them and say they love them, when really the women are just looking for money or other things. Once he has no money, he has no love. And so women are supposedly just as unfaithful as men, and men will often cheat to circumvent the fact that their girlfriends will probably cheat. This does not make for happy, trusting relationships. And because of that, there is a lot of jealousy, keeping too close of tabs on each other, and lots of unnecessary drama.
I had a long conversation with one man on Saturday night that asked me how someone can tell if people really love each other. Shit if I know. But I told him that you can usually tell by the way someone looks at you, that you can see love in their eyes or their body language. It’s not so much what someone says, but how they act. Seems as if this guy was actually in love with his long-term girlfriend, and he was ever faithful, but when he found out she was unfaithful, he was devastated. Now all he wants is to find genuine love, but with so many Tanzanian women after money only, he finds it hard to know when “Nakupenda” means “I love you” or “I love your money”. He actually teared up as he spoke to me, so I told him that some day he would find a woman who really loved him. He believed me and felt better.
The other thing I have been learning about Tanzanian men is that they make themselves very vulnerable. There does not seem to be this need to mask all emotions as many American men do. They are very emotional, and it’s kind of refreshing to see that, as it’s rare to find in an American man. And while I understand why so many women may be after men with money (survival, really), I feel sorry for these men who genuinely want to love and be loved by a good woman.
If there’s anything I’ve learned during my travels, it’s that Maslow was right—all people are the same in that we all want to be loved and to give love.
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