Except for the initial frustration and difficulties at the airport cargo terminal, I have been met with extreme friendliness by everyone I have encountered here. Being the typical cynical, skeptical American, I first thought this extra-friendly behavior might have just been because I was a “mzungu” (white person) and people were thinking that they might make some money if they were “helpful.” But, after three months of living in Tanzania, I have come to realize that this is simply part of the culture here.
Everyone is truly interested in how everyone else is doing; no conversation can start without first going through a series of questions about how you are doing, how your family is doing, how your journey was, if everything is going well at home and at work, etc. You can spend five minutes easily going through the many various greetings that can be found in the Swahili language. There are so many that even after three months I am still hearing new questions and answers when I travel to town! And it’s not like the “How are you?/Fine” exchange that occurs in the States; they really want to know how you and your family are doing. I think this is because everyone, including strangers, is treated like they are family. You often hear people referring to women as “dada” (sister) and men as “kaka” (brother). And children seem to be easily passed from one person to the next when they need to be taken care of; the last time I traveled back to camp from Kigoma, a woman who got on the bus with her two small children handed one of them over to my field assistant for the whole six hour bus ride.
My field assistant (FA) seemed fine with having this small boy ride on his lap the whole way; that is, until we were about an hour from our destination. At that point in time, the boy started vomiting all over (my apologies to my readers if you have a weak stomach!). Thanks to the lovely plastic covering, the vomit was moving across the whole seat and quickly started to go everywhere. So my FA, the guy sitting next to him, and I quickly stood up; thankfully I was sitting by the window so my next move was to keep my head close to it for some fresh air. The mother calmly came from two rows back to collect her child and hand over a piece of cloth to mop up everything. Needless to say the next hour of the trip was very uncomfortable!
In addition to vomiting children, it is also not uncommon to see children peeing on the bus (I’ve already seen it twice) amongst the bags and packages that people cram between and under the seats. I have also had the pleasure of sharing a dala-dala (i.e., mini-bus) ride with a live chicken that was not at all happy about being inside a moving bus.
Transportation, in general, is VERY different here as compared to the US. There are only a few main roads and most of them are dirt, which get muddy and filled with holes, especially during the rainy season.
It is not unusual to see a car, truck, or bus that has been stuck for days on the side of the road with a flat tire, a broken axle, or some other kind of problem. If you are trying to get from one place to another, you must plan on spending at least one whole day traveling because even though there are “bus stops” in various places along the roads, the buses do not run on any kind of schedule.
People here don’t seem to be worried about schedules or timing at all; “things will happen when they happen” or “things will happen if and when god wants them to happen” are common phrases one hears (in Swahili of course!). There is absolutely no rushing to get things done in a timely manner, so you must expect to spend a lot time doing anything, whether that’s grocery shopping, getting photocopies, getting food at a restaurant, etc. This has been one of the hardest adjustments for me to make, but the longer I’ve been here, the easier it gets to forget about being “on time” (you can’t be late or on time if there’s no scheduled time to be somewhere!) and sticking to a set schedule.