A Dose of Tanzanian Culture

Day 1

Very long flights starting in Tampa, 1 1/2 hours to Atlanta, 8 hours to Amsterdam, 8 hours to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. I am not going to bore you with details; suffice to say it was long and tiring. We arrived safely and were transported to Planet Lodge in Arusha for two days of rest and exploration before beginning safari.

Day 2

Our first day here was spent exploring the “city” of Arusha. Our guide, Emmanuel was a wealth of information on the local culture. We began with a stop at the Cultural Heritage center, which you can check out at http://www.culturalheritage.co.tz/. The center has displays of artwork by local and well known artists which includes sculptures, carvings, artwork, jewelry and gem stones, etc. and so much information on the culture of the people of Tanzania. A few tidbits: Tanzanite is a beautiful blue precious stone found only in Tanzania.

Unemployed men waiting for day labor opportunities
Unemployed men waiting for day labor opportunities

The carvings and exhibits included depictions of everything from slavery and Maasai tribal history to renderings of the wildlife that Tanzania is famous for.

Depiction of slavery at Cultural Heritage Center
Depiction of slavery at Cultural Heritage Center

The next stop was a drive through Arusha to the “downtown” area, to the people’s market, where Tanzanians get food and goods. Along the way, Emmanuel explained much about the culture, and I have included some pictures illustrating this (many shot out of the window of our vehicle. so forgive the quality). Most Tanzanians are of the Maasai tribe, which maintains many of its unique customs in a rapidly changing world. There is an incredible mix of old and new; modern vehicles share the road with motorcycles, bicycles, carts, and pedestrians. Arusha-1-2The mix creates a traffic dynamic that rivals New York City in its own way! Cows, goats, sheep and chickens are plentiful along the side of the roads. Approximately 40% of adults in Arusha are unemployed, as many Maasai migrate to the city from rural areas. Emmanuel explained that a few wealthy people or companies hold most of the land and wealth, and the majority of the people are poor. On dusty roads, we passed many men who were hanging out along the roads waiting for day labor, or hoping that their motorcycles might be hired as a taxi.

  Men pulled carts with goods as varied as grass, flip flops, animal feed, etc. The women wore traditional Maasai garments, and carried loads carefully balanced on their heads without difficulty. Arusha-7I found it interesting that most of our guides have Christian names (Emmanuel, Patrick, James), as 60%  of the people are Christians, and only 40% Muslims, with many churches around, but few mosques. Not what I expected, and just so reflective of the diversity and surpassing uniqueness of Tanzania culture.

Arusha-1Next, we headed through “downtown” Arusha to the people’s market, which is where most Tanzanians get their goods. Again, a fascinating experience of Tanzanian culture. Available items included every possible edible fruit and vegetable, herb, spice, textile, dried fish (many sardines from Lake Victoria), meat (carcasses hanging up in plain sight) that you could imagine was available in the market. There was a separate women’s market, in which all goods were placed low and the women sat, and the men’s market, where goods were placed higher up and only men sold goods; I could not quite understand Emmanuel’s explanation for this. Arusha-10Most interesting was the medicine stand, which contained a huge number of roots and powders, and was operated by two older Maasai medicine men. Most Tanzanians do not trust modern medicine, doctors and hospitals, and still rely on natural Maasai medicine. The medicine men did not want their pictures taken, but were gracious in explaining what many of the herbs and powders were for.

Men's area of the market
Men’s area of the market

Almost all the vendors offered us samples, and answered questions through our local boys. We were the only tourists there, and thanks to Emmanuel and several local boys, we were able to experience this firsthand. on the way back to the car, we saw two blind women and their children sitting by the side of the road, playing music for money, which really moved me. Arusha-16 All in all, Arusha is a blend (or clash) of traditional and modern that makes it such a fascinating culture. Emmanuel cautioned us against eating local food, and took us back to the hotel for lunch.

After arriving back at the hotel it was a dip in the pool, then a shower and dinner.  Then back to the room to look at and edit photos (DUH, of course) for the next few hours. It was a great first day in Africa, and was a wonderful introduction to the people who make it possible for us to see what I think will be one of the most amazing places in the world. We embark on safari tomorrow, and hope to be able to bring you  what we really came here for. A tidbit to look forward to: One of the GoodEarth guides advised us to eat a good breakfast tomorrow so that we could provide a good meal for the tse tse flies.  Great….. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned! 

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sheep carcasses for sale in the buther's area
sheep carcasses for sale in the buther’s area
Beans, nuts and spices in the market
Beans, nuts and spices in the market
Dried sardines are plentiful and used to make soup
Dried sardines are plentiful and used to make soup


5 thoughts on “A Dose of Tanzanian Culture

  1. This is fabulous, Kathy!! SO interesting… Keep up the great writing… But of course, first and foremost, take it all in!!


  2. I know you’re just going to have a wonderful time. But, if you didn’t bring Benadril, ask the guide to stop at a Pharmacy on the way out of town and get some. Tse-Tse fly bites are NASTY. Thank goodness Yvonne had brought a Benadril Pen with her or we all would have scratched our legs off.

    Love your narrative. Can’t wait to see the next set of pictures and read your stories.


  3. Sounds like you are really enjoying the local culture, thanks for the pics, gives us a real sense of the city and it’s people. How was lunch? I am all about the food can you add more info? hehe


  4. I loved your narrative too. Very descriptive. thought I was there. I love “real” markets. I used to frequent them often when I lived in Mexico. So interesting that the men & women have different markets. Men & women were separated on the Metro in Mexico City during the rush hours. It was heavenly not to be grabbed or worry about being grabbed. The atmosphere with all women on the metro was very festive. Looking forward to more photos and stories.


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