Has it been easy making friends in Tanzania? Well it’s certainly been a wild ride.
Tanzanian culture is by nature, very friendly. It is up to one’s self to decide which friendliness is genuine and what is simply good marketing to convince you to purchase souvenirs.
Overall however, I found it was incredibly easy to make local friends if you were willing to give it a chance. Simply by practicing Swahili with locals they would think twice about selling their merchandise to me and instead strike up a conversation. By the end of the day, I knew that if I ever came back to that part of town a week later, that person would recognize me and greet me as a friend.
These occurrences of course are surface friendships, though this doesn’t mean that things never got deeper. Most notably during my month on the coast of Tanzania, in the small fishing village of Ushongo, making connections with locals was one of the highlights of my stay.
Between my remedial Swahili and a local with decent English, a wonderful conversation could be had. I made acquaintances with the local bartenders, fisherman, fellow travelers, and NGO managers, exchanging with each stories of our lives thus far. After befriending the owner of a local beach lodge called Drifters, I realized how important making these connections were. Tuma first came off as a stern woman, but after she warmed up to us, she became one of our dearest friends, saving my butt with arranging a new computer charger to be sent from a bigger town via motorcycle, providing us with a home cooked meal, and sharing her experience and wisdom of Tanzanian and coastal culture. Her son was our age and he became a pal of ours as well, driving all the way up from Dar es Salaam to visit us during our second time at Ushongo. This family is one I won’t soon forget and I know if I ever return to Tanzania I have friends to visit.
In terms of friendships within my SIT program, well that’s a story in itself. This program was made up of 21 students — 21 students who essentially spent 24/7 in shared close quarters with each other. We became a family. We had our ups and downs, like any big family, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine a better group to spend these past 3 months with. It was impossible not to fall in love with each and every persons’ quirks, admire their drive and intelligence, or laugh and cry as I experienced the Tanzanian environment by their sides. Perhaps it helped that we were in a specialized program: wildlife conservation and political ecology–meaning we were bound to share some common interests. Yet, these students came from all walks of life: east coast, west coast, the south… private schools, public schools… majors in education, engineering, sociology, film, biology, and environmental studies. The diversity in our group only brought us together because despite our differences, we were all experiencing the triumphs and struggles of Tanzania… together. Without this group, without these specific, wonderful people, my time in Tanzania would never have been as amazing as it was. I will look back years from now and not simply remember the elephants and baboons breaking into our camp, the challenge of my Maasai homestay, or the difficulty of using a squat toilet — but I will remember these friends that I bonded so strongly with. The friends that challenged me to think deeper, sing and laugh louder, and cry harder than I ever have while saying goodbye. But with these friends, I know that that “goodbye” is really only a “see you later”.