“Although there is no place like home, it is such a warm feeling when you can find home in a far-away place.”
– Troy Robichaud
Like many past and current IYIP interns, if you had asked me where I would be this time last year, or even 6 months ago, Tanzania would not have been the answer I would have provided. I spent the last summer travelling through Europe visiting new places and living new experiences. When I returned, I knew seeing the world was something I wanted to do regularly and that my 20s was the time for me to do it. When I found out I was accepted for the internship experience in Dar es Salaam, I was initially drawn to the unknown, the adventure and the experience I knew would come as an output of these 6 months. As time progressed, I started to learn more about the city and the country, and what I may be in store for. However, I chose not to dig too deep as there was something in me that wanted to leave some unknown. What I didn’t realize was the culture shock I was in for.
My first experience with culture shock was definitely a feeling to remember. Ironically, I initially remember feeling lost and having an overwhelming “what did I get myself into” feeling, upset with myself for not furthering my pre-departure research. My initial shock was fueled by a concoction of factors which included fatigue, leaving old friends and, of course, being consumed of the warm, humid East African air. Furthermore, when we were landing in Dar, it was evident that the rains had come, with partial flooding throughout the city. The rains had started the day we arrived and although it was a realistic representation of the city, the heavy cloud cover and semi-flooded streets did not leave Dar with the finest of first impressions. Since settling, I’ve learned Dar is a city where many people make a livelihood from selling a variety of goods along the roadside, thus making the city streets a rustling and bustling atmosphere. For some reason the rustle and bustle coupled with the presence of flooding made me think there were major issues caused by the flooding. Like many cases of assumption, my assumptions were both ignorant and wrong.
After being in Dar for a little over a week, my colleagues and I have started to better understand the city and how things work. One of the more fascinating parts of this experience has without a doubt been the people and their way of life. One of my favorite characteristics of the city is the street-side food and markets throughout. Whether you are looking for produce, locally made goods or a quick meal on the go, the streets of Dar have so much to offer. Unlike the way North Americans buy their food, there is a sense of pride in food and a connection between vendors and customers. Whenever you approach a produce vendor they are always enthusiastic to sell you their finest fruits and veggies. With these stands being the livelihoods of their owners, it’s quite common for people to drive their prices up for tourists, adding a bartering component to grocery shopping. The fun part, for me, is seeing the pride in the vendors’ persona. Vendors know their goods are either too good to give away for a cheap price, or not quite to their standard where they can often settle for a deal. This added twist makes shopping fun and places you in a direct interaction with others.
It’s these subtle differences to home that makes Dar such an intriguing place. The personal connections you make with others around you, for example at street-side markets or a security guard helping you with your bags, demonstrate some of the social differences between Canada and Tanzania. People here seem to cherish the little things in life and live in the moment. When someone speaks or gives you a helping hand, there is genuine kindness in their words and actions. There are more natural human interactions compared to North America. The western way of life often drives people to get caught up in their own lives and is evident in the way we always rush or may have our heads buried in our cellphones. Many in Dar seem to enjoy, slowing down to smell the roses.
I’ve been fortunate to have visited various parts of the North America and Europe and I’ve learned people have positive things to say about Canadians, more specifically, how we are often very friendly and polite. Furthermore, being from New Brunswick and spending numerous years in Newfoundland, I’m very familiar with what good hospitality is, something I’m proud to associate with my conception of home. This experience, in only a few days, has taught me so much about genuine human interaction. It is amazing how things as simple as a smile and having a stranger ask how your day is going can mean when you feel overwhelmed and out of place. Being a foreigner and visible minority, I appreciate the positive vibes people I’ve met have shared to-date, a feeling I definitely do not and will not forget and will take with me for life, being able to relate to the tourists and expats living in Canada.
What I’ve taken from the past 10 days is that no matter where you are in the world, there is always something to remind you of home. Fortunately for me, I got over culture shock through the interactions I’ve had with those from the area who had gone out of their way to help and be kind to a dazed Canadian. I am so excited about the next few months knowing there is only more to learn, places to see, people to meet and experiences to live. I truly hope everyone can experience the infectious feeling of genuine hospitality that I’ll forever cherish.