20 Things I Learned Living in Tanzania

I learned many things during my time living in Tanzania. Some were major life lessons about cultural differences and philosophical issues. But these aren’t them. Here I give you 20 little tidbits and quirks I learned through day to day life in this interesting part of the world.

1. The best way to avoid uninvited company in a bar is to say you’re in a “business meeting”.

It is common for uninvited guys to sit down at your table, start talking and never leave. Sometimes you don’t mind. And sometimes you do. This trick works like a charm; so much so, I even considered carrying around a file folder as a prop.

2. Everyone loves Celine Dion. Even the men.

I heard about this early on and had doubts. But, it’s very true. You’ll hear her “magical” voice in bars, over at the neighbor’s house, and even on public transportation.

Celine Dion

The driver on the right entertained us with his entire Celine playlist. His identity is protected by my thumb.

3. Public transportation will always be cheap, but never comfortable.  

And three people will indeed fit into one seat.  Buying an extra ticket for more space is totally worth it.

A Crowded Dala Dala

4. Never believe the statement “I’m on my way.”

People will say anything to keep you happy in the short term. This generally applies to most situations. I learned to follow up with “Really, or are you just telling me that?”

5. Children think all white people carry candy with them all the time.

“Hello, Pipi, Hello Pipi, Hello Pipi”… (Pipi = Candy)

This is chanted over and over again by little children everywhere you go.  Yet I never actually had any candy.

Tanzania Children

6. Glass bottles are valuable commodities.

Both beer and soft drinks come in glass bottles, but don’t even think about keeping them. Staff will keep a serious eye on you until returned. And they never forget.

7. Speaking of Coca-Cola, it tastes better in Tanzania.

I’m usually not a Coke drinker, but here it’s made with sugarcane, not corn syrup.

Coke Bottle

8. Never leave the house without toilet paper.

Enough said.

Toilet Paper

9. (For females) There are two tricks to using a squat toilet without peeing on your shoes:

Start out sitting a little further back than you think you need to and lean forward just a bit.

You’re welcome.

Squat Toilet

10. Women are stronger than men and carry all the heavy objects.

The whole concept of men carrying things for women to be gentlemen…yea, that’s a western idea.

11. Finding salty crackers is like finding gold.

In any given store you will find 8-15 types of sweet biscuits (cookies), but not a single cracker. What’s up with that?

12. Everyone must eat rice and ugali every day.

Ugali is a local staple made out of cornmeal. People here believe a meal is not a meal if it doesn’t come with a very large serving of it or rice. I never took a liking to ugali so for me,  it was all rice all the time.


Roll a little piece in a ball using your hands and add some meat or beans.

13. You must greet everyone you see on the street.

Greetings are super important and the first thing you must learn to live here. No exaggeration, but people may actually die if you don’t acknowledge them when you walk by. Or at least it seems that way!

14. At some point, everyday, someone will try to sell you a Maasai blanket.

Maasai Blanket

15. And you can get pretty much anything made with Barak Obama’s picture on it.

Skirts, blankets, backpacks, purses, you name it.

Obama Backpack and fabric

16. Football (soccer) is the only sport that matters.

Nothing else exists.

17. Always remember – two beers really equal three.

The bottles are larger and it’s easy to forget.

Tanzanian Beer

Safari was my beer of choice.

18. The best Swahili words use two of the same word.

Examples: Pili pili (spicy pepper),Pili pili hoho (bell pepper), Piki Piki (motorcycle), Boda Boda (public transportation by motorcycle), Pole Pole (slowly), Tiki Tiki Maji (watermelon).  The list goes on.  They are so fun to say, I’m not going back to the English versions.

19. The best way to say “No” is to say “Labda”.

It basically means “maybe, but probably not”.  Saying “no” doesn’t work, but “labda” is usually accepted.

20. Always use mosquito repellent at night.

I know you don’t feel them, but they’re there.


2 Responses to 20 Things I Learned Living in Tanzania

  1. AbduL March 18, 2015 at 12:07 am #

    Indeed, your views and best experience attracted me to go back home after 30yrs outside
    my birth town of Dodoma….. Tanzania is a place of my retirement.
    most welcom again!

  2. Evan March 17, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    Thank you for your observation about Tanzania.
    At least you should have stated your article with Greetings!! (Just Kidding)

    I enjoyed reading your comments about Tanzania, Just a little correction on Point no 18 above.
    Watermelon in Swahili is Tikiti Maji and not Tiki Tiki Maji as you have written it.

    Otherwise i like your comments.

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