During my first trip in Tanzania, as we were finishing dinner in an incredible tented lodge, nestled on the slope of a forest that resembled the idea I had of the jungle, Mafia, the lodge Manager with whom we’d been talking throughout dinner, tells us : “actually, the only thing that you tourists are interested in, are the animals”. “Why do you say that », did I ask, startled to say the least as, after all, we’d been spending the last hours talking with him, interested about his life, his family, his work, his goals, his hopes… “Because tourists only come for the wildlife, they never want to visit the villagers”, did he reply with a sad look on his face.
This is when my Tanzanian adventures began 😊
We then explained to Mafia that we did not feel it adequate to wander around in the villages, such as museums visitors would do… we knew that the population which is not exposed to tourism lives with virtually nothing and that displaying our “whiteness”, our “richness” really felt inadequate… to which Mafia responded that to the contrary, the villagers would be happy to meet tourists, talk to them (our Swahili was non-existent then), to share their way of life, rather than just seeing them drive by in their safari jeeps.
Mafia arranged for Ernest, one of the villagers, who part-time works in the lodge, to take us through the village the next morning, after our breakfast.
The first family that we met, atop the hill, is this one :
They welcomed us like long-lost family members, showed us their piece of land, their mud house, composed of a dark “room” used as kitchen, where a fire was producing a good amount of smoke, the other space where all 9 family members, with the goats, were sleeping. The father invited us to share their celebration meal (boiled dehydrated fish) as we were the first white people to come to their home.
Leaving their place, they thanked us profusely, hugged us, the grand-mother had watery eyes and we were in tears. Tears of gratitude, of helplessness, of injustice. I felt immoderately privileged, without even appreciating it, and definitely too self-centered… At home, in Switzerland, would I have opened my home to passing tourists ? Certainly not….
We continued our visit downhill, stopping at every house. Quickly, the children of the village joined us, insisting that we went and greeted their parents, after having asked us whether we had sweets, pens or books, which of course we did not have, until we discovered a local shop that got swiftly stripped off its meagre stock of sweets.
Lower down the village, a very old grand-ma of more than 90 years of age (bearing in mind that most Tanzanian do not have any identity document, and don’t know neither their birth date nor year), showed us how to transform corn into flour, on a big and heavy stone, using another stone as grinder.
Touched by so much work for only a few grams of flour, we gave her a little money, the only immediate support available… happy tears were pouring down her cheeks and she started singing and dancing in joy, taking us with in the expression of her gratitude.
At the bottom of the hill, we visited the home of a man and his large family. He introduced us to his children, to his second wife. Most Tanzanians are Christians, they are all fervent believers but adapt their religion to their basic and vital needs : the first wife of this man had been lying in bed, very sick for a long time. We were not able to meet her, no one knew which disease she had caught. As his first wife could not longer look after the house, their many children, her husband, this man took another wife….
Exhausted by so many discoveries and emotions, we went back to our incredible lodge, where a fresh mango-passion fruit juice was awaiting. I was back in “my world”, in my comfort zone, that no longer felt all that comfortable and that, above all, was making much less sense than a few hours before… I had got a big slap in the face !
Narrating our expedition to Mafia and his colleagues, we found out that these villagers live with less than half a dollar per day, per household. I was shocked, more specifically because we had just paid for one night in our tented lodge, the equivalent of 20 months of food for a family… totally indecent !
I had just set foot in the double economy of developing countries ! One standard of living for the locals, one standard of living for the tourists. One price for the locals, one price for the tourists. The only existing link between these two worlds is created by those who manage to find a job in the tourism industry, those who work like dogs to send their children to school, hoping for a better future….
I had but set foot in the double economy of developing countries, I had also got to know villagers whose kindness, joy and smiles I’ve kept within for a long time… I’ve been back to this village many times, with the easy excuse to bring them clothes, pens, exercise books (no sweets though : wouldn’t it have been unfair competition ?), in short a few bits and pieces to bring a smile on their faces. In return, they have nurtured the feeling that they had triggerd… the sense of belonging !
This village has taught me a lot… to day, I’m still very grateful to Mafia for his, at first, strange comment….
Luckily, I still had 4 Tanzanian days to go !