Tanzania: 9 Things They Don't Tell You In Guidebooks

Every day in Tanzania I come across something that surprises me, confuses me, or makes me stop and look around for someone else to share a "what the heck is that" moment with. Usually there's no one else there so I just take the little Tanzania gem and be on my way. But now I have you, dear readers. So here we go, ten things the guide books won't tell you about Tanzania:

1. Every Matatu is a work of art 

These overcrowded ride-at-your-own-risk taxi vans are not only a cheap way to get around town - they are also a chance for the driver to show off his or her personality. Or just a chance to chuck some car stickers on the van - regardless of whether they make sense or are grammatically correct.

    I wonder who the actor is that gets to play this guy for car stickers?








Someone got their deities a little mixed up   All aboard the sports van

(Sorry for the crappy quality - they've all been taken on the fly during trips to the big city of Arusha)

Along with the religious and political designs I've captured here, another popular theme is musicians. My favourite so far, which sadly I wasn't fast enough to get a picture of, was "Justin Beiber vs Lil Wayne - take your pic" .. complete with spelling mistake and life size photos. Awesome.


2. There's always someone going somewhere

No matter where you are or what time it is, there will always be someone walking somewhere. For example, I"m writing this in the passengers seat on the drive from Arusha back to our village Babati. It's the middle of the night, and we're basically traversing desert. But every few kilometres there's someone walking somewhere- stick in hand, bananas on head or just the red Masai cloak wrapped around their shoulders. I like to make up little stories about where they're going or where they've come from  - but that's for another day.


3. Sand tornadoes are (mostly) awesome

I got super excited the first time I saw one. Now they just signal contact lenses that'll have to be thrown out earlier than they should because they're full of sand.


Spot the tornado 


4. The Lion King is NOT your comprehensive guide to Swahili

Yes, rafiki - the name of that lovable baboon -  means friend. But if you're coming to a Swahili speaking part of the world, do all us mzungu's (white people) a favour and add a few more authentic Swahili words to your list. I get embarrassed when I hear hawkers trying to make friends with tourists by saying words from the Lion King - as if we're too lazy to get to familiarise ourselves with real African culture.


5. Jambo is NOT a word most people use to say hello

Following on from Number 4, Jambo is a tourist version of the word hello. I have never heard two Tanzanians using the word between themselves. Hujambo, or Sijambo, yes.. but Jambo is an easy version of a greeting that I reckon some tourist guide made up to make people feel more at home, and therefore open their wallets.


6. Everyone wants you bigger

In Tanzanian culture, being fuller figured is a sign of beauty and wealth. The bigger your are - the better you can afford to eat. As a result, people I meet are constantly trying to feed me, because why on earth would a white person (and therefore a comparatively wealthy person) want to stay slim?


7. You are potential pocket money for the police

Police will pull you over all the time, often looking for any reason to get a bribe from you. Are you carrying the necessary fire extinguisher and first aid kit to be driving a vehicle? Has you insurance expired? I've even heard of officers making laws up, just to say you've broken them. I'll never forget the story MH told me about police officers he saw using a hairdryer as a pretend speed gun - imaginative if nothing else!


8. "They're poor but happy" is a cop out


The number of times I've heard people reel out that line...

Yes even poor people take joy in the good things in life. But that doesn't mean they're content with poverty! Struggling to provide food for your children.. or unable to get medical help for something small and treatable but which may well kill you.. those things don't go away because you're able to smile for a tourist's camera.


9. The beautiful things seem more beautiful here

I don't know if it's because I'm surrounded by poverty a lot of the time, but I am constantly blown away by the beauty of where I'm living. The stars seem brighter (seriously), the dusty plains look like they stretch out forever, and the sunsets are breathtaking. It's wonderful.