In this post I’ll point out a few problems arising when doing a gap year in a country that far away with such a different society.
Problems within the society
You’ll always stay white. As stupid as this might sound, as much as there might change during the stay here in Tanzania, one thing will never change. As time goes on it’s something you start noticing more and more as you try to integrate yourself into the local society and it works. It works with the people you meet and who get to know you. It is satisfying in a way to see that people notice the common image of Foreigners might not apply to you. You are not the person who comes and takes pictures of everything without asking. You speak their language and know how to treat them in a way they might not be offended. You eat their food, drink their drinks and even you have to wash your clothes with your hands. So far so good. Then comes the point, and this happens I would say every day, where you meet new people and I guarantee you, 90% of the time the same old image applies to you. Children or teenagers not greeting you with the normal Swahili phrases but with „Give me money“, random people on the street asking for things you’re carrying around with you or people expecting consideration for things like showing you which way to go. These things are annoying and demotivating, even though understandable that it happens.
Problems with friendships
This ties together with the previously mentioned statement, that you are always different and have a certain image associated with yourself by being white. You meet many people everyday on the street, it is common, and often fun, for people to just approach you and start talking to you. In theory, it would seem that it must be horribly easy to make some friends, as you meet so many people. There is two things which separate theory and practice in this case. One is the previously mentioned one. As a foreigner you are automatically, thus not by your own will, put in a higher position. Often people assume you are something better because you’re white/come from europe/have more money. E.g.: On my first day of coming to football practice, the coach introduced me and without knowing me he made me a coach as well and said for example that the practice can now also start when I’m there not only when he comes. Most of the people playing there are either my age or older than me. In a friendship I don’t really want to be in a position where it is assumed that I am something better. The second obstacle is mistrust. I’m ashamed of myself to see me creating a certain mistrust against people who I meet. This is due to the fact that I ask myself:“Why do they want to meet me even though they don’t know me at all?“ It is a fact that people often approach you because they want money, be friends with a white person or whatever, but just like that there are many many people who just want to get to know you. As I’m not in a position to judge what the reasons are, I think I have often mistreated/offended people. For me this is one of the roughest points as I like to have loads of people around me, especially good friends who I can trust and have fun with.
This is probably one of the difficulties from which I can learn the most but which is also quite a burden. Often I have to make decisions which I think are decisions a person with my experience or age can not and/or should not have to make. Often these decisions have to do with handling money. It is completely normal that people will come and ask you to lend them money for different kind of things as they know that you are probably able to do so. Often somehow people ask for sums where I myself have to calculate whether or not I am able to lend this money and how it is going to affect my own financial situation. The problem is that people do not ask you to lend them money so they can buy themselves a new big Television, but for rather serious things like for example money to cover hospital bills or paying their rent which needs always needs to be paid for the next half year in advance. This puts myself into the position where I have to decide whether I am going to restrict myself by lending money which I possibly don’t have myself or the other person can’t get medical treatment for themselves or somebody in their family. Of course morally it is completely self-evident that you give a friend or an acquaintance of yours money to go to the hospital, but realistically I would not be always able to do so. Further you also want to try to not be perceived as somebody who gives everyone the money they want as part of why we are here is to create an exchange between our cultures without it being skewed due to material issues.
These are some of the problems arising in my gap year and I thought were important to point out, especially for those who are interested in doing a gap year. As usual feel free to give me feedback on everything, especially on what you think how one can handle these problems.