Tanzanian Mentality

One of the most powerful reasons to travel is to learn about new cultures. Yet, I usually find myself very reluctant to answer questions like “How are Hungarians different from Belarussians?” or “What are people like in US?” because there are different people everywhere and I generally dislike generalizations. With that in mind, I wanted to jot down my fresh impressions about the Tanzanian mentality – yet another white person’s attempt to make sense of a culture different from their own.

My mostly Dar-based business interactions have been very pleasant, with people cheerful, friendly, and co-operative. Communicating and coming to a common agreement seemed very easy – deceivingly so, for I soon discovered the so-called “Tanzanian aspirational present tense”. This term, coined by fellow volunteer consultants, refers to an experience of having a conversation with someone, using English present tense, and realizing at a much later point in conversation (or after it) that the facts discussed were aspirations as opposed to actual events and your understanding of the current situation is way off mark. This attitude towards reality also applies to the future – I almost never hear actual “no, I can’t” or “no, it’s not possible”, and commitments are dropped surprisingly easily.

A smile or a laugh is the answer here to many questions, and many times this is what you’ll hear instead of “I don’t know”, “I disagree”, “I won’t do it” or “Sorry, I did not do it”. It is pleasant to be around people who seemingly endorse the “hamna shida” attitude (the proper Swahili way to say “no problem”, as opposed to the Kenyan variant “hakuna matata”), but is frustrating to get anything done.