I am not 100% sure why, but lately I have been receiving marriage proposals on a more regular basis. Maybe it is all the Tanzanian clothes I have accumulated, or the cornrowing of my hair, but in the past weeks I have been averaging 3 proposals a week. Yesterday I was sitting in my usual mgahawa (small restaurant) chatting with the ladies there. Everyone who I know well in the village knows I have a fiancée in America. I have found the “sorry, already taken” response to the marriage proposals to be most effective. The ladies kept asking about him (I should become a writer after this–I’ve become so pro at making up stories). They asked me how medical school was coming for him, when we were going to get married and, most importantly, when is he coming to visit.
They then began to ask me what would happen if I married a Tanzanian, or if my fiancée found someone new. I explained to them that this wouldn’t happen, as we love each other very much. They just kept hounding me with what-ifs, however. This brought to mind some conversations I was having with some other volunteers this weekend in Iringa. Recently, a RPCV I know ended a three-year marriage with a Tanzanian. The reason: too many cultural differences. Culture is such a big part of who we are. No culture is more right than another, but to jump these cultural issues in a relationship seems awfully difficult. I love Tanzanian culture–its pride, friendliness, and beauty. That being said, a big majority of my frustrations also arise on account of these cultural differences. Tanzanians care so much, but about very different things than Americans.
Tanzanians love the appearance of things. For example, cell phones. A teacher recently came to me and asked me to buy my cell phone. He had just gotten a brand new, snazzy looking phone for 140,000 tsh (about $90). It looks like a blackberry, but is a weird brand I have never heard of before (what they call a Chinese phone—or—fake). The Internet didn’t work because it is a fake phone. My phone, on the other hand, is a Nokia (real phone) that I paid 80,000 tsh (about $50) for. Now my phone isn’t super snazzy looking, but it is incredibly functional, with Internet. Americans care much less about appearance, and focus their sights on function and efficiency.
Everyday, I wake up to the sound of sweeping. My neighbors think it is incredibly important to sweep the dirt on the outside of their houses every day. Uh…yeah. Weird that there is dirt outside, right? Ha, again, something that is super important to Tanzanians, but to an American seems trivial.
I am not trying to say that one culture is more right than another, it is just interesting to see how much culture shapes us. Even the most cosmopolitan, westernized Tanzanians focus their sights on things I would never in a million years deem important. Americans focus on timetables, schedules and efficiency. Sitting through a Tanzanian meeting, I find so much time is dedicated to the small things that do not seem important to me. I get frustrated because we never get to the matters that really do…well, matter.
I find it frustrating, but I am sure they would find it just as frustrating coming to America and seeing the coldness, how we care less about the people involved and more about the work. How schedules rule our lives. This culture, this way of thinking, although not bad, is a big reason (I surmise) for Tanzania’s lack of development. When you care more about appearance than functionality, when you put more focus on surface greetings than truth, less is accomplished. Nothing can change until people change their thoughts, and when your thoughts are deeply embedded in your culture it is a difficult thing to change. This also brings me to the question of whether it is worth it to change such a beautiful (albeit frustrating) culture for the sake of development?