Adventures in Tanzania

Ben Kraemer

Tanzania is a country overflowing with African icons and remarkable national charm. It is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, incalculable baobab trees, the exotic island of Zanzibar, the famous wildebeest migration, and the heartland of Masai culture, to name a few.
So why then when I tell people that I spent a semester in Tanzania do they respond, “Oh, that place by Australia?” Feeling dejected, I usually reply, “No Grandma, that’s Tasmania.”
Even though it is sometimes overshadowed by Kenya, its neighbor to the north, Tanzania’s natural assets are expansive and surmounted only by its cultural fascinations. I was able to sample some of these assets and fascinations during the ACM Tanzania study abroad program this past fall.
I spent the first part of the program living on the University of Dar es Salaam campus along with 19 other students from other small colleges in the Midwest. Initially we stayed in dorms and later on in home stays.
I lived with a small family by Tanzanian standards which consisted of two kids and four adults, not to mention an endless flow of relatives and family acquaintances that permeated every room of the house including my own.
After only a few days I developed a very good relationship with one of my host brothers, named Amani (although he preferred the name LL Cool A, after the famous musician).
Somehow being convinced I was a famous basketball player (maybe it had something to do with my height), Amani made me promise to say hello to my friend 50 Cent for him when I returned to the U.S. Needless to say, for me, Amani was a symbol of western infiltration into Tanzanian culture.
However, Tanzania is a country of endless diversity, both biological and cultural, and so it is not surprising that I also experienced cultures where western infiltration seemed infinitely distant.
For example, I also visited the Hadzabe tribe in the Lake Eyasi Basin near the famous Ngorongoro crater. The Hadzabe tribe use a click language and are one of the last purely hunter-gatherer tribes in Tanzania.
I had the rare opportunity to join some Hadzabe tribesmen on a hunt where they shot, killed, cooked and ate a small vervet monkey. The moral implications of eating a primate aside, this was one of the most rewarding cultural experiences of the semester. I doubt that the young boy who offered me a piece of the monkey’s brain had ever heard of 50 Cent.
This cultural diversity is combined with an overarching national pride that crosses tribal boundaries. Unlike in many of the surrounding countries, most people living in Tanzania identify themselves first as a Tanzanian and then according to their tribal affiliation, not the other way around.
Additionally, Muslims and Christians live in intense proximity, relatively conflict-free. This harmony was perfectly illustrated during another unforgettable cultural moment while attending my Swahili teacher’s wedding. During the wedding, a hymn was being sung when suddenly and adjacent mosque blasted the call to prayer, interrupting the service.
To my surprise, as the call to prayer continued, the congregation proceeded to sing the hymn totally unaffected by the extreme dissonance. The Tanzanian’s ability to overlook this blatant inharmonious cacophony was ultra-indicative of the Tanzanian mindset.
Every day that I spent in Tanzania gave me one more reason to go back. I don’t think I could survive knowing that I would never again watch a giraffe run, or a Masai child herd cattle, or feel the bustle of a Zanzabarian fish market. Next time I go to Tanzania, maybe I’ll bring my grandma with me.