One of the most memorable experiences of this trip to Tanzania has been seeing the local villages and how the indigenous people live here. While we only got a small taste of this, I expect it will have a lasting impact on us. We found it educational, upsetting and also eye-opening. After speaking with some other (more prosperous) locals, it was explained to us that while these people live in poverty, it is not acute poverty – that you see more inland. By living in coastal regions, these people always can rely on the sea and will not starve unlike their counterparts inland who have to rely on crops and cattle. We were also told that more often than not, the villagers do not want the government’s help and chose to live this difficult but yet very simple lifestyle.
There were two villages that we visited. Actually we all went to one village, Pangani, but then it was just myself and Liam that went to the one that was just down the beach from our lodge. On our first attempt to visit Pangani, our jeep broke down less than a mile from our lodge. I’m thankful that it was there and not somewhere in the middle – not only was it about 90 degrees out, but I really have no interest in being stranded in the middle of no where in a third world country. The kids were especially excited to ride back in the back of the jeep that came to “rescue” us from the break down.
We tried again the next day and success!! Pangani was not that far away from where we were staying, about 14km or so, but driving on the dirt roads, it still took about 40 minutes to get there. Because of the issues with the jeep, the managers had hired a local taxi driver to take us to the ferry that would enable us to cross the river into Pangani. As expected, the small village where the taxi was dropping us off was extremely downtrodden. The driver went to park the car as he was going to cross the river with us to meet our guide.
And let’s be honest, we were literally the only white people there. We were now alone. And it was uncomfortable. It felt like everyone was staring at us. I’m used to being around a mix of people of all different races and to be the only ones, it just felt incredibly strange. I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe but had concerns, not because of race, but because we stood out as being much more affluent than these people – and we’re in a third world country… and could someone actually attempt to kidnap us? It sounds ridiculous in hindsight but at that moment, I just know how uncomfortable I was. But since the managers insisted that the taxi driver cross the river with us (which was not very wide – it literally took 2 minutes to cross), to me that meant we had reason to be concerned.
At this point, Aidan started to cry. He kept saying he couldn’t do “this”. “This” being a tour of such a poverty stricken area that he was not just scared, but very uncomfortable. It was heartbreaking to see how upset he was. I can’t say I blame him as I felt the same but as a parent, this is the moment of truth – do you let them go back because they aren’t comfortable or do you insist they move forward because it’s a teaching moment and you feel that this is an important life lesson? Yup, we went with the latter. I think he hated us for a few moments, but my hope is that someday he’ll get it and understand why we pushed.
We met our tour guide in front of the post office. It was interesting that an area that is so obviously poverty stricken had so much signage in English. It’s not the official language of Tanzania – it’s a secondary language. So to see it in an area where there is so much poverty gives hope towards improvements in the importance of education. Don’t take this to mean I think that “everyone must speak English”. I don’t believe in that. But the fact that they are trying to learn a universal language said something to me.
By village standards, Pangani is considered to be big with about 5000 residents in the Pangani proper area. Some even have cars which is more than we have seen so far in our few days in Tanzania. But where there is “prosperity”, there is also poverty with many homes not having indoor plumbing or electricity.
The tour was only just over an hour but with the oppressive heat, it felt like much longer. But our guide was incredibly informative and imparted so much knowledge about Pangani’s history to us. They had been conquered by Arabs, the German and finally the British before gaining freedom in the early 1960s. During the Arab times, this area was known for being a slave trading hub. We even saw the area where the slave markets were held.
I couldn’t decide if things were getting better or worse here as we walked. There were small bits of technological improvements that we could see – internet cafes, the vodafone “shop” and things like that. Our guide told us that much of the technology they get is second hand as they are able to buy those things much cheaper and much of it comes from China.
So we would see these small steps towards improving their conditions and I’m not sure that technology necessarily would be considered an improvement – I personally would say indoor plumbing and electricity should come first. But regardless, you see these small improvements but then you see the living conditions with homes that in most places would be condemned and you have to wonder how it is that people can live like this. In addition, there is a blatant disregard for taking care of mother nature – trash everywhere which I can only imagine adds to contamination issues. I asked about this and the guide said that the government is trying to teach the locals about taking care of the environment but that not all are on board or understand the consequences to this kind of behavior. It’s a shame to see because it’s only going to make things worse for them before it ever gets better.
We saw how the locals lived. Beyond seeing their homes (though we did not see the inside of any), we were able to see things like the outdoor kitchens that are shared between neighbors and their markets.
We also went to the market area. Stalls upon stalls of Chinese goods to buy. It reminded me of the euro store or dollar stores but much more compact. Some stalls had various foods as well – fruits and vegetables.
The next day, I went down the beach to the local village. By contrast, the local village was very different than Pangani. First off, it was much smaller. It had a much more close knit feel, though everyone did seem to know each other in Pangani. But Pangani village itself had about 5000 people living there – this one had maybe a few hundred – a big difference.
One of the workers at the lodge actually lived in the village and offered to take me to visit and walk through with me. Aidan opted out of this tour and since I made him do the big one, I acquiesced and Josh stayed behind with him. Since the village is just down the beach, I would often see the locals in the morning when I was up taking pictures of the sunrise. Being a fishing community, you would see people out fishing very early or heading to jobs that sometimes would be outside of the village like at the lodges nearby.
Sometimes the locals would also walk along the beach trying to sell their wares. As there weren’t many people on the beach, I can’t imagine this is very prosperous for them. But then, tourists are suckers and I suspect that the villagers know that they can take advantage. When you live a life like this, you learn to survive in any way you can. And yes, I was one of those suckers. I made the mistake of looking up from my book while sitting on a chair a little too close to the beach and there were local women with necklaces. They were simple beaded necklaces and really not my style but I thought, what the heck, I’ll buy something and hopefully it will help them even just a little bit. I went inside to get some money and that’s when the issues started. Her prices kept changing and suddenly she had other things and I liked this bowl that I thought would be nice for our babysitter. I knew I was being overcharged and all I had was euros, not dollars but euros are worth more and I tried to explain that. Finally she ran to get someone from the lodge (who ended up being my tour guide of the village a different day) and he worked with us both to get the price correct. I still overpaid for my two things – a necklace and a small bowl. And after that I learned to keep my head down (though I only saw them one other time in our 7 days there).
Back to the tour… As my tour guide explained to me, fishing is the way that many of the people in this village make money. The other way is business. While you wouldn’t expect it, there were a few little stores set up in huts selling general store type of goods and another that had cell phones believe it or not.
I had been told there was a painter in the village named “Leonardo da Vinci”. Yes, you’ve probably heard of him 😉 Anyways, he sells a variety of goods along the beach and so that was our first stop before officially entering the village. This was perfect since I wanted to pick up a few things to bring back with us. I suspected a few things might not have been made right there (like the scarves) and I feel he way overcharged me (also asking if I was paying in USD or shillings) but my thought process was that if I could help out even just a little bit by overpaying than so be it. What’s an extra $10 out of my pocket if that can help feed his family or give them some little luxury that they might otherwise not have? That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel a little bit manipulated because I did, just like with the women before.
Compared to Pangani, the village felt more organized and by far much cleaner. These homes were situated within feet of the beach. There wasn’t trash on every corner. While properties were very small, they looked clean and decently maintained, making the most of the natural resources they have at hand. While they don’t have much, there was a definite pride in what little they did have. As my guide wasn’t an official tour guide, he didn’t have much to say as far as the history of the village or anything like that but he was able to give me some insight into the local life and how the people here make their livings, where the children go to school, etc etc and it gave me a very different perspective on village life. This is a very difficult life, but it is also a much simpler life than what we are used to.
There was even a library filled with books from different countries. My guide explained that the man who runs this library does it on his own free will as there is an actual library not far from there – but in this library, he also teaches the village children. There is a school about 30 minutes by foot but he feels that the children need more – and so when he sees them out playing, he will often call them over to encourage them to read and learn and the children are very receptive to him. This man is trying to make a difference in the lives of these kids and it was so heartwarming to see. He is trying to teach them some English, yet he did not seem to speak much himself. There seems to be a desire to improve upon their lifestyle and give these kids opportunity, though not all the villagers necessarily follow this notion. But it was nice to see someone was trying to give them a chance to do better in life.
Speaking of kids, they all seemed genuinely happy. They were unspoiled. They listened well. They worked when told to work. I think all our kids could use a little bit of this hard knock life these days. Liam didn’t seem to know what to make of things and kind of hung out in the background.
Like any city, town or village in the world, there were obvious differences between who had money here and who did not. Some had electricity, often the business owners, and many did not. Some homes had what appeared to be concrete foundations, many did not. And so on and so on…
The experience of visiting both of these villages has been eye opening for all of us, especially Josh and myself. You read about the poverty in Africa and you see it on tv, but there is nothing like seeing it first hand. These people seemed kind and friendly and were always giving us a little wave of hello or saying hello when we came across them during walks on the beach. They did not seem saddened or disheartened by their lives – at least as far as things appeared. And as I mentioned before, these two particular villages are considered to be in poverty but not acute poverty which means as far as the government is concerned, they aren’t doing so badly and people aren’t dying left and right. I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge to judge the government or the villages to know who is doing what and for whom or enough insight to know if this lifestyle is truly a choice or their lot in life – a few hours spent is not experience enough to truly establish that kind of opinion but I can say that based on what I saw, I am beyond thankful for all that we have and the opportunities that both Josh and myself as well as our children will have based on the country in which we were born and raised. So tonight when you ring in the New Year, give some thought as to how lucky we all are to have the wonderful things that we have including a roof over our heads, electricity, indoor plumbing and more… not everyone in this world is so blessed.