Learning to Barter and the Working Class of Tanzania

Well, I’ve discovered a method of public transportation more terrifying than the daladala.  It’s called a tuktuk, and is a 3 wheeled scooter with a roof  (Picture a smart car with no sides).  The positive of is it that it is safe to take after dark and it’s way cheaper than a taxi.  The unpleasant part about riding in a tuktuk is that a) it has no sides and drivers in Tanzania like to swerve around, and b) they always sound like they’re about to break down or explode at any given moment.

The rule in Tanzania is that you must ALWAYS agree upon the fare before getting into a taxi or a tuktuk, otherwise they can charge you anything they want.  As a white person, they always give me the mzungo price first.  Luckily, I’ve been around for long enough that I know what things SHOULD cost.  I had to tell a driver tonight “I’ve taken this ride before for 8000 shillings; I’m not paying mzungo prices!” He did end up giving me the ride for 8000 shillings.  My next goal is to learn all of my numbers so I can barter in Swahili, because they take you more seriously when you speak the language.

Speaking of shillings, I’ve had a tough time adjusting to the rate of currency here. 1500 shillings is roughly equivelant to $1.  Even though I’m well aware of that, parting with a bill that has the number 1000 on it is a tough thing to do.  It gets even worse when I have to part with one of my 10,000 shilling bills, and I feel like I’m giving away my life savings (even though it’s only worth about $6).  It has been a bit of a surprise to me how cheap everything is over here.  I suppose I shouldn’t be, because Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world.  When I stayed with Kristen in Arusha she rented an absolutely ENORMOUS house; it was completely gorgeous and had 5 bedrooms and a huge yard.  She only paid about $150/month in rent.  Still somehow, the people get by here.  Their corner stores are made of cardboard and tin and they sell roasted corn on the roadside, but if it’s enough to make a living and support themselves then it is dignified enough for them.

It is a quiet dignity that fills Tanzania.  An acceptance of their lot in life has allowed them to carry out their work knowing that it is what they must do to sustain themselves.  They hold their heads high and work hard.  It is interesting to compare that to the views of “work” in Canada.  Very few people I know work simply just to be able to eat and have a roof over their heads.  Perhaps that is the difference.  When working is not the line between being able to live and succumbing to poverty, it is showier, flashier.  The employee at a restaurant could be working just as hard as a top-tier lawyer, and yet the difference is that one is more dignified and socially desirable.  In first-world countries you are defined by your job.  One of the first questions asked upon meeting people is “what do you do?”  Why is that the defining feature of society?  We say that in Canada and the US jobs are hard to come by.  What is meant by that is that a dignified job is hard to come by.  It is shameful for a 45 year old man let go from his job at an insurance company to take a job at McDonalds.  And why? Is he not working too?  Perhaps then he will get a sense of the struggle that goes on in third-world countries, where any type of job is rare, and finding  a job where you are making $150 a month is an incredible feat.



One thought on “Learning to Barter and the Working Class of Tanzania

  1. Remember when I didn’t know if any of the places I’d handed out resumes at would call me? My next step was to go work at the Harvey’s down the road … because money is money, no matter how you make it.


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