tanzanian food


Staples in Tanzania

Kuku na Chipsi (roast chicken + fries), Konyagi (“the Spirit of Africa”), Krest bitter lemon soda, Mirinda blackcurrant soda, Mbege (home-brewed beer with millet and banana), and all the fresh fruits you can have. Oh! I forgot Ugali, a big plate of cooked “stiff porridge” made of maize flour. We don’t like it but it’s probably useful if you have stomach issues and need something really simple.
Dal is to Nepalis as Ugali is to Tanzanians. We definitely prefer the former!

Striking a Balance

I’ve been told many times by Tanzanian men that they would like to have a white girlfriend or a Western wife, not without a hint of suggestion. I usually laugh with them and say something along the lines of “not this one!” and everything blows over in good humor. It’s not always the case that I can so easily avoid the uncomfortable issue presented to me because of my gender, and in this case, my color. Especially when I travel alone, I have to prepare myself to be extremely direct and assertive with men who go too far in flirtatious banter. I was expecting this scenario to occur more often than it has in Tanzania. Could I get a marriage proposal in two minutes from now if I were trying? Yes, but at least the men have been very respectful. I’m glad that I have Sal with me because I can be more friendly than I would be otherwise.

In trying to immerse myself in other cultures, there’s always a tricky balance to be struck in playing the role of my gender. Mrs. Chingula and her 15-year-old daughter cook, wash everyone’s hands before each meal, wash the dishes, and do the laundry. They never share meals with us, even though Mr. Chingula does. They don’t bow to their knees and wait for men to ask them to rise like women do in Uganda, but there remain aspects of the gender roles here that make me uncomfortable. It clearly pleases everyone when I join the women in their tasks, but I try to do so while both fully respecting the women despite my differing opinions and upholding my identity and values. I would never bow to a man or do anything else that felt degrading, but I also recognize that various African gender roles, like various Western gender roles, are larger than the individual alone. They have to be placed in a historical context in which actors have room to change but aren’t blamed for operating under inequalities taught to them from birth.

I want to make it clear that I’m not comparing Tanzanian women as “being degraded” to Western women as being “liberated.”  Gender issues are still very much alive in every society that I’ve spent time in, and it would be ignorant of me to talk about the women as if they have no active role in their lives. If I dare to make a prescriptive remark: women in less developed countries need more education. More education for women means lower birthrates and makes every aspect of community life healthier. For now I’ll leave it at that.

I will learn how to cook Tanzanian food with Mrs. Chingula and enjoy it because I love to cook. I will also continue to smoke an occasional cigarette even though it’s scandalous to see a woman smoking here. And maybe I’ll accept a few marriage proposals if they play their cards right.