Kilimanjaro Culture Club

streets in the town of moshi

The streets of Moshi bustle with all kinds of merchants

The last time I visited Kilimanjaro and the people of Tanzania it felt like coming home after a very long absence. I felt their warm embrace and laughed with them as we caught up. But there has always been one part of the East African culture that has eluded me, the begging and solicitations. Tanzania and Kenya are still developing countries. So it should come as no shock to me to find myself surrounded by beggars or a group of men trying to sell me safari tours or t-shirts. But it still bugs me, and I find it hard to ignore as I walk down the street; a conspicuous tall, blond, white man. Last week I had an experience that opened my mind a little further to this one annoyance I've kept for East African culture. I was walking down one of the side streets of downtown Cincinnati, OH USA when an older gentleman leaned out the door of his old fashioned barber shop. "Excuse me sir. Do you need a hair-cut?" He asked. "No, but thank you." I replied. As I kept strolling down the street I thought to myself. 'What a wonderful, friendly place where nice barbers step right out to say hello and offer their services.' As the thought tumbled around in my head it reminded me of my experiences on the streets of Moshi, Tanzania where I was surrounded by young men barking out offers for taxi rides and safaris. What was really the difference between the two experiences? Not much really. Here in the US it's cute when Girl Scouts sell cookies on my front porch, professional when politicians stand on a street corner asking for my vote, and quaint when a shopkeeper steps out of his store to say hello. The difference between these people and the "beggars" of East Africa was really just the cultural context. Tanzania is a more personal, connected culture when people become great friends over a bus ride and then never see each other again. The same warmth and informality I loved in some situations I hated in others. I didn't get a haircut from the gentlemen in Cincinnati. But he did teach me an important lesson about culture and embracing all aspects of a foreign country when I visit, not just the fun parts. It's a lesson I look forward to testing on my next trip.
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