Money Matters in Tanzania
Money, matters a lot in Tanzania. Not that it doesn't anywhere else, but in Tanzania it is so much more pronounced. From the very moment we landed it was very clear that we, Wazungu (white people) are considered filthy rich, and so it’s ok for us to be charged much higher prices, because we can afford it. Needless to say, this is an approach that did not go down well with us. Even though we are coming from a European country, like most of the people, we do work hard to earn a living. But, let’s try to look at it from the eyes of Tanzanian citizens. These people have heard over and over again, that they are a third world developing country in need of help. So it’s easy for them to think that they live in extreme poverty, and so they look at tourists as if they are walking money. Just to be clear, there are poor people in Tanzania, perhaps more than in other countries, but we consider Tanzania as quite developed and also very rich in resources.
Our very first encounter with greed for money was as soon as we landed at the Airport in Dar es Salaam. We knew beforehand that Passport Control Officers are well known for tactics to get bribes, so it was not a surprise when these three Wazungu with a strange looking passport were questioned. First came the obvious question “Is this your first time in Tanzania?” If the answer is “Yes”, then you probably would not know that it’s very normal to bribe in such circumstances. Then came the second question “Why did you pay for a visa to visit Tanzania? Visitors from your country do not need a visa. Do you have anything to hide?” Being aware of these tactics, we replied that we opted for a visa to be on the safe side, which was actually true. When questioning continued along the same lines for a few minutes, we told the officer that we are going to call our Embassy (always have their number at hand) so that they can guide us accordingly. This is when the questioning died off, and we were able to head out and get a close encounter with the touts outside.
We arrived at Dar es Salaam at 3am. Not really the best time to arrive in a totally new country. As expected, outside was full of touts wanting to sell taxi rides, sim cards, tours, internal flights, you name it. We ditched the touts and went to buy an Airtel Sim Card from an Airtel official booth which was open. There was also an ATM just outside the airport to the right hand side. Then, not realising that Coastal Airlines offer free transfer, we opted for an ‘official taxi’ to transfer us from International Flights Terminal to Internal Flights Terminal. The ‘official’ taxi cost $10 for a five minute drive and we were dropped off at the airport three hours before the opening time. This got us away from the barrage of touts at the international terminal, and were it not for the company of some really gigantic cockroaches, we would say that we were alone and at peace.
In terms of currency, we found that people in Zanzibar prefer Tanzanian Shillings, whilst those around Arusha and Serengeti prefer Dollars. We made sure that we had just enough of the two currencies to get us through. We were bitten a couple of times, especially when we offered to pay in Tanzanian shillings whilst the price was set in Dollars.
At Nungwi beach, you will encounter many people selling all sorts of souvenirs. At first we got quite annoyed with their persistence. You really cannot enjoy more than a minute of peace without someone asking “Where are you from?”, “How are you?” and “Buy something?”. Then we decided to talk to one of the men and quite frankly we saw a different side of the story. These people earn their living by selling trinkets on the beach. If you do not want to buy, still treat the person with respect, smile and say “no thank you”. Ali, the guy we spoke to, had been talking to us over the previous three days. He remembered where we came from, and though he could not switch to Maltese language, just like they do with Italian, he spoke perfect English. Though he was very perseverant in selling (mildly put), he was also very caring when one of us was not feeling well. Eventually we bought a fridge magnet from Ali, just to remind us of him. If you happen to be around Nungwi, I am sure you will bump into him at some point, so please give him our regards!
In Stone Town there were many souvenir shops. Shop owners tend to sit just opposite their store and ask you to visit their shop. “Looking is for free” they would say. You encounter this phrase so many times, that you can guess the exact millisecond it will be uttered, but they were not pushy at all.
The love for money was also very evident in the lodges we visited during our Safari. However, we must add that this was with the exception of Kiboko Lodge! The moment you arrive at a lodge, people, generally ladies, literally swarm the vehicle to make sure you do not even think of carrying your own bag. Well, with tourists having least denomination 1000 or 2000 shillings, it definitely is very easy money. People who work in the tourism industry are very much used to tipping. In one particular hotel, even the guy who insisted on bringing coffee over from the coffee machine to our table, lingered for a tip.
Souvenir shops are something else. They took advantage of our lack of knowledge on currency and on exchange rates. Also haphazardly, prices are quoted sometimes in Dollars and sometimes Tanzanian shilling. Despite all our caution, we were bitten a number of times. In one of the souvenir shops, a lady asked for $8 for a pencil, $5 for a bookmark and $10 for a fridge magnet! After having bargained our heart out and still paid quite a high price, one of the sales persons asked for a commission for himself. As soon as we left this shop, we chose to visit the hut just outside. Here three men were carving wooden animals. We bought a wooden elephant which one of the men was making. This way we showed him that we value his work and perhaps he could earn some money directly.
When we were in Karatu, changing a punctured wheel, we also met with a guy named Assim, who makes paintings on banana leaves. We bought some paintings from him as his prices were fair and because money goes directly to his family.
We had another close encounter with greed when we visited a Maasai boma. With us, Maasai people played the game “you are rich, we are poor” very well. After having visited their mud huts, which are very easily mistaken for poverty instead of a way of life, we were taken around to buy souvenirs. The asking price was ridiculously high, we then bargained for quite less than half of what was the asking price, yet we still made a bad deal. When the deal was done, the man who showed us around took a quarter of the price we agreed upon as commission for himself, whilst the stand owner took the other three quarters. When in doubt of what the prices are, get out your calculator and ask, “How much would I pay for this at home?” Then divide by two.
On the other hand, it must be said that the Safari company we travelled with, made it clear that tips are optional and up to us how much we could afford to pay. We made sure that we tipped our Guide, our Cook and Camp Attendant well, because they gave us an exceptional service and also because they spent days away from their family to be with us.
The issue of money was perhaps the single thing which really bothered us during our trip and you will find our lessons learnt on how to handle money situations in the Tanzania Top Tips Article. We often felt that we were treated as walking money and that if we do not give it off freely, then we do not get any sort of respect. It is with a pang of sadness that we say that if there is a next time, we’ll definitely be more careful. However, this definitely did not dampen our spirits, nor spoil our fun. Also, people who treated us with genuine respect, definitely stood out. We can attest that our recommendations for businesses are based heavily on the genuineness of their services and their lack of evident greed for money.