I was 22 when I took my first trip abroad, and it was to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
So my traveling-self was a bit of a late bloomer, but when I dived in I REALLY dived in.
What was it like to go from over two decades in a familiar, “safe” Western bubble, to one of the largest cities in Eastern Africa? My strongest memories include:
BEING ROBBED WITHIN 3 HOURS OF ARRIVAL
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to learn how to be a more self-aware, cautious traveler. I was too trusting (or maybe I just didn’t think at all).
(Obvious) Lessons Learned:
- Your hotel room might not be the most secure.
- Especially if your key looks like an old-fashioned skeleton key (it was – the same key unlocked every room in the hotel).
- Carry your valuables on you at all times.
- AT ALL TIMES!
HOLDING A BABY FOR THE FIRST TIME
I was simultaneously in love with this little lady and absolutely terrified of her.
I came to Tanzania with a medical missions group, and my job was to provide childcare while patients saw the doctors and nurses. Traveling as a volunteer is definitely a way to make your trip more meaningful.
TRYING TO HAGGLE FOR THE FIRST TIME
One day we went to Mwenge Woodcarvers Market to buy some souvenirs, and we were expected to haggle for anything we bought. Not haggling was rude, seen as treating the artisans like a charity.
While I was okay (but awkward) when negotiating over a beautiful hand-carved mancala game, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for any lower than the advertised $1 for some earrings. They were already too cheap!
Another shock to my western worldview: shopkeepers would run to me on the street, grab my arm with barely an introduction, and drag me to their stall. “You shop here, you shop here!”
MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF A WILD ANIMAL
It was absolutely surreal to see these beasts in wide open spaces, never knowing what kind of creature you’d stumble upon next. Plus there were baby animals – I am an absolute sucker for a baby animal! Who isn’t? 😉
I highly recommend scheduling a safari through Mikumi National Park.
SWEET MOMENTS OF GENEROSITY
Before I returned back home, I was given beautiful traditional clothing and jewelry from some new friends, which I valued more than any of the souvenirs I bought for myself.
And what I remember most about Tanzania (and about many of the countries I’ve visited since) is the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the people I met there.
I have felt welcome everywhere I’ve gone. There are always people eager to talk to me, more than willing to help when I find myself in trouble, and overly generous with their time and gifts when they want to express friendship and hospitality.
I think about these people often, and I hope that they would receive the same treatment if they were ever to visit a western country.