Ruth Urquhart is a freshman at the University of Utah. She recently traveled to Tanzania to volunteer and spend time at the United Nations tribunal for the Genocide in Rwanda. In this photo essay, she shares some of her first impressions of the land and people of Tanzania.
Over the past five years I have been lucky enough to do some traveling and explore other countries. My trip to Tanzania, however, was a completely new and eye-opening experience; it was my first time to a developing country. I expected to see poverty, sadness and desperation but was thrilled to see joy, kindness and gratitude everywhere I looked.
It was hard to see at first – because the people are so cheerful – but there is significant poverty in Tanzania. It takes most families years to build a home. They build these homes brick-by-brick, a little at a time. Most families live in huts made of mud bricks, with no electricity or running water. When you ask them about their circumstances, however, they smile and say “I’m grateful for my home.”
The Tanzanians I met were humble, generous and happy. They welcome strangers into their homes for as long as the stranger wishes to stay without asking anything in return. The moment a Tanzanian learns somebody’s name he or she will turn and proclaim, “This is my friend,” as if they’ve known each other for years. They have a very positive outlook and easily roll with the punches.
Most adults in Tanzania know three languages. Some speak their native tribal language at the feet of their parents. Swahili is taught and spoken as the common language in all elementary schools. English is taught and spoken in all secondary schools. Tanzania is a fascinating place because it has done what no other country in Africa has: united the hundreds of native tribes with a common language.
When a death occurs, Tanzanians cry, wail and scream – sometimes until they pass out – but then they move on. There is no dwelling or pity, because if there were, there would be no one to take care of the family.
When I traveled beyond any big city, I saw women carrying massive bundles on their heads. They walked along the side of the road carrying water, laundry, bananas, baskets and countless other goods, many headed to the market. The markets were full of women selling goods to help support their families. These bundles were huge. I was so impressed with the strength of these women.
Members of the Maasai tribe dress in traditional tribal clothing. More than 260 tribes live in Tanzania, but very few have chosen to remain steadfast in their native customs like the Maasai.
Tanzania was a magical country for me. The experience was full of contradictions and surprises that have changed the way I see the world.