A local tradition

I had this entry typed up from a few weeks ago while I was in Tanzania, but for some reason I forgot to publish it……..

Its been said that if you get invited to the home of an Tanzanian(or indeed any African) that its both a great honour and experience to you and your host.We have been lucky enough to have gotten four different invites to such an occasion. We did our research and were prepared for the local traditions that awaited us.

Basically when you are lucky enough to get invited to spend an evening at someones home, its bad manners to refuse…especially if your a foreigner like us. The Locals take great pride in inviting you to their home and unless you’ve got a pretty darn good reason not to go…you accept and be happy about it.
Taking small gifts for the family is in order. Men like tobacco or other such items, while women prefer anything that keeps down their household expenses, be it sugar, coffee, soap or a few loaves of bread! Kids of course love sweets, but you give them to the mother or else you’ll end up getting mauled in the stampede that follows.
Make sure you leave a big hole in your stomach before you arrive at the house, as the hosts will more than likely make a big play out of the fact that your not eating enough, even though you probably have eaten twice as much as they have.
Before eating, one of the women of the house appears with a bowl, soap and jug of hot water to wash your hands with. Food is eaten by hand from a communal bowl or plate…though you may be presented with a plate and cutlery, its best if you try and eat with your hands as the gesture will be valued!
When eating, you ONLY use your right hand! Eating with the left hand as we found out is bad manners and this is because the left hand is seen as a “dirty” hand…associated with going to the bathroom and the likes 🙂

Ugali is the local staple. It is generally made from maize and water which give it a porridge like consistency, or a dough like substance. Vegetables or meat is usually also served with it.
The traditional method of eating ugali as a main course (and the most common in the rural areas) is to roll a lump into a ball, and then dip it into a sauce or stew of vegetables or meat. Making a depression with the thumb allows the ugali to be used to scoop, and to wrap around pieces of meat to pick them up in the same way that flat bread is used in other cultures. Ugali can also be eaten with a spoon or a knife and fork….although as I said already this is frowned upon.

So we have had this experience four times so far in the five weeks we’ve been in Tanzania. The first time was in a little village outside Nairobi with Beatrice(see early post). When the Ugali was presented to us and we had washed our hands with the provided bowl of water we picked up the knife and fork and started to dig in! The host started laughing and she kindly informed us that we have to eat the food with our hands! I looked at Florence and we both thought the same thing…..”good old paddy’s from Ireland”!!
Anyways, we survived our first taste of Africa.

The other three invites came from the three female teachers at our school, who were more than eager to invite us to their house. When I say house I mean its a single shed about 8 foot square located somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Cooking was done outside on small little charcoal fires along with the washing. Inside the room, they have their bed, a small knee high table and two/three stools for guests/visitors. Clothes were in a ball at the end of the bed..presumably a makeshift wardrobe. And another table held everything and anything from food, butter, jam, hair brushes, pictures and other personal items. At first we were saddened that the conditions that they lived in were so basic in contrast to what we’ve been accustomed to in western society, but after a while we forgot about it and saw that they couldn’t miss what they never had.
We have been very fortunate to have experienced such hospitality. I’ve heard from people who have been living and working in Tanzania for months, that they’ve never gotten invited to a locals house to eat. Even Tanzanian co-workers haven’t invited them over to their house(yet).
We hope that we get many more invites before we go home as its a nice alternative to spending the evening at the hostel squatting mosquito’s on the porch.

I got some lovely photo’s our our visits to each house and I look forward to putting them up online when I get a decent connection again that won’t take hours to upload a small file.