Pole pole = slow slow; a common expression to describe the pace of life in Tanzania
After much deliberation and a few days of reflection, I have decided to write this blog post about the events of this past weekend. This is a cautionary tale for all my fellow travelers out there. It is extremely challenging when traveling to a foreign country to respect and understand local customs while still considering personal safety. My intention is not to direct blame or criticize the culture in Tanzania but rather to document what I have learned and what I am still learning.
*Warning, this post is a bit long. For a 37 word summary, scroll to the bottom.*
It was an incredibly rough but eye-opening weekend for all of us here in Mwanza. Somehow, every single one of us experienced something negative. For Kajan, it was falling flat on his face while on his way walking to the city center. For Diane, it was the death of her internet stick and the presence of a certain small lizard in her room. For myself (and all of us), it was the abundance of bats. All of the bats that live in the tree outside the house. The bats that may or may not be a vector for rabies and Ebola.
For Anisah and Megha, it was especially difficult because on Saturday while we were out, someone managed to break into their rooms and steal their laptops. To say that they were upset would be an understatement. I can only speak for myself but I felt incredibly angry, frustrated and targeted. Upon discovering the theft, we reported it to the hotel manager, Maimuna and our WHE coordinators Jessica and Bob. Erick, the manager of Rock Beach Hotel, was exceedingly shocked. In his words, “nothing like this has happened in the past two years”.
At these words, I felt a surge of anger. Because at this point in time, Erick still had not provided our rooms with lockable cabinets. These cabinets were promised to us the night we moved in. Maimuna even specifically visited all the way from Buswelu to remind him to install these cabinets. I had repeatedly approached him and called his cell phone to remind him. And every time his response was “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” During our WHE training, we were briefed on pole pole and told to expect that it takes a longer time for things to get accomplished. So we trusted that Erick would get them into our rooms. Not right away but in a reasonable amount of time. And after 11 days, someone breaks into our rooms. Sure, lockable cabinets may not have prevented a break-in but it would have been a deterrent and the outcome might have been different.
Erick quickly rounded up some suspects and brought them along with Anisah and Megha to the police station to give statements. After giving their statements, we ate dinner together while watching The Devil Wears Prada. A much-needed activity to provide a little comfort. And somehow, even during this hectic day, my fellow interns managed to buy me a birthday cake for my 20th birthday!
On Sunday, we spent the entire day waiting to talk to Erick and come up with a safer accommodation arrangement. At 9 am, he tells us to meet him outside and we go outside to meet him. He is nowhere to be found. We call him and he says that he will be back in 30 minutes. We wait an hour. He doesn’t show up. I send him a text and call him. He tells me that he is in church. We continue to wait. In the meantime, Maimuna goes out of her way to come and visit us at Rock Beach (her home is very far away). Unfortunately, she is unable to make it until 6 pm. Erick returns at 1 pm and we are finally able to sit down to talk to him. He wants us to wait for Maimuna to arrive until we start to discuss. At this point, we are extremely frustrated but we respect his decision.
When Maimuna arrives, we all sit down to talk. Erick provides us with an update on the investigation. Apparently, the owner of the hotel (not Erick) is a government official, which is why we were able to quickly get the police involved. 10 laptops were found within the vicinity (we still don’t know how they were able to collect so many laptops) but none of them matched the serial numbers of Anisah and Megha’s laptops. We also discussed alternative living arrangements. First and foremost, cabinets will be installed in our rooms. Erick also promised to get security cameras installed.
A big safety issue is that the main door to our complex is constantly left open during the day. Maimuna suggested to Erick that copies of the key be made so that each tenant can lock and unlock the front door. Erick proceeded to say that because the complex is not rented out by our group of interns, it would not be possible. Maimuna continues to insist that it is an easy fix and all he has to do is to give keys to the other tenants but Erick continues to make excuses. After a long day of waiting, we went back to our rooms disappointed.
The next day, Erick did deliver on his promises to install cabinets and security cameras. It was a nice change. As you may have noticed from my fixation on Erick, I am still bitter. In all honesty, Erick has been a great help in the past few days especially when dealing with the police. He is still working on getting the laptops back and just last night he went back to the police station to inquire for us about any new developments. The theft was not his fault, it was a combination of factors that spanned from our own inattentiveness and naivety, the public access nature of the hotel grounds (it is open to the public during the day so many people visit to take photo shoots and enjoy the view), our “no questions asked” acceptance of the manager’s excuses and the manager’s laissez-faire attitude for our safety.
From a single incident, I learned many lessons:
- Always put safety first, even at the risk of offending others.
- Reach out and always get a second or third opinion (don’t be afraid to ask “is this normal?” otherwise you may never know if the way you are treated is based on cultural norms or because you are a foreigner).
- In this case, Erick’s attitude was abnormal according to Maimuna and Lily.
- Turn on Find my Mac and do not use expensive items outside in public areas.
- Most importantly, accept that certain things are outside of your control but make sure to do everything that is within your control to ensure the best possible outcome.
TLDR: Someone broke into our rooms and stole from Megha and Anisah. This was completely preventable but instead of doing everything in our power to ensure our personal safety, we sacrificed it to avoid offending our hotel manager.