I have lived in Dar es Salaam for the past two and a half years, and I still find the people too friendly by half.
A total stranger will stop you on the street and ask about everything from how you are to how your beloved is.
“Za saa hizi? Hujambo? Ulikotoka? Mchumba hajambo?”
The last part, about your beloved, is a man’s cheeky way of asking a woman if she is available or not.
At first I used to answer them with a smile, but then it got irritating.
I work in a busy office from 7am to 5pm and sometimes I get lonely, so I have been hoping to find someone I can spend some quality time with. Recently, my colleague Alex linked me up with his friend Mark, an accountant working for a health NGO. I figured he was a smart guy, the kind I was looking for.
After meeting Mark twice in the company of my workmate, he plucked up the courage to ask me out on a date. I was elated. He was elegant and handsome, and he seemed kind.
On the appointed day, he picked me up from my house and took me to a restaurant. He opened the doors, pulled out the chairs and offered countless compliments.
Hallelujah! I said to myself, chivalry is not dead.
I savoured the attention he was giving me. But, as the night drew on, I realised the conversation was getting dull. Indeed, it was a monologue. Mark went on and on about his cars, his many latest phones and iPads, his latest housing project and how money was “not an issue” for him.
I thought his self-glorification bordered on the phony. How could an accountant afford such a grand lifestyle?
We had no meaningful conversation, but he seemed to think I was enthralled by his grandeur. And then he made a statement that left me mortified.
“I know that women have many needs; you have to maintain this beauty,” he said. “So, how much would it cost me to keep you?”
“Excuse me?!” was all I could muster.
“Yeah, how much? Like, on a monthly basis?” he went on.
I couldn’t believe my ears. What did he think I was? Someone he could just buy?
He did not understand my shock. Most women he knew would have jumped at the generous offer. Suffice it to say the date ended there and then. I called a cab and left.
He must have thought I was just playing hard to get because soon after he called to find out if I had got home safe. The next morning he called to wake me up. Then called again at 10am to ask if I had had my breakfast. At noon he called yet again to ask what I was having for lunch. Then called again at 4pm to ask how my day was. As if that were not enough, he called again at 7pm to ask what I was having for dinner. At the end of the day, I was more than irked.
At work, Alex grilled me about the date. When I told him, he did not understand why I was disappointed and annoyed. To him, that was the perfect date. Mark was the most eligible “catch,” he said.
I learnt that when a Tanzanian man likes you, he goes to great lengths to show you he can take care of you. Hence, the lavish display of wealth, real or imagined.
He will call often to check on you and show that he cares about you, and to keep tabs on you, just in case you were thinking of straying from him.
I was told I was supposed to appreciate, obey and submit to him. It was standard for him to offer cash for my upkeep because, if he didn’t do it, somebody else would.
It doesn’t matter if a woman is capable of taking care of herself, her man has to provide. They call it hongo, meaning bribe.
It is this rampant practice that I think has made their men shallow, complacent and dull, believing that all they need to entice a woman with is money.
Unlike Kenyan men, who would not mind a woman chipping in to settle the bill on a date, a Tanzanian man would feel offended and write you off as showy and arrogant if you offered to share the bill.
My friend jokes that one would think Kenyan men were the ones who went to Beijing (for the gender equality campaign) because of their 50/50 sharing formula in matters financial. Her perfect man is a cross between a Kenyan and a Tanzanian.