48 Things I Learned from Living in my Motherland

I wanted to change things up a little bit and talk about something else other than personal finance. As some of you may know, I proudly call myself African Canadian. I truly feel that I am equally both of these nationalities and I love both homes.

I was born in Tanzania and lived there until the age of 4 then relocated to Canada because of my parents work. Tanzania is a beautiful country situated by the Indian ocean and is made up of the mainland Tanganyika + the island of Zanzibar = Tanzania. Plus other smaller islands. Here is a map

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We lived in Canada for almost 11 years, at which point my parents decided it was time for them to move back home. At the age of 14-15, my sister and I moved back home. My other siblings remained in Canada/ United States as they were either already in post-secondary school or working. My sister and I than returned back to Canada when I was 17 years old to complete senior high school and continue on to university.

During those 2.5 years in Tanzania , I got to learn about the beautiful content where I was born, Africa. Living back home as a “mini adult” after living in Canada all my life was a huge cultural shock, but I enjoyed it. It allowed me to understand where I came from and truly appreciate and be honored by it. Even though I was born in Africa, leaving at the age of 4, I had no mental recollection of my motherland until I lived there again when I was older.

Since moving back to Canada, I try and visit my motherland once every 3 years. Not only because my parents live there now, but because this place is as much home as Canada is.

During my 2.5 years there, here are 48 things I learned about African culture that is generally very different from Canadian culture.

  1. The legal age to consume alcohol is just a suggestion. I think its 18 years old, but no one ever checks for ID and no one really cares. As long as you don’t look “too” young, you are fine.
  2. Education is highly emphasized and taught at an advance level (in elementary & high school) compared to North America. Most especially, English, math and science. Many of my friends back home that moved to the States for post-secondary school (some went to Europe) graduated with a 4.0 GPA with little to no effort to study. Discipline to study is mastered at a young age and skipping school and not taking classes seriously is not seen as cool. Being thrown into a Grade 11 class back home was a steep learning curve for me. My peers were much smarter than me. I had to study until 3am almost every night just to not fail…lol (this is high school by the way)
  3. Growing up quickly is not an option for many, it is a necessity of life. Many families back home that would be considered “low-income” need to find ways to make a living. Without social services like employment insurance, social assistance/welfare, food banks or even homeless shelters, everyone needs to chip in the family. The parents may grow crop and the kids help to sell them (entrepreneurship skills). Kids as young as 6-8 years old learn how to change their little brother or sister’s diaper, cook, walk their siblings to school without their parents around, and even baby sit (leadership skills). When mom or dad need to leave the house for a few hours, they become head of the household. Of course there is good and bad to this situation. You lose your innocence quickly and inherit life & its problems at a young age, but the reality for many is that this is the only way they know.
  4. In Africa, they have mastered the term “work life balance” and know how to have fun after a long work week. I have never worked back home (just lived and visited), but the night life back home is like nothing I have ever seen. People back home know how to have fun on the weekend.
  5. A majority of people that live in countries that are situated along the ocean in Africa do not know how to swim. I would even go as far as to say they are terrified of the water. Which baffles me as they are constantly exposed to it.
  6. Never stop at a red light in the middle of the night if you are the only vehicle at an intersection, just keep going. This is what my mom taught me after she floored it on a red light at 10:30pm one night. It’s a safety issue.
  7. Most bars and clubs will close at 5am-6am in the morning between Thursdays to Saturdays. See point #4
  8. They can be frugal and make a dollar stretch.
  9. They find the Canadian dollar bills colorful and weird. Many of them don’t even recognize the Canadian dollar bill, they recognize mostly American & European currency. I was at an exchange rate place back home and had to convince the guy that the Canadian dollar bill was real money…lol.
  10. Some of the happiest and content people live in Africa. They are grateful for everything they have and never take anything for granted.
  11. Even if you speak the language well, they can pick up on the slightest accent that gives it away that you live abroad.
  12. You can bargain the purchase price of anything. No one ever goes by the sticker price actually. Being haggled to lower the price of something is not only invited, it’s expected.
  13. Some of the greatest craftsman’s, painters and sculptors live back home. Every time I visit my homeland, I always bring some kind of painting or sculpture back with me so I can decorate my home.
  14. You can avoid paying most traffic tickets if you pay off the traffic police.
  15. Africa has some of the most beautiful hotels, and get away resorts in the world.
  16. You can get 80% of your groceries from the street vendors including fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and rice. If you buy from the grocery stores, you’ve paid waaaayyyyy too much.
  17. Even though there are lots of gyms to workout in, most people lose weight because they walk around a lot. And if you don’t walk around too much, the sun & heat will help shed some of the weight.
  18. Internet cafés are still a big things back home. Many people are using the “internet stick” in their home, but internet cafes are still huge back home as not everyone can afford the internet sticks or a computer.
  19. Your hair and skin feels more radiant and healthier back home (at least for me). I think it’s all the natural non-processed foods, the active life style and the heat and moisture.
  20. Expats standard of living in Africa is much higher than if they were making the same amount of money in their home country. It’s a combination of lower cost of living and if you earn an income in say USD or CAD dollars, you will not be as susceptible to inflation changes of the local currency.
  21. Cohabitation is now becoming a more “acceptable” thing to do in Africa, as the nation becomes more “Americanized”. In the past, this was frowned upon especially from the woman’s point of view.
  22. We have local reality T.V shows, soap operas and shows like the bachelor/bachelorette staring local actors and actresses.
  23. Social inequality is not only a psychological reality, but a very physical and overt one as well. It’s not uncommon to see a 6 bedroom gated mansion across the street from a shack.
  24. Academic accomplishments is admired and pursued above all else. Collecting degrees and acronyms next to your name is admired. Similar to the way home ownership is seen as the pinnacle to financial success, education is to Africans.
  25. It is expected that children take their parents in to live with them when they get older and are not able to take care of themselves. It is understood that your parents took care of you, and now it is time to return the favor. You will hardly ever see any retirement/ nursing homes back home, there is not much of a market because the culture does not allow it, although I would not be surprised if this will change as well.
  26. Pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. I learned that very quickly. If someone is in a vehicle and you are walking and you are on their path…you better move.
  27. Almost every other person you meet has lived or visited Europe at some point in their lives. Similar to how Canadians may go to the States, Cuba or Mexico for the holidays, many Africans travel to Europe to visit family or friends.
  28. Most people can tell you the capital city of most countries in the world, and some may even tell you what the city/country is known for. World geography is taught as early as primary school and in great excruciating detail.
  29. More than 50% of the population is bilingual. Most actually speak at least 3 languages. If you attend any schooling, then you are taught English, then there is the national countries language (which is Swahili for Tanzania), and some even know their tribal language from their grandparents.
  30. Mental diseases or disorders are not very well understood or accepted yet. Unfortunately, having a mental disorder in Africa can be very challenging, not only because it would be difficult to find treatment, but also because of the social stigma and lack of awareness about these disorders.
  31. It is rude to not accept food (even a little) when visiting someone, even if you have already eaten. I learned this the hard way when I first visited home after not being there for over 11 years. My parents wanted to make sure I visit all of our close family so we would visit 3 places in one day. After stuffing my face at the first house, I learned my lesson for house #2 and #3.
  32. To show sincerity and kindness, people will offer you something 3 times before they stop. I use to find this so annoying and pushy, until I learned it was just cultural differences. For example, someone may offer you a soda 3 times even though you say no before backing off. Don’t take it personal, it’s just culture.
  33. Weddings back home are big, I mean massive. The average African wedding will have 200 people. This is all made possible because of what is known as the “wedding committee”. This is a group of 10-20 people (usually close family & friends) that plan and contribute towards the cost of your wedding. From food, drinks, DJ, even honey moon costs. The upside is you pay very little for your wedding out of pocket. The downside is you have as much say as to how you want the wedding to go as the committee will let you. My wedding had about 300 people, but I was fine with it because the most important part for us, which was the church service we got to do as we please. The committee handled the reception & other costs and they both turned out better than I could have imagined or afforded. Here is a pick of the hotel reception took place for my wedding. I could not have afforded this without my extended family chipping in.Capture4
  34. Capture5
  35. An electric gated door with a guard is very common for most homes in Africa.
  36. Older women greet each other with a hug and a cheek to cheek kiss 3 times. Although this is changing as the younger generation finds this too old school.
  37. No one in Africa uses the landline. This has been the case since the early to mid 1990’s. Cell phones have been a common everyday use in Africa longer than they have been in Canada. Even my parents don’t have a landline back home.
  38. Some of the fastest texters I have ever seen live in Africa. They’ve had a lot of practice since the 90’s.
  39. The African landscape accommodates all types of pleasure seekers. From city living/night life scene, to those who enjoy the mountains or wildlife, there is something for everyone. Below is a picture of Ngorongoro one of the countries national parks and the city of Dar (where I was born). Different landscape, same country. I love it.city of dar.PNGCapture3.PNG
  40. I rarely needed an alarm clock back home because of the roosters morning call.
  41. People in the village live a very long time. It must be the unpolluted air.
  42. The issuance of credit cards is still for the “elite” back home.
  43. Because credit is only issued to a select few back home, debt is never incurred for many. This also includes mortgage debt. Many people back home cash flow the building of their homes (as they live with family to save cost) which can take anywhere from 5-8 years depending on the size of the home. Some of the most beautiful homes I have seen are in Africa. Here is an example of one Capture8
  44. People back home have a community based mentality. If your sister/ brother is out of work, you let them live in your home until they can pick themselves up again. There is good and bad sides to this, but that is the culture.
  45. Friends and family can show up at your door step unannounced and it’s rude not to invite them in. Having cooked food and soda is a must at all times for those unexpected guests.
  46. Christmas is not celebrated in the same way as it is in North America. Back home it’s more about food and family.
  47. Children obey their parents and teachers without question. In Africa, being a teacher is one of the most well respected positions one can have.
  48. Tardiness is a way of life. In Africa, things will get done when they get done, no hurries. This is a challenge for me, but if I ever work in Africa, I would need to adjust my expectations.
  49. I really love my motherland and going back and living there for part of my teenage years was one of the best experiences of my life.

 Where is your motherland, and what differences do you find between where you were born and where you live now?

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10 replies

  1. Awesome read, I love learning all I can about African. Learning from first-hand experience makes the learning experience even better. Thanks for sharing so thoroughly.

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  2. I relate to everything in this piece. Fantastic post. As you might know, I am from Nigeria and we Africans are similar in a lot of our mannerisms. My wedding was a carnival, ha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your Point 4 on work life balance and point 39 on the landscapes are just great.
    As I live in the country where I am born, it is hard to compare. We do have 1 thing most other countries have not: a french fries selling point in every village and part of town!

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  4. Great post! I can relate to #46 and 48. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. pics are awesome. I always wanted to visit or work in Africa; so you are lucky. the way you described Tanzania was amazing, too 🙂

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