A lot of time here has been spent thinking about life, mentality, motivation and cultural differences here. These are the topics which we discuss without fail every day. Heated and passionate.
Us Europeans, are used to everyone minding their own business. We walk along the streets and don’t look at people, people don’t look at (never mind talk to) us and if they would we’d ask them “What are you staring at, huh?”
Here, everyone talks to you. No matter if it’s just a quick “Hello, my friend” or “Mambo!” on the streets, or a full on demand to get on this taxi or in this shop. People to me seem loud, direct, and very… how do I put it? In your face? Maybe.
I’m used to the European way of life, maybe even the Asian as well. And while many things in Africa are so very similar to how they are in Asia, the approach in Asia seems generally a bit gentler. Not as rough, not as demanding.
To me, if a person talks to me in a way that I think is rude, I will just close myself off.
I’m starting to learn that a lot of the things I see as rude, aren’t meant that way at all though.
Granted, I’m still having difficulties with shouts of “Mzungu!” (“white person”) because that is just so weird. I don’t want to be singled out because of my skin colour. Locals here have told me time and time again that it’s not a bad thing, but actually a good thing but to me it still feels like reverse racism. I don’t want anyone to be nicer or less nice to me only because of the colour of my skin.
The same goes for bargaining. Of course I don’t want to pay the full tourist price, but I also don’t want to go to the lowest price possible, because let’s face it: if it’s 20 cents more or less, it doesn’t really hurt me at all, but makes a huge difference for the people here.
For now I have found a way to bargain which I’m really comfortable with. I usually try to cut the price in half (which is generally recommended, also by locals) but before I start bargaining, I try to calculate and make up my mind about which price I’d be willing to pay. What price would be ok for me? This way I might not get the best bargaining deals, but I feel more comfortable and at ease with this.
Talks to local people have taught me about a usual income per month and year. It’s not a lot. And prices can be quite high. Supermarkets offer some western products – but don’t be fooled, they charge western prices as well. Sometimes even double (cereal, for example, is crazily expensive!).
Another really good question I’ve been asked (and keep asking myself now) was “Would you be able to live here for the rest of your life?”
I’d have to say no. I might be just a tad too European for this. I’d miss my clean city, the courteous, if not distant and rude people. I’d miss being able to go out by myself without being scared that I’d get harassed or robbed. I’d miss not having an elbow rammed into my back when boarding a bus. I’d miss the food (CHEESE!), the smell, the weather. I’d miss a lot. For now I’m happy, and I could imagine living here for even longer than I’m here for now, but for the rest of my life? I don’t think so.
We will continue having heated discussions and while I’m not closer to truly understanding their reasoning, I’m trying my best to adapt. It’s going well so far. I feel more at ease and so very blessed that I’m surrounded by local people who are more than willing to answer every possible question I have.
Every few days we throw some highly philosophical questions in the mix as well (“What makes you happy and how is it connected with your travels here?”). I enjoy these conversations so much. They make me so happy. I’m so content and my heart feels so full that I have to put down my cup of chai, calm my shaking hands and take a deep breath, before launching into the next discussion again.