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  • My Finnish friends often ask me "what is it like over there?" and I struggle to answer. The longer I live here, the harder it is to try to reduce Tanzania, let alone Africa, into a few sentences. Usually I just answer "different" and then we'll discuss from there.

    As a tourist, looking at the nature, national parks or cultural sites, we see one reality. The sights are magnificent, really out of this world, and of course it is real. People are friendly, and it is amazing to see bits of the different tribal traditions whether it is in music, food, crafts, dance... all real.

    In the towns or villages where the tourism does not reach, things can look pretty different. People scraping together a living from their small gardens, some chickens and goats, maybe selling some of the extra crops in local markets. No electricity, clean water is a problem, sanitation gets tricky as soon as the village gets bigger. Really bad roads, health care far away, schools as well. Teachers unmotivated, unprofessional, unpaid often, or just not there.

    In some cases, it's a lot better than that. Sometimes one head master, one doctor, one community leader can make a big difference, and at least change the apathy and anger into something positive. Nothing is black and white here.

    In Dar es Salaam, again different. Big differences in wealth, the richest people are way beyond anything I have any seen in Finland. They own huge areas in the city, and nobody quite knows how that happened and what they paid for it, and to whom. Land ownership is a tricky issue, and land grabbing is a huge problem which may never be solved because of the political connections of the elite.

    In Dar, there are also masses of people living in shacks. They've come from the countryside looking for better life, work, way to send money back home to their parents, children, siblings. They work as maids, gardeners, drivers, street sellers, nannies, cleaners... and many of them fail to find work and fall into drugs, crime, prostitution, who knows where. The influx of poorly educated grows and the population of Dar will grow by 40% in the next 5 years, and the city is definitely not ready to deal with it.

    Living here as expats, we have our own reality. We live in relative wealth, we create jobs, we complain about paying huge amounts for apartments which are full of ants or bugs or mice, where aircons leak and appliances short and electricity comes and goes. Everything is cheap and from China, and whenever it breaks there's no spare parts. The handymen (fundi) come with two rusty screwdrivers and break things even worse. We are annoyed because we pay a lot for this, and we feel quilty for it because these are the problems of the wealthy and everyone else has it a lot worse.

    Is my experience the real Africa? Or someone elses? Even in this one country, there are millions of people who have never experienced anything outside of their village and its surroundings. Do they know more or less about Africa than someone who travels through it in relative luxury and sees a lot more?

    I have no clue. I have no answers. The more I know and experience here, the more bewildered and clueless I become.

    The only thing I can say for sure about Africa after living for four years on the continent, is how it makes me feel. I love Africa and there are things I hate here. I miss home and more organised living and working often, but I can't imagine anymore living a life where I would have nothing to do with Africa. I go from hope to despair, from disgust to joy, from pity to reverence, pretty much every single day. Africa is part of my life now regardless of where I live in the future, and I don't think there's anything I can do about it anymore whether I want to or not.
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