A Tanzanian friend, who stays at the same guest house as me, came up with an expression that can be used to make any frustrating, confusing, or illogical moment in Africa, funny. TIA (this is Africa!). I can’t even remember the origin of this phrase (bad referencing I know), other than that my friend said it on the way home from a club one night, and made me believe that it was a commonly used expression in Dar es Salaam (N.B. sadly my gullibility cannot be attributed to drunkenness, it’s a special characteristic of mine, despite my supreme intelligence). This gullibility led to me using ‘TIA’ at will, until I realised that no one knew what it meant! I confronted my friend, who broke down and admitted that he had made it up himself and just wanted to embarrass me (although further research tells me he may have lifted it from the movie Blood Diamond). The minor embarrassment it caused has been well worth it though, because TIA has saved my sanity a number of times since.
Example #1: Dana Lunberry, my fellow Fellow in Dar, accompanied me on a trip to train an MFI’s staff on how to use the kiva system. The staff were professional, punctual, receptive, hospitable, kind (they gave us gifts), and generally wonderful (so much so that we finished the training a couple of days early). Until our second-last day. Usually we were picked up from our guest house at around 8am. On this particular day, we didn’t hear from our hosts until 11am (this wasn’t so strange because everyone realised there wasn’t really much to do, and we had been on an epic adventure the day before – involving a five hour drive to Lake Malawi with a fish flying along next to us in a plastic bag tied to the car to prevent it spoiling. The flying fish was subsequently presented to the manager and cook at the beach resort, who agreed to cook it for us. BYO fish was a new concept for us, but our hosts couldn’t understand our amazement and hysterical laughter).
Back to us waiting at the guest house. Our host rang and asked us if we were ready, because they were on their way to pick us up. “Of course”, I replied, cheekily using an expression often used out of context here in TZ, usually in cases where the implied obviousness of the situation does not exist, and where a simply yes would suffice (in this case, at 11am, I feel my polite “of course” was justified). So Dana and I waited, and waited, and WAITED! Until 4pm, when we decided a) to go for a walk, and b) to stop speculating as to why someone would say they were on the way to pick you up and then not show up. ALL DAY! As we observed later, neither of us ever suspected that a fatal accident or other form of emergency had occurred. Maybe we’ve been here too long. Anyway, the next morning one of the staff members showed up unannounced while I was still in the bathroom. Dana answered the door, and after the usual polite greetings asked, “So, what happened yesterday?”
“What yesterday?” our host replied.
“HOW YOU NEVER CAME TO PICK US UP YESTERDAY!” (Ok, Dana did not shout, she never does, I just couldn’t resist writing it because it would have been really funny if she had).
Our unnameable host: “Oh, we decided you were tired and needed to rest”.
When Dana relayed the conversation to me later, I asked her what she said. “Nothing”, she replied, and anticipating my hot-tempered reaction to her non-response, added “What can you say to that?”
“TIA!” we chorused in unison.
Disclaimer: I love Africa, and Tanzania, and SELFINA, but I have gone beyond the ‘culturally sensitive’ stage of accepting everything I come across (although TIA is a form of acceptance). It’s now gloves off when it comes to cultural observations and criticisms, and in my experience most Tanzanians find it funny and refreshing (maybe because I’m just as critical of my own culture!)
N.B.: More examples to follow – I can guarantee that ahead of time!