I am from the East African country of Tanzania, considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with its combination of wonders such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, the Indian Ocean, and Lake Manyara National Park, which Hemingway called "the loveliest place in Africa I had seen."
On September 16, 1998 I left my beautiful land to study in British Columbia. It was hard to leave my whole life behind, and I was anxious about arriving in such a different place; yet I was also excited to start anew in an unknown world. My first reaction to Canada was amazement at its beauty; it is as glorious as Tanzania -- just in different ways. My next observation was how sharply the two nations differ in terms of social interactions, economy, and communication.
Social interaction in Tanzania strongly centers around the extended family, so cousins are as important as siblings. In Canada, the immediate family is the important social group. Another difference is in gender role assignment. In Tanzania, particularly in rural areas, gender equality is not known. Men enjoy opportunities in employment, education, and politics that are denied to women. The role of women and girls in Tanzania is to care for the home and the children. In Canada, men and women have equal rights, and high positions are routinely filled by women.
But the biggest social distinction between the countries is caused by the different ways they manage the division between the rich and the poor. In Tanzania, the gap between rich and poor is huge; it divides Tanzanian society into two unevenly-sized groups: the number of people who are poor is vastly larger than the number who are rich, and much larger than the percent of people who are poor in Canada. The poor of Tanzania, especially in rural areas, struggle for mere survival. But the Canadian standard of living is significantly higher, and government social services are well organized, with social safety nets that prevent the poor from suffering actual want.
Another salient difference between Canada and Tanzania is that Canada is one of the world's wealthiest nations, with a high standard of living, an excellent infrastructure, a highly-educated population, and a high employment rate. In contrast, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the export of minerals such as diamonds, gold, nickel, and salt. But agriculture dominates Tanzania’s economy, accounting for half of the national income. It produces sisal, cloves, coffee, cotton, cashews, and tobacco. The unemployment rate is high, and entrepreneurship is said to be handicapped by corruption in government. The vast majority of Tanzanians live in poverty, and life expectancy in Tanzania is only 51 years for men and 54 for women (compared to Canada's 78 and 82). Many Tanzanians die prematurely from malaria and AIDS.
Besides their differences in social life and economics, Canada and Tanzania differ sharply in their means of communication. In Canada, communication by access to media is so easy that it is taken for granted. Electronic and print channels inundate the population with more news, information, and entertainment than people can use. In addition, there are only two official languages. In Tanzania, Swahili is the official language, but there are 126 local languages, and the country struggles with the problems caused by this linguistic barrier.
The solution so far is to require that most people speak English. Parents spend tremendous amounts of money to send their children to international schools within Tanzania, or to schools in English-speaking countries in Africa or overseas. Everyone in the non-farming work force is expected to speak English, especially in the professions. And although the growth of Tanzanian broadcast media has been hindered by a lack of capital investment, people can access the internet, watch a few television channels, and read a few newspapers -- mostly in English, but some (such as Alasiri) in Swahili.
Urban areas in Tanzania, such as the capitol city Dar es Salaam, follow a Western lifestyle, as the wealth of the nation tends to concentrate in the cities, but the country as a whole still struggles economically and socially. Still, in spite of the differences between Canada and Tanzania, they are alike in their blessings of natural beauty and abundance, and alike in the love their citizens feel for their homes, and their dedication to do their best for the nations of their birth.