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Tanzania: Handling the Practicalities of Everyday Life

Living in the rural parts of Africa can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many expats. The endless expanse of open land provides experiences that simply cannot be had in major urban areas. Yet, living so far away from urban centers also presents real challenges.

How to Safely Get around in Rural Areas

Unsurprisingly, distances between population centers are massive in some rural areas. In rural Tanzania, it often takes at least a 20-minute bike ride down rough dirt roads to get to the next most adjacent village. For more remote villages, the nearest market town can be as far as two hours away by car.

Given the small size of the villages and sheer distance, transport options are few and far in between. Among sizeable market towns, shared taxis and minibuses ply set routes, providing locals with relatively affordable, albeit slow and crowded, means to get from point A to point B. However, given that these vehicles are individually owned and unregulated by governments, they run on completely unpredictable schedules, leaving only when crammed to the rim, not to mention prone to frequent breakdowns due to minimal maintenance.

In more remote areas, shared taxis and minibuses are not available, simply for the reason that running those routes is unprofitable for their owners. Instead, main means of transport are bicycles, walking, or motorcycle taxis. Unlike shared taxis, motorcycle taxis only carry one person and prices have to be negotiated prior to use. As expected, foreigners are usually perceived to be wealthy, will inevitably be charged a much higher rate than locals.

Safety Concerns

An added concern of both shared vehicles driving on set routes and pre-negotiated motorcycle taxis is safety. Unfortunately, the situation is generally not encouraging. Shared minibuses, given heavy competition on popular routes and times, tend to speed as much as possible in a race to get more customers than their competitors. In their constant races for customers, these shared minibuses become a danger to themselves as well as other vehicles and pedestrians. Not a couple of days go by without news of some minibuses crashing and passengers getting seriously injured.

The suboptimal road conditions make accidents even more likely. With exception of cross-country highways, roads in rural areas are of dirt and soil, with large numbers of potholes due to lack of maintenance. In rainy seasons, these dirt roads become a series of water puddles and slippery surfaces. As one can imagine, this presents a highly unfavorable condition for motorcycles in particular. In rainy months, stories of people breaking arms when falling off motorcycles are common.

The Best Choice for Foreigners

For foreigners, the consideration should be a balance between affordability and safety. Private hire car taxis are of course an option, but given that they are mainly available in market towns and charge high rates, even a single trip to a distant village can cost more than a hundred USD roundtrip. But in adverse weather conditions, it’s is definitely worth the money.

For shorter trips on sunny days, however, these prices are not justified. For short trips within market towns, private hire car taxis are unnecessary unless you purchase bulky items. In between nearby villages, shared minibuses, whenever available, should be the way to go even in heavy rains, as they tend to be safer than motorcycles. Since they run infrequently, minibuses also have no incentive to speed on dirt roads, making them safer than those in towns.

How to Stay Healthy in Rural Areas

One of the best things about living in rural Tanzania, is the low price and availability of medicine. Even in the most remote village, there tends to be one pharmacy that sells everything from Band-Aids to malaria pills. With many generics that cost no more than a few USD, it makes sense for price-conscious foreigners to purchase medication in Tanzania rather than in their home countries.

What if one falls ill? In market towns across the country, district- and regional-level hospitals exist to provide basic treatments. While hospital staff may not be proficient in English, they are generally well-versed in symptoms of diseases common to the area such as malaria and typhoid, and have the right equipment and medicine for in-time diagnoses and treatments. Antibiotics are also available at these hospitals, so treating bacteria-caused illnesses is pretty straightforward.

However, for more severe, urgent treatments, these hospitals may not have the right capacity or expertise. For instance, while a broken arm can be treated in these hospitals by applying a cast, fractures on the torso cannot be handled. In many hospitals, there is also a lack of anti-rabies or anti-venom medicine, making the situation especially grave for people who frequently encounter hostile wild creatures.

How to Handle Cases of Emergency

It is advisable for foreigners living in rural Tanzania long-term to find out about medical evacuation services and international insurance plans. In an emergency situation, such as getting bitten by a venomous snake, availability of medical evacuation can be the difference between life and death. Even if the costs are a little high, it makes great sense to pay the price for safety in this case.  

Finally, local hospitals also do not offer routine medical checkups, such as in-depth physical exams or dental cleanings. Make sure to get such check-ups when you travel abroad to a destination with more medical options on offer. Again, international insurance plans come in very handy, and are even necessary, in these circumstances.

 

Living in rural Tanzania presents many challenges for any expat who is used to having different products and services readily available. To make your rural life as comfortable, safe, and inexpensive as possible, it is necessary to do a lot of  independent research and make sure you are well prepared before your move. In particular, the matters of food, transport, and healthcare are unavoidable and pivotal for decent living standards..

Many foreigners with professional interests in rural Tanzania or other parts of the African continent are discouraged by potential hurdles in daily lives when considering a move there. While certain challenges do exist, they can be overcome with good preparation and comprehension of how things work locally. By knowing more about the region before even stepping foot on it, you can be well-prepared to make long-term residence in rural Tanzania possible, realistic, and enjoyable.

 

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Gilberto Vieira

"Finding contacts among the expats in Tanzania's tourism industry wasn't half as difficult as I had feared. "

Chen Ming

"Karibu Sana, fellow expats in Dar es Salaam or 'Dar', for short! You'll probably need some tips on the 'do's & 'don't's in Tanzania."

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