top of page

Privilege: Five things to consider before relocating and living abroad by Rahel Mwitula Williams.

So, you want to move to Asia, South America, Africa, or in this case, Tanzania? I am all for it. For many of us, we are living in times when we are considering relocation, and every day I too am working towards my bi-continental future. Nevertheless, I am very clear that this decision is made by a person with privilege. For the most part, this privilege is not granted to those residing in the countries we want to relocate.

Coming to Tanzania

So, you’re following your favorite travel bloggers, reading articles about a couple who sold all their belongings and moved their children abroad. You’re diligently following social media influencers about their exotic adventures while abroad. I can attest to you the life you see is not lived by 90% of the locals in those visiting countries.

With all of this, I don’t think any of us who are considering the possibility of moving to Asian, South American, or African countries would do it if we did not have access to Western resources.

I have pondered for so long, as I am always in the battle the notion of whether I would move back to Tanzania. In the end, this is my conclusion: why should I choose when I can have both worlds. Then, I realize that I am in a position of privilege which is not granted to so many people in the country where I want to relocate.

Photo by Efraem S.

Every time I am home (Tanzania) with my American resources, I start dreaming of what an amazing life it would be if I could just move back. However, it takes me a few seconds to realize that I can dream and explore the possibilities because I have my foot on the other side of the ocean. Nevertheless, it is not a bad dream. Yet, I still feel obligated to acknowledge and name the privilege of making this decision because it's in the naming and owning where one can use conscious privilege to make a positive impact.

Thus, on my most recent trip to Tanzania (December 2020), I started doing more conscious research as I noticed more and more people like me with a dream to relocate. So, I asked myself the question: Can I reside in Tanzania if I was making the salary of an average Tanzanian in the fields of medicine, education, transportation, hospitality, or farming?

Here is the breakdown of monthly salaries from Tanzanian Shilling (TSH) to United States Dollar (USD):

Nurse- 700,000 = $300

Teacher- 600,000 = $260

Tailors: 390,000 = $169

Driver (Bajaji) – 400,000 = $173

Safari guide- 400,000 = $173

The truth is none of us in the Western world would want to move to these countries without a foot and hand remaining on our access to our Western world resources.

I will push further and consider those volunteers who have “sacrificed” their times and volunteer in the Global South via religious and non-religious organizations. No matter how many years they have resided in those countries, their experiences are still different from those making local income.

One of the most troubling comments I hear from return volunteers is that they think "they have lived like locals", but they forgot they were guaranteed health care, monthly stipend, a home, etc. so no, you did not reside like a local because they had an opportunity to experience the country in the way that their local market lady, favorite safari guide, taxi driver, housekeeper/bartender at their favorite lodge, etc.… would never do.

For example, for those who have been on safari in Tanzania or another country, did you ever pay attention to how many locals were on safari just like you? If you pay attention, you may have noticed only foreigners and very few locals because the safari experience is a privilege.

Photo by Efraem S.

Indeed, there are people in Tanzania that you couldn't pay them to move. I think, every country is beautiful to those with access to the best things the country can offer without feeling the financial burden. I believe life is even better for those with the privilege of the duality of Western and non-Western because one is in the position of privilege that has an opportunity of changing someone's life trajectory.

This is not to discourage one's dream to relocate. I believe with a full grasp of reality, one with privilege can be in a remarkable position to embark on a positive impact. I am more sensitive when I am in Tanzania and sharing with family and friends about relocating back that I am speaking from a position of access to my Western resources, which comes with responsibilities. They will tell me that is great, but don’t you dare lose access to your Western resources and connections.

Here are what I have learned over the years and things to consider before deciding to relocate:

1. Please make sure you look at the full picture.

Don’t just follow influencers and travel bloggers about their fancy abroad life. Open your eyes and pay attention. Engage in a meaningful and open conversation and learn about the country.

2. Your privilege can change someone else’s life.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people visiting Tanzania would say they struggle to tip for services received. Some of the reasons quoted are: “I don’t want to tip someone an entire month's salary each day for driving me around or carrying my bags to my room.” What if you do? Would this change your financial situation? No, but it will change that person’s. Can you imagine someone giving you a tip that is equivalent to your monthly salary? What would you do? Just because someone lives below the poverty line does not mean it's their destiny. If one has an opportunity to help them to move the needle towards a better life, why not?

3. Poverty is not a culture.

In the name of “I don’t want to interfere or change one's culture,” people are helping to maintain poverty. In the past, I visited an organization in Tanzania caring for children who were recovering from surgery. While we were giving a tour, one of the participants asked a question regarding showers. They noticed that although the place had the capability of installing overhead showers, they chose not to do it because most of the children took bucket showers at home. The tour guide stated " they did not want to introduce something that the children did not have access to at home". The person went as far as saying, “it's Tanzanian culture to take bucket showers.” Of course, that’s when I had to stop the tour and pull the person to the side. I told her it's not Tanzanian culture to take bucket showers. I further explained that people take them because of a lack of water, indicative of a poverty issue. I informed her that I am Tanzanian, I reside in Chicago, Illinois, and I don’t take bucket showers in Chicago. If it were the “culture,” I would be taking bucket showers in Chicago. I went further to explain; I speak Swahili while in Chicago because it's my culture; I eat ugali because it's my culture. Don’t confuse hardship due to lack of resources as part of a culture. Perhaps, if you show them that such things exist, you may just expose them to a new life they can strive to attain. Stop maintaining poverty in the name of “culture.” Poverty is not culture.

Not culture

Culture- photo by Ngomiyinguluvi

4. Access denied:

Tanzanite is a precious stone only found in Tanzania, but it's significantly more expensive to purchase in Tanzania than in the United States. Also, if you ask a local Tanzanian to bring or make you a coffee, it’s incredibly likely you will get instant coffee. Most of the excellent coffee is found in tourist areas where a cup is equal to daily wages.

Photo by Shimansky

5. Happiness and gratitude do not negate poverty.

"I don’t understand why they are happy when they're poor" is one of the popular questions asked by Westerners in the Global South. Just because people are not complaining about their daily struggles does not mean they're happy about their situation.

Finally, here are five things to consider while abroad:

1. Tip well because you have an opportunity to change someone else’s life.

2. Expose someone you met to a new life by taking them to places only you have access to because of your Western resources and show them what is possible.

3. Immerse into the culture and don't confuse poverty with culture.

4. Do your homework and research social impact collective local organizations to give time and resources while you enjoy their land.

5. Be aware of your privileges and exercise them for the community's good.

If you find yourself in the Global South and you have access and connection to the Western world, remember you have an opportunity to make an impact. One day, I will take you to Tanzania. I hope together; we will be able to exercise our privilege in a way that can change someone's life trajectory.


bottom of page