Food for Thought
What can $1.50 buy you in Canada: a donut or a coffee perhaps? Well the Canadian dollar can go far here, and it can be tempting to say that the cost of living is very cheap, but that would only be one perspective. For $1.50 in Karatu, Tanzania, one can buy a very nutritious lunch consisting of spinach, beans, beef stew, and a side of cucumber. I thought to myself, “Wow! This is how I like to travel and shop: get more, get better, and pay less.” It all seemed fine until I asked a question. My question arose when it came time to pay for our meal and put forth a tip. I wondered if a tip was customary and if so, how much would be appropriate. It was explained to me that though local Tanzanians do not necessarily need to provide a tip, it is expected that a mzungu would because they are able to.
The conversation did not end there, however. Thinking about how servers expect tips as part of their normal income in Canada, I was drawn to ask if there is a minimum wage in Tanzania. It turns out that there is, but it is not an hourly wage as it would be in Canada, but a monthly minimum of 150,000Tsh ($100CND). This wage is only about half of what is needed to live at a reasonable standard in Tanzania however; 300,000Tsh is more realistic. Minimum wage is not enforced in private sectors though, so it was estimated that our server was likely making 40,000Tsh ($30) a month and being paid, “under the table.” Realizing that the kind girl who greets us with a smile each day is making about 10% of what she realistically needs was eye opening. It once again caused me to re-evaluate the purpose of tipping in the service industry. Tips were originally intended to increase the server’s rate of pay to a more reasonable amount and were relied on as a critical portion of their income. Has tipping in Western cultures evolved from their original purpose? Are we really tipping out of economic concern for our servers or has tipping become more of a cultural entitlement? Maybe it’s both.
The excitement over the low cost of the meal was definitely brought down when I discovered the realities of the service industry in Tanzania, but I will never regret asking. It is through asking questions and seeking truths that our vale of disillusionment may be lifted, revealing a clearer truth. This is why I came; to see more of what is present, but kept distant from my vantage point. Dare to break down your illusions, and have the courage to see what’s really there.
– Jacklynn –