The importance of global awareness: Where will our ripples reach?

The importance of global awareness: Where will our ripples reach?

Global Citizenship: “a way of living that recognizes our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussions for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally.”

I recently traveled to Zanzibar for some holiday shenanigans, and some rest and relaxation on the fine, white sands. Upon arrival, my identity made a solid shift towards “tourist”. Not quite all the way to that other end of the spectrum, thanks to my knowledge of the language and my understanding of the way things work in the country (public transportation, local eating, etc.), but due to my appearance I went from feeling like a resident and community member, to feeling the façade of a clueless, well-off, bikini-wearing white girl.


Admittedly, I embraced this façade, because who doesn’t jump at the freedom felt from wearing more exposing clothing when it’s over 90 and humid? And I’m glad I did because seeing and participating in the tourism that exists in developing countries like Tanzania reminded me of the fact that my personal choices and actions, and those of all the tourists on the beach and walking the streets of Stone Town with me, have impacts on the people and communities of Zanzibar, and Tanzania as a whole.


Tourism is, of course, a huge part of the economy of Tanzania (number 1 foreign currency earner). There are beautiful beaches, great valleys, massive freshwater lakes, famously tall mountains, critical archeological sites, and a bounty of classic African wildlife – people plan their “vacation of a lifetime” to Tanzania, and for good reason. But tourism inherently changes, or at least heavily impacts, the culture(s) within a nation. I encountered one specific example of this during my stay on Zanzibar.

In Tanzania, the Maasai are the most well-known and visually recognized tribal group, and they take advantage of this. Cultural tourism easily supplements the ecologically-focused safaris that bring so many to the country. Song and dance, local “cuisine,” beaded jewelry and other artwork, and boma tours give some Maasai people significant income (in relation to what is more normal in their communities).

from NatGeo Voices, 8 Feb 2012


While the Maasai are from inland Tanzania, many have made their way to the beaches of Zanzibar – interesting because they are deathly afraid of the water and do not swim. Why do they come? Tourism. But in these cases, it’s not just to sell their beads; it’s to sell their bodies. They come for a different type of tourism all together: sex tourism. While I have not made it my anthropological mission to learn about this topic first hand, nor have I done official research, sex tourism is certainly a real thing, and it impacts the culture of a tribal group that is the face of Tanzania, and is often associated with all of Africa.

In Tanzania, sex tourism is present where the tourists travel, like on Zanzibar (and also in cities like Dar es Salaam, Moshi, and Arusha). There is a fairly common story: A white woman comes to Zanzibar (in this example) looking for a beach lover. She’s trying to find something she wouldn’t normally be able to get in Europe due to her age, or excessive curves, or less than perfect face. As she bathes in the sun one day, a young, tall, thin Maasai man, dressed in his traditional cloth and beaded jewelry, comes up to ask where she is from. He’s actually looking for a sugar mama.

photo by Tom Koene

Sometimes these relationships last for just one day or night, but other times women return to Tanzania two or three times a year to be with their “Tanzanian boyfriend,” or even marry the man they meet who succeeds in flattering and seducing them. Hey, if there is mutual happiness, to each their own. But how does this type of tourism impact the Maasai culture?

The Maasai social organization is defined by an age system in which groups of male peers, called “age sets,” transition together from warrior to elder. Life as a warrior is defined by some struggle – danger if there is conflict, and hunger when there is little food to eat. The warriors must be selfless, and live and work together with their peers. Life as an elder is defined by some luxury – independence, respect, and responsibility with a family and herd to manage and oversee.

So what happens when some young warrior leaves home and seeks his fortune in sex tourism? If he returns with money, he has the ability to hop age sets to reach the standing of an elder without the previous age requirement and life experience. This has the potential to throw off the whole social balance that has been culturally developed and maintained for generations, possibly even leading to conflict. While Maasai men can find additional income through other avenues, sex tourism is a well-known example that can bring in substantial amounts of money – and therefore has the power to shape the lives of an entire group of people.


It may be hard to foresee how sex on the beach can lead to the destruction of a community, but after learning a bit about this topic, and seeing the Maasai on Zanzibar, I have been reminded of how interconnected we all are in this world. Our actions and therefore choices do have impacts on other people, and their communities and culture. Every step we take outside of our own homes is a small stone thrown into a large lake – there’s no telling where the resulting ripples will reach.


This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week one: Global Citizenship.


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