Wednesday, November 27

Our Little Black Book

When I first met my hubby, he had a 'little black book' which made me a chuckle a lot! It had all his names and addresses in ... not just a list of his ex-girlfriends, as in the past it might have done!! Now we have our own Little Black Book that we use right here in Dodoma. This one is a little different though.

As a white person in Tanzania you are automatically perceived as having great wealth. While there is a small percentage of the population who are wealthy, the truth is, compared to most here we probably do have more money. 

Reconciling that with everyday life isn't always straight forward. We are able to buy more than a lot of nationals, have bigger more comfortable homes, drive around in our own cars ... the list goes on. What we have is minimal to our peers back home ... yet some of our friends here in Tanzania and those we interact with everyday see it as luxury they cannot ever begin to envisage for themselves. Which leaves us living in an in-between world!

It is inevitable when you work somewhere like Dodoma that you will be asked for money ... from beggars on the street, from people who come to your gate or even from people you know, but in that case, usually for a loan. My house Mama was surprised when she learned that our income comes from churches, family, friends and supporters across the world and we don't actually earn big sums of money ourselves!

Yesterday, I surprised a couple of Tanzanian friends when I refused to see a blind man at our gate. Not because I didn't care but because I knew that he would be asking for money and in the last couple of months I had already given him something for various issues. As a family we are happy to help (and often do) but are trying to be careful that we are not the only source of income or become relied upon.

Which brings me to our 'Little Black Book'. We knew in advance that we would be asked for loans and wanted to make sure we are able to assist in a way that was both practical and helpful. Here are a couple of things that we decided and also took advice from others early on ... so there could be no misunderstanding. 
  • In the first 6 months of being here we said 'No' to any loan requests ... we wanted to set a precedent, take time to decide what was best for us and also didn't want to look like a soft touch. 
  • We have set a low maximum limit (which in western terms isn't much but here can go a long way and yet would still be returnable)
  • We always say we will discuss it with each other before agreeing (usually it's me who is approached as I have the Swahili, although sometimes it's Mark!)
  • The person has to have a specific reason/need for the loan
  • They must tell us how and when they will return it
  • The loan is written down in the book and signed for
  • They will not be lent anything more until the loan has been returned in full

It's not rocket science and we haven't lent out to the whole world. The sums of money are minimal (at least in our eyes) and so far the loans have all been honoured. At the same time we have been able to help people in a time of need and make sure that they and their families are looked after ... and it has built trust and relationships too.

If you are planning to move to, or already live in a culture where you will be asked for money on a regular basis ... be ready, set your own boundaries (they might not look like any of ours) ... but make sure you set them. It will cause a lot less stress later on, I can promise you!


  1. Brilliant idea. So glad you have a plan that works for you.

  2. Wow, this is a great post. Just did a presentation here @ Redcliffe today about this topic! We used the book African friends and money matters. It is so difficult to say no, because relationships are actually built on lending, borrowing and loaning. Did you find that people refused to have contact with you, or avoided relationship, because you didn't want to loan them something? I still don't know where we will go, but it is good to be aware of this!