Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Clash of cultures on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Once, a long time ago while studying in Milan, I was in car with some Italian friends and one of them broke wind, very publicly and quiet loudly. It should not be a subject that demands attention, but it offers a study on the stark contrast in cultural norms.

It happened again during my recent climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I have for my past six climbs climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on the Lemosho route where only tented accommodation is available on the trek. This time I used the Marangu route, which is unique for its scenic landscape and stunning views of both Mawenzi and Kibo peaks. The Marangu route offers accommodation only in shared log cabins. I have never shared tents on my Lemosho climbs and for a good reason; the privacy of one’s tent provides flexibility to the climber, from changing dirty clothing to staying away from the noise of a snoring neighbour. As one climber mentioned recently: “If a snorer sleeps before you you’ll have great difficulty falling asleep.” Sleep is most essential in recovering from the daily hikes from one camp to another.

Mawenzi peak as seen on the Marangu route.

So, I found myself sharing a cabin with four other European climbers who had absolutely no self-restraint in how much foul air they allowed into the atmosphere. I am not sure about how much they contributed to Global Warming, but I admit I was uncomfortable. For Tanzanians it is taboo for grown-ups to break wind in the presence of others. If an adult does so accidentally and a child happens to be nearby the child will be blamed for the act and scolded for such unbecoming behaviour.

I understand from my experience in Italy that, from the perspective of some cultures, it is acceptable behavior. But I suspect there are certain circumstances that may limit this behaviour. I cannot imagine that at a summit of G-7 leaders discussing the limiting of carbon emissions that you’ll have the same VIP delegates, heads of state and government of the world’s seven leading economies, liberally firing off some of the same gases that they are trying to limit.

The Tanzanian Tourist Board issues tips to foreign visitors on acceptable practices that conform with Tanzanian cultural norms. I wonder whether it is time now to caution visitors against restraining themselves - at least while in the cramped logged cabins on the Marangu route.

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