confusion - gifts and barter items for East Africa?

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Apr 11th, 2003, 08:55 AM
  #1
nkh
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confusion - gifts and barter items for East Africa?

I would like some opinions from people who have travelled to Kenya and Tanzania about taking things along as gifts or barter items, and if it is OK to do so what people have taken in the past.

From some of the research I have done thus far there appears to be a split in whether or not this is a good idea - some people all in favour and others stating it encourages begging etc. etc. One of the people who works for our tour operator, when asked, somewhat to my surprise suggested taking a large bag of hard candy along since the children would really appreciate it. I am not sure whether this is good advice or not - (begging, dentists, etc. all concerns!) opinions please?


ALso he said pens, shirts, baseball hats were good to barter with. I can see this may be fine as barter is a fair exchange, not likely to promote begging, and I also understand that it is important to give "fair value for fair value" (ie dont try to trade a Bic pen for a wood carving!). Opinions about and experiences with barter?

Finally, we had considered taking along some notepads, pencils and books as a donation to a school - to be given to the school teacher when we visited, as opposed to handing to children in the street or anything. Is this appropriate? Suggestions for books if so?

We realize that we are fortunate to have been born into a society where we have resources and luxuries unavailable to many of the people in the countries we will be visiting and would like to be generous in general and make some sort of contribution, however small. However we dont want to do anything in ignorance that is likely to actually damage the culture that we are visiting or cause offence to the people of Kenya and Tanzania.

Sorry that this is all so badly expressed - I hope that I have managed to convey my questions and concerns adequately!

Thanks, as always, for the excellent help that I receive from this site.
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Apr 11th, 2003, 11:59 AM
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nkh, did you get my pictures? Sent them under my work address. Have two more batches to go.

We did have children ask us for reading material when we stopped at gas station the one day in northern Tanzania.
When we have opportunity to go back I would like to take a few small things to give out on occassion. When in the Masai village and visiting the school while we were not asked for anything, I wish I could have left a box or two of chaulk (maybe even some colored chaulk). The teacher was using a chaulk board for lessions w/chaulk. I liked the idea of trading for handmade items as a means of maintaining dignity and certainly value for their efforts. Sometimes we Americans mean well but actually worsen our imagine. I welcome hearing what others have to say on nkh's question.
Dick
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Apr 11th, 2003, 12:33 PM
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nkh
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Dear Dick

Yes! Thanks after a few days (dont know why!) your set of pictures did show up. Sorry to have not replied sooner. We have cleared them off of our mailbox and onto our hard drive so there should be no space problem. Please send the others, we loved seeing the ones you sent so far.

Thanks for your input on your experiences with the children and schools of Tanzania. What kind of things would you take as gifts when you go back - I like the idea of having a few things to give as gifts should we wish to if it is OK. Chalk is a fantastic idea - we will definitely take a box or two of that along.

More generally, I hope lots of people do give opinions here since this a complex issue and one that you cant simply look up in the guide books (probably because there is no one simple answer!). The opinions of those experienced with travel to these areas is therefore invaluable in getting some kind of idea of what is acceptable and a good idea and what is unintentionally destructive.
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Apr 11th, 2003, 04:46 PM
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Besides chalk, maybe crayons, pens, note pads, tablets, reading material (there might be reason to make sure it would not be offensive such as political or religious in nature--thus, that may make selection a toughie), combs, etc. If your church or a friend's church has missionaries afield it may be worthwhile to touch base with someone who really knows the people and what might be really appreciated w/o encouraging begging. Giving gifts can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone. I also took a baseball type cap to give our safari guide. I was optimistic we would have a good one and we did. So it was kinda neat to leave it on his seat in the van while he was unloading our stuff at the airport w/o him knowing it.
Will send more pics early in the week.
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Apr 11th, 2003, 07:22 PM
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I know this is not East Africa, but concepts might be the same. When we were in Egypt with our kids we had brought some hard candy and pens and other small items. At a few places our kids gave them out as gifts to local kids - or if we bought something from a kid, we would add a small item with the payment.

Although I would not bring food for barter, we had brought some simple smack foods with us - granola bars, peanut butter, instant coffee - and one of the last days of our trip my husband ended up bartering these for some local trinkets.
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Apr 11th, 2003, 07:45 PM
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Hi nkh!

When we were in Kenya and Tanzania last year, we brought along numerous items not only to "barter" with, but to also just give out as gifts.

For the Masai village in Amboseli, we brought pencils, pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners and chalk. For whatever reason, I did not bring writing pads, which the school was in dire need of. When we visited a classroom, there was one pad of writing paper being shared by 25 or so youngsters. Flash cards of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division would probably be greatly appreciated. The gifts were accepted with dignity and appreciation, and I felt, that for us, it was the right thing to do.

Coming from the US, we found some nice but relatively inexpensive t-shirts that depicted the American flag. We bought various sizes (children's small to adult large) and used those to barter with when we stopped at gas stations or anywhere along the way. Initially, I was uncertain about using them, but one day my husband was wearing his, and many locals asked if he had others and if they could "exchange" something for it.

Bartering is a way of doing business in both Kenya and Tanzania, so do not be put off by taking part in it. In fact, in a little town in southern Tanzania, someone asked for a little chunky compass pin that I was wearing in exchange for a wood carving. The compass had more sentimental value to me, so I declined the offer. He then asked if I wanted to exchange my chunky $6 Wal-Mart watch. If they see something on you that they want, they will initiate the bartering.

As far as candy ... I had the same question as you, i.e. dental issues, etc. A friend of ours who lives in Tanzania gave us as a welcome gift, five pounds of Cadebury chocolate bars. We asked our guide if it would be OK to just give the candy bars to any children we saw playing alongside the road or when we stopped in a village. "Yes, it will be OK. For some of the children, it will be the only thing they eat all week," he said.

He also explained to us why pens are such a populat item. For those children lucky enough to go to school, their parents buy them one pen that is expected to last the entire school year. If that one pen gets lost or stolen, more often than not, the parents do not have the resources to run out and replace it.

That was our experience. Would I do the same things over again, you bet! But next time, I will bring writing tablets!



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Apr 11th, 2003, 07:47 PM
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Can't stand my above typo's!!!

Should not be "chunky" but rather "junky."

See what happens when you get to be my age ...
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Apr 11th, 2003, 11:33 PM
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I know the Manyara Serena Lodge has a program where they are starting a local library and book donations are greatly appreciated.
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Apr 12th, 2003, 03:50 PM
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I've never been able to form a definite opinion on the subject. In northern Tanzania the Masai wanted bars of soap, pens and my chewing gum. T-shirts and especially shoes were popular in many areas. Bob Marley items probably would be too. A candy here and there shouldn't hurt anybody and would be a treat for kids. When I was little, every week or so an old man walked down our street on his way into town. He always stopped and gave us kids a candy, sometimes just a teeny Sen-Sen. So, of course all the kids in the neighbourhood ran out to greet him. He's long gone but I still remember him with fondness. A little thing but a lifelong memory. In markets, what people wanted more than anything was the American dollar so small denominations were useful. My brother, in Kenya earlier this year, gave away many pens and pins.
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Apr 16th, 2003, 07:12 AM
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We were told specifically - and scolded I might add - by our driver not to give items directly to children. He was very upset that visitors are "turning our children into a nation of beggers". We did give pencils, etc. to a local school. As for bartering - its obviously not a new concept and we found that while merchants would offer to barter they always wanted cash along with the barter item - and the cash was usually the same amount with or without the boot. There are good suggestions here for donations to schools which I think are wonderful. My opinion is - skip the handouts and barters. We gave our drivers baseball caps, which they liked and "added to their collection". Obviously not an original idea.
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Apr 18th, 2003, 06:01 AM
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Hi HKH

I had read in one of the many travel books I'd preped my trip with about taking along postcards from your home town & pre-address them ...

Since I live in Ottawa, Canada I chose mostly shots of our parliament buildings & the canal during winter when its a large ice skating rink ...

They were very well received, everyone would have many questions about the pictures (especially the ice skating ones), I preaddressed them all and did receive a few letters as well.

And as a side note, when I started handing them out to the 'pushy' salepeople at the curio shops they stopped trying to 'sell' me stuff, would call over their manager & other sales people to showoff the picture and my 'discounts' immediately got a lot better ...
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