1. Sometimes A Women Needs a Man to Get Things Done
Sheryl Sandberg would be pissed that I’m writing this, but sometimes a woman (even a woman with two Harvard degrees, her own company and a lot of business experience) needs to let a man take charge in order to get what she wants. The feminist may be cringing, but during my recent trip to Tanzania there were definitely times when a man had to “vouch” for me despite the fact that I’ve been running this company for almost 5 years. There were even times when a man told me it was not wise for me to speak or it would be better for him to do the talking, all in the name of closing a deal. Yes, it felt weird being asked to sit in the passenger seat, or in some cases the back seat of MY OWN company, but it was sometimes necessary for making a good impression and getting things done. Note, I never felt disrespected as a woman in Tanzania, but I did learn that in some cultures, even progressive ones, people are not exactly comfortable dealing with a woman in charge. I’m 5’2, petite, and break necks and bust balls on a daily basis, but that kind of demanding and aggressive personality doesn’t seem to really go far in certain parts of the world. So I had to rely on pure smarts, my male colleagues, and in some instances my good looks to get by. It sucks, but it gets the job done.
2. Do your homework . . . All of Africa is not the same
I have been blessed to have visited South Africa twice, so I just assumed everything would be pretty much the same when we reached Tanzania. Joburg is like New York. Cape Town is like San Francisco. Durban is like Chicago. Aren’t all of the 53 other countries in Africa just like this? Turns out, I was completely wrong, and super naive in my thinking. South Africa is completely different from West Africa, which is completely different from East Africa, especially when it comes to doing business and dress.
For instance, I’m thinking we’re going to Tanzania, its on the equator, I’ll bring a suit case full of shorts and cute “little” sun dresses. Ha! Little did I know, that in traveling to East Africa, there are certain regions with a significant Muslim influence. When we arrived in Zanzibar, I was surprised to learn that nearly 98% of the island was Muslim and that almost all of the women there, with the exception of ex-pats and a few foreigners, observed traditional Muslim dress. It was a hard lesson learned. Rocking yoga pants and a safari jacket in 100 degree weather is not fun, nor something I want to do again, but it taught me the importance of seeing each African country as having their own unique culture and customs, and doing my homework before I step on a plane. Note, when we arrived on the mainland in Dar Es Salaam, there was definitely a lot more diversity and covering ourselves was not required, but I still didn’t see a lot of American style of dress (e.g. cut off shorts, backless dresses, etc.), so I opted for more Chicos less BCBG.
As an added tip, I’ll just share that if you ever travel to Zanzibar, be prepared for breath taking views of the Indian Ocean, but some of the weakest cocktails of your life. I get it, in some cultures/religions alcohol is forbidden, but can a good old Christian girl get just a little bit of Jesus Juice. Just a swig of Ketel would be so nice! If you’re heading to this part of the world and enjoy having an occasional alcoholic beverage by the pool, you would be wise to stock up on Belvedere and Bacardi at the Duty Free in the airport before reaching your final destination. Otherwise, welcome to the land of Shirley Temples and virgin Pina Coladas.
3. A Personal Touch Still Matters
In America, it’s rare that I ever give my cell phone number out. Most of the business I do at my real job and for tgin is over email. Talking on the phone is so 2000. Aren’t we all texting, iming, gchatting, and emailing to close deals? Maybe here in the USA, but in Dar, pretty much every wanted my “local number”. My fellow colleagues from other companies traveling from the States made it a point to either unlock their cell phones or purchase a local number for $20.00. I will definitely be doing this next time. Ohhh, I can’t forget. Remember to download What’s App? It’s a must for keeping in touch with people after you leave.
4. Press 1 for English. Press 2 for Swahili
In certain African countries, including Tanzania, multiple languages are spoken. During our visit, we had several interpreters on hand who could speak Swahili, English and several of the local dialects. I initially assumed that many of the business people who approached me would feel more comfortable talking with the interpreter, but it took me getting checked a good three times (“I speak English and I’m talking to her”) before I learned that it was better to assume that people spoke English unless they told me otherwise.
5. Made in China v. Made in the USA
There is a major trade war going on between the USA and China, which is why the government sponsored our trip to the region. China and Africa have a healthy burgeoning partnership, where Africa supplies China with natural resources, and China in return supplies the continent with manufactured goods, from cell phones to television, tablets, cosmetics and clothing. Although many parts of Africa are rich in natural resources, be it agricultural commodities, or gold, silver or titanium, the continent, and there are exceptions, has yet to develop a strong capacity for manufacturing given their current infrastructure and focus on their core industries like mining and exploration.
Still, the African consumer loves the good ole USA, and has a healthy appetite for goods made here. Despite their higher cost, American goods represent quality and safety in certain parts of the world, which is why we sold out of everything at the Dar Es Salaam Trade Show, and there is a huge demand for tgin products in the region. I also learned that woman in certain countries have suffered major allergic reactions, hair loss, and outbreaks from using goods that they thought were safe American brands, only to learn they were Chinese knockoffs. Certain governments are trying to crack down on this practice, but African consumers continue to fall victim to to everything from fake Dark & Lovely relaxers to counterfeit MAC make up. If we can figure out how to give our brothers and sisters the quality natural hair products they deserve, it would be a win win for everyone involved.
BONUS — WOMEN WANT TO LOOK GOOD NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE, and WILL SPEND ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY TO DO SO
When we traveled to Dar Es Salaam, I knew that Tanzanians (generally) didn’t have the same purchasing power as individuals living in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, but I was pleasantly surprised, and in many instances, shocked to see how much women were willing to spend on hair products compared to their overall income. It blew my mind that people making $400 a month would be willing to spend $20.00 on a shampoo and conditioner. It’s like for many woman, myself included, life boils down to food (Whole Foods of course), hair and shelter. Forget about the clothes and the shoes, my natural hair will always be on point even if I’m not rocking the latest fashion. So, if you’re looking to get into beauty business, never ever under estimate a woman’s ability to make or get her hands on the cash she needs to get the products she wants to look and feel beautiful.
Until next time. We’re headed to South Africa at the beginning of September to research the market and meet with potential distributors. I definitely look forward to sharing what that experience is like, as l mentioned earlier/above the two countries are completely different.
Until next time. We’re headed to South Africa at the beginning of September to research the market and meet with potential distributors. I definitely look forward to sharing what that experience is like, as l mentioned earlier/above the two countries are completely different.More From tgin Goes to Africa
More From tgin Goes to Africa
Chris-Tia Donaldson is the owner of Thank God It’s Natural and the author of the best-selling book Thank God I’m Natural: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Natural Hair. You can follow her on Instagram @tginatural or on Facebook @thankgodimnatural. Tune in every Monday for the Target update until we launch nationwide in stores on March X, 2014.