Friday, November 27, 2009


This year's Thanksgiving showed me once again just what a small world it is, especially in Dar.

Thanksgiving day I headed out to meet with the director of Ezra Ministries of Tanzania, an organization working on urban refugee issues. I knew the office would be rather far, as the director had mentioned it was on the road to the airport. I knew the airport was about 1/2 an hour outside the city center, depending on traffic. What I didn't realize was that he meant it was on the road PAST the airport. It was almost twice as far as I had anticipated at the beginning of the journey.

Thankfully, Kelly had given me the name of a fabulous Rastafarian taxi driver named Moshi. He was great and I am pretty sure he will be unlikely to answer my call for a taxi again anytime soon. He battled traffic for almost an hour on our way out there, waited for me for over an hour, and then drove me back to the city center. I surely would have been stuck there for the day, if not for Moshi.

When we rolled into this tiny little place, on the outskirts of Dar, off the main road, I wondered what I had gotten myself into this time. However, I was almost immediately distracted by the fact that I saw another Mazungu (literally "European," but now used as a term for any foreigner from the west - as far as I can tell) and wondered how we had both managed to find this little tiny place - seeming in the middle of nowhere. She was also from the U.S. and was there as a volunteer for a few months - having just arrived a month or so prior to our meeting. She explained to me a bit about how she found her way there and introduced me to the director.

He and I conducted our meeting, exchanged information, and I was on my way. [I am happy to give you details on that some other time if you like, but the substance of the meeting relates little to the small world scenario. : )] On my way out, I exchanged info with the American I had met when I arrived - and thought that we might communicate via email, but that I probably wouldn't see her again.

So, that night I took off from the hostel with my colleagues to meet the IRC (International Rescue Committee) country director and his wife for drinks at their apartment. Then we headed to their friends' apartment for Thanksgiving dinner.

One of the first people I see as I enter the apartment for dinner is the American from earlier that day, who I met about 20k away at this little NGO that no one in Dar seems to have heard of before. It turns out that she went to grad school at American and used to live in Mt. Pleasant, just up the road from me in DC. Dar + DC = small world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Race and deodorant in America

At dinner last night, a few Tanzanians, one German and two of us Americans talked about how people view and discuss race differently in Africa and in the U.S. Then somehow the conversation shifted to America's obsession with deodorant use and daily showers. These American social standards somehow created much more of a cultural disconnect than our race discussion...

Running Man

My colleague noticed on our taxi ride home today that the street signal indicating that it was safe to cross the street had a person running, not walking, across the street. It was pretty amusing to see, especially since this signal is totally appropriate in Dar - where you take your life in your hands any time you attempt to cross (or walk along) almost any street.


Obama is huge in Tanzania. There are even rumors that his father's mother was actually born in Tanzania and then moved to Kenya. It doesn't matter who you are talking to, whether it is the bajaj (like a "tuk tuk" in Thailand, apparently) driver, the priest running our hostel, or the performers at last week's concert, everyone LOVES Obama. If Tanzanians here in Dar know how to say anything in English, it seems to be "Obama, yes we can!"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Speed bumps

Speed bumps. Lots of speed bumps. Everywhere. The best is when you find speed bumps on UNpaved roads - roads that might pop your tires. Roads that are most certainly are not designed for speed, but apparently ARE designed for speed bumps. I wonder if people think that there is actually a necessity for the speed bumps on the unpaved roads? Or are they just jealous of those people living on the paved roads - and add the speed bumps just to make their street more like them? Then maybe no one would notice their street was unpaved?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Listen to the Music

A group of us went to hear some bands at the Alliance Francaise last night. I had forgotten that not only are there no lines when queuing on the road, there are no lines between performer and spectator either. Members of the audience literally took the mic to rap in Swahili, harmonize with the band, or just dance with the performers on stage - with varying degrees of success.

It was difficult to tell who was part of the act and who was just looking for some attention. One group of teenage boys seemed to have just decided to take over the stage to rap, along with a middle aged Indian man (complete with a fanny pack slung over his shoulders) playing harmonica. Unfortunately, they had no talent to back up their bravado - and their middle-aged band member on the harmonica didn't help. Luckily, they didn't stay long.

There was a fabulous band from Arusha (in the north of Tanzania) that followed them, thankfully. They got much of the crowd dancing. Interestingly, though we were at the Alliance Francaise, the performers seemed to be mostly from Tanzania, along with a few Americans - including the main act Mama C and the MC. No french was spoken there though, other than a shout out to the AF for hosting the event.

The audience was mostly Tanzanian, with many ex-pats of various ages and nationalities in the mix. A good crowd, and a great time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tanzania - settling in

I arrived in Tanzania two weeks ago. I stayed with my friend Kelly from DC for the first week I was here. She graciously offered me accommodation, a cell phone, and free Swahili translation (she was in Peace Corps TZ and speaks it fluently). Thanks Kel!

A week ago, I moved to the Passionist Fathers hostel/hotel in Mikocheni B outside the city center. I am sharing a room with my colleague, Lisa, who is working with me here in Dar. The Passionist Fathers staff and guests have been fabulously hospitable. Our breakfast is included in the price of our stay and we also are able to get lunch and dinner served almost every day for about $10 a day. The food is really good, but pretty much everything is fried, dipped in oil, or both. Vegetables tend to be scarce, though at least one fruit is generally available at most meals.

However, they have AMAZING coffee and really good wine - which are both included in our meal price. We also never know what we will eat, or with whom. There are new guests almost every night. Most come from Europe, but we have also had an American ex-pat who has been living in Congo for decades, a Tanzanian ex-pat now living in Uganda, and a few European students doing their thesis here in Tanzania as well.

So, almost every day we learn something new at lunch or dinner. We have gotten info on Tanzanian history and geography, life as an ex-pat in rural Congo, and even some info on Finnish politics and life in Helsinki.

The Tanzanians have been very friendly, and like Malians see greetings as very important. You should always ask how they are, about their health, and any other questions you can think to inquire about upon meeting them. However, they will always tell you "karibu" (welcome) in return. They are always smiling, even when telling you they are not going to lower their taxi price, there is no more red snapper, or that they do not have any change. It is extremely difficult to get - or keep - change in Tanzania. No one wants to part with it, sometimes even if it means foregoing a profit.

Oh, and even by African standards, the bureaucracy is out of control here. To get anything done, you must speak with several people, fill out many forms, and inevitably come back another day - because whatever you want cannot be done now, if ever.

Also, don't expect to stand in line here. There are instances where it seems as if people are waiting in line for something, but the line is really irrelevant. If there is an opportunity to get what you need, just go around the person in front of you. If you don't, you will always find that everyone behind you has already conducted their business and left before you have gotten a chance to get anything done.

There is so much to tell and some entertaining stories to come, I promise. However, I thought I would at least give you all some information about life here so far. Thanks for reading.
: )