New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We are edging into the Long Rains, "Masika," normally from April through June or July. The other two seasons are "Vuli," the Short Rains in November and December, and two rounds of "Kiangazi," the dry season in August through October and again January through March. We've had heavy tropical rain in bursts of an hour or two at different times of day. The weather is cool and lovely, with clouds blocking the sun. The locals are wearing sweaters, and I've at least stopped sweating in my t-shirts.
The rain is bringing out all kinds of little creatures. The other evening, a large moth (about 5" across) was lying on the table on the restaurant porch. He had the most beautiful protective coloring in greens and browns, which would have rendered him invisible on tree bark, but left him highly visible on the red plaid Maasai cloth tablecloth. A huge black cricket was crawling around my back porch a couple of nights ago. I didn't hear him singing, though, so he must have found his way out. He was not quite as big as a Mormon cricket, and not as disgusting, although I really can't say why not! There was a sweet little leopard-spotted frog, about the size of a quarter, all hunched up in a corner of the front porch two nights ago. Last night, a good sized green and brown frog spent about an hour on the front porch with me. He hopped all around the edges of the porch, pouncing on bugs, very efficient. At one point, a gecko came down onto the porch floor, and the frog charged him (as much as you can charge in a series of hops), and the gecko yielded and ran back up the wall. As I walked out the compound gate in early afternoon, an 8-inch long yellow slug greeted me on the road. A large beetle crash-landed upside down on the restaurant terrace while I was having coffee this morning. When I flipped him right side up, he had striking bright yellow markings on his back. And just now, a skink is drying off in front of the geraniums outside my front door.

Last year when I was here, I bought a few pieces of Tanzanian fabrics in bright prints. I almost finished making myself a dress before I came back, but not quite. I brought it with me, and Fatina, the waitress here at Kundayo Apartments, helped me find a tailor nearby, who finished it for me for $1.79. He fixed the mistake I had made in trying to fit the top across  my shoulder blades and hemmed up everything. Actually, it took three of us. One of the maintenance men knew where the tailor lives, and Fatina could translate English to Swahili for me. We walked out to the main road, down a few storefronts, then through a small doorway to a courtyard and into someone's small cinderblock  house. The tailor, a man, had an old black Singer sewing machine set up in the window. He examined all the seams, and Fatina translated for me what I wanted. He told her that he could see that I knew how to sew, but that I had been working alone -- maybe in reference to the trouble I had fitting the back. He kept it for only a day and it looks great.

The moth's protective coloring isn't working...

My protective coloring is better with the orange walls at Kundayo,
but still not enough to really blend in.

I attended two English classes on Tuesday. In reverse of last year, the advanced class is very quiet, and several students in the beginning class speak willingly. The classes last 90 minutes. Most students come at least ten minutes late. The ones who come on time wait around outside until they see the teacher go into the room, also about ten minutes late (or more). He has to round them up and urge them into the classroom. The real latecomers drift in one at a time up to as much as an hour late. Each one knocks lightly on the door, sticks his head in, says, "Excuse me, teacher," then slips into the room, then says, "Good morning, class," then finds a seat. Every now and then a student's cell phone rings and they always leave the room and take the call. Every time, the teacher says, "Throw that thing away." But every now and then the teacher's cell phone rings and he always leaves the room and takes the call. Sometimes other teachers will knock and call out one of the students or the teacher. With about 20 minutes left in the beginning class, this happened and Mr. Solomon slipped out and just never came back. So I stood up and finished the class. Then I found him in his office filling out some paperwork!

I went for my Swahili lesson with him yesterday afternoon, which was hard! He's giving me lots of new words and long, convoluted sentences. About ten minutes before we were due to finish, two Tanzanian ladies knocked and came in. They are from a company here that sells nursery stock to Europe and their company is sending them to Mr. Solomon for English lessons. So he had me go to the board and show them personal pronouns. Then he rounded up five other students from the English classes and brought them in so we could all practice English and Swahili chatting with each other.

When I returned to Kundayo Apartments, the weather was so cool and nice I went for a walk to enjoy the chance to exercise without becoming drenched in sweat. I walked up through the neighborhood in the hills above us, heading toward Mt. Meru, to see if I could find a fabulous view. A little girl in her dark green school uniform was keeping pace with me, so I greeted her in Swahili. she immediately switched the conversation to English, and told me she is in Form 5 (I think that's the same as fifth grade). She spoke English very well, almost sounded British. I said, "Your English is very good." She told me, very seriously, "Yes, of course." We were having a nice chat, but then the rain started again, so I turned around and made for Kundayo. So I was drenched when I got home anyway, but rain water was a refreshing change from sweat.

There are many Maasai people in Arusha, some of whom wear western style clothes, but many of whom wear the traditional "shuka," or mostly red cloths draped around their shoulders and waists. Some carry herding sticks with them. These are the people Americans think of when we picture traditional tribal people out on the Serengeti. They are semi-nomadic, with a cattle-based economy. They live in "bomas," collections of small  mud huts with thatch roofs enclosed in circular thorn bush fences. They take the cattle out grazing during the day, then corral them inside the "boma" at night. When I see the Maasai here in town wearing their traditional clothes, I just want to stare and take it all in. They seem so exotic, and the clothes are so colorful. And every time, as I'm reminding myself not to stare at people, I see that the Maasai are staring really hard right at me, as I am so exotic here. This morning I stopped at an internet cafe with two computers, and a Maasai was at the next one. He wore traditional robes, secured with a wide leather belt. He had wide beaded bracelets on both wrists and both ankles. He was sending a few e-mails, then talked on his cell phone for a few minutes. He then holstered the cell phone on his belt, right behind the machete in its leather scabbard.

Waiting for the dala dala

Dala dala

Selling bread

Selling second-hand shoes

Barack Obama running for office with Mt. Meru in the background. This was here last year, too, when it was more timely, but I neglected to get a picture. Mt. Meru was almost visible today, the clouds usually hide it, so here's part of it!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Okay, now my cold is closer to almost gone! Friday I did attend one of the English classes and assist the teacher in conducting discussions on five topics. Just like last year's beginning English class, only a few of the students spoke. Many were too shy to exhibit their English in front of the class and the visiting American. I've now seen a half dozen of the students I got to know last year, some at the school and a couple of them around town. It's really fun to see them and say hello. One is working as a waiter at one of the fancy hotels, and his English is great now. Another, I ran into as she was going for a job interview at a hotel. I hope she got the job!

The local lawyer I hired turned out to be totally worthless. So now I'm back to being wracked with anxiety over the visa process. I just don't know how things will turn out.

As to the threatened nightly blackouts, they haven't happened at all. As a matter of fact, electrical service has been much more reliable since they issued the threat!

Another fun outdoor evening eating experience in the Arusha city park. You could call it the Tanzanian version of a food court. We parked at one end of a small park, with dozens of other cars. At the other end of the park, there are a selection of various barbecue stands, each with chicken, beef, or goat. You pick one and order meat, then add a starchy side of rice, ugali (stiff cornmeal mush), or grilled bananas. Yes, bananas can be a starch! In Tanzania, they have a bunch (get it??) of different kinds of banana. Some are soft and sweet and quite small. The ones they grill or fry are large, not sweet, and very dry and starchy. We walked to a beef stand, but on the way passed a grill full of whole chickens, which looked good. When I saw all the assorted parts of rib cages at the beef grill, I changed my mind and went back for chicken. We sat at a plastic table again. For hand washing, a waitress came around with a tin kettle full of warm water and some powdered dish soap and poured the water over our hands into a plastic basin. The chicken was really good. It was cut in more miscellaneous pieces than we do at home, and also was a smaller, tougher bird. They always bring around toothpicks after you eat, and usually you need them. K2 pointed out a nearby police station as we drove into the park, but said that this place had been hit by robbers once a few months ago, anyway.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Blackout is Late

My cold is almost gone. Two people have told me this is the time of year, because of dust (which I'm not noticing at all, it seems very humid and un-dusty to me, being from Utah and all), when it's very common to get this bad cold and sore throat and lose your voice.

I finally made it back to my Swahili lessons today. "Kuwa" means to be. "Kuwa na" means to have. Nitakuwa Marekani next year. I will be in America next year. Nitakuwa na only one problem, the visa. I will have only one problem... Tomorrow I'll start volunteering with the English classes at the tour guide school.

The government agency in charge of electricity issued a statement saying they will do a "power shed," to use less electricity. It's supposed to be no power every evening from 6:00 to 10:00 indefinitely. But they're late! Things always run late here. We still have electricity and it's 8:30! The statement says all four of the country's major power plants have some sort of problems requiring maintenance at the same time. Rumor has it there's some sort of political motivation because of upcoming elections, but that's tricky for a foreigner to sort out, so I will attempt no interpretation. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Are My Tonsils Doing Back There??

Good news! The South African construction workers are gone. As a matter of fact, I think I'm the only guest here right now. So I got to move back into the newer room. The shower and the kitchen are way better. Although I think I'm trading down a little on the charm of the porch with the older room.

I've been sick with a cold and a bad sore throat for about 4 days now, and I've just had enough. At home, I'd still be able to hop in the car and run to Smith's if I needed something, and I'd have all kinds of entertainment options in my house and Zelma would call from across the street twice a day to see how I'm doing.

But even though it's just a cold, I feel really tired. To go somewhere, I'd need to make the effort of walking and then negotiating the crowded dala dala. It's been very hot and humid, so I know I'd wilt with my current condition. Plus, my voice has basically been gone for two days, so not only can I not speak Swahili, I can't speak at all. Although now, near the end of day 4, I feel like it's almost over and maybe tomorrow I can get out and about again.

K2 was stricken with a horrible, pounding headache that lasted for 2 days, while he was driving and taking buses back and forth between here and Kilimanjaro and taking care of business. His friends took him to the hospital last night, where they diagnosed malaria, which he's had for awhile, and gave him two injections a few hours apart, and then sent him home. I saw him briefly this afternoon, and he says he's better, but really tired.

And then he took off towards Kilimanjaro to work on settling an ongoing dispute with some Park Rangers. Last week, robbers slit a tent and stole a tourist's backpack with cash and passport inside. The guides, who work for K2's company, called the Park Service. When the Park Rangers arrived on site at 2:30 in the morning, they beat up the guides to try to get them to confess to the theft! I was appalled, and said all the American things about violence being the most frightening when it's an abuse of power by someone in authority, etc. A few days later when the tourists came off the mountain, K2 went to meet them. He told me they, all Americans, said the exact same things I said. It's a very upsetting situation, and the Park Service has not fired the rangers. Although the Minister of Tourism did meet with the tourists and give a soothing speech.

For the four days of being sick, I've been skipping all my Swahili lessons and two days of helping with English classes. So I'm getting bored, which leaves a lot of time for ruminating. And here's something that occurred to me:

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines in 1982-83. That was before the days of email, digital photography, laptops, and cell phones. On this trip to Tanzania, I am the most wired I've ever been. I have a cell phone that can call globally, a netbook, a digital camera, an i-Pod with travel speakers, and a Kindle (electronic book reader).

In the Philippines, it took 2 weeks for a letter or package to make the trip between the Philippines and home. When we wanted to call home, which we only did about 3 times in 2 years, we traveled 50 km to a bigger city. Then we went to the phone office, where we requested our call. Then we waited, usually about 4 to 6 hours, for the operator to connect our call. And then we paid $20 for a few minutes. Now I'm firing off e-mails and posting comments on Facebook. I'm trying not to make phone calls, because it's $3/minute, but I'm text messaging because it's cheap.

In the Philippines, I took rolls of fabulous pictures on slide film. Then we mailed them home to my mom, who got them developed and mailed them back to us, so we could see how the pictures were turning out. I was just learning to use a 35-mm camera and needed to see the results. So we had about a 6-week turn around on the pictures, and no projector for showing them to anybody there. Two years later, after we got home, we went around and did a bunch of slide shows for people. Now I'm inserting photos I took a few minutes ago into blog posts so all my friends half a world away can see them instantly.

In the Philippines, we waited eagerly for the weekly deposit of the "Stars and Stripes," the military newspaper, at our Peace Corps diplomatic pouch mailbox in the capital city 50 km away, as well as our individual copies of "Newsweek." Now, I'm reading the Denver Post every day. I subscribed to it on Kindle. And although I'm disappointed to find that my global wireless on the Kindle doesn't work right here at Kundayo Apartments, I'm able to download the paper from onto my netbook, and from my netbook onto my Kindle. Then I relax with a cup of coffee and read the paper.

All the department stores in the Philippines sold bootleg cassette tapes of American music for about $1.89. And the Peace Corps gave all the volunteers a medical kit inside a gray plastic briefcase thingy that would just fit three rows of cassettes crosswise. So all of us put the band-aids and antibiotic cream in plastic bags and filled the cases with badly recorded bootleg music. We bought a brick-sized Sony Walkman so we could listen to it all on buses and in pension houses, and an overpriced little tape player that we had to stick a paper clip in to keep the "play" button depressed. I'd say we had about 36 albums.  Now I have my tiny little i-Pod with 1200 songs on it, plus a travel speaker that weighs only a couple of pounds. Plus, when I got those Filipino tapes home to a real stereo, I could hear the difference between bootleg and real tapes! The last tape we bought there was Michael Jackson's "Thriller," which was released just before we came home.

And in the Philippines, the thing that was the hardest for me was the shortage of books to read for pleasure. I was scrabbling around for anything. That's when I first read Dirk Pitt books from the Peace Corps library in Manila. That's when I paid one peso to rent Vogue Magazine for a week. I even got to the point with that one that I could identify different designers' dresses from the pictures. Yes, I know, that's very hard for my friends who have seen my current wardrobe to believe! But now, I have 272 books loaded on my Kindle. I can keep reading and reading and reading! And if I did run out of books, I could order more from, download to my netbook, and onto my Kindle.

The Totally Wired Tourist
My travel collection of charger cords and various cables

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Washing My Panties in a Bucket

Last night we went to Nick's Pub, the current most popular barbecue place, in Njiro, a rich part of town and apparently not subject to restaurant robberies. Plastic tables and chairs, same as the lawn chairs at home, were set out on a gravel surface under an awning for shade. They had two big grills fired up. One was covered with whole split chickens, and the other had one foil packet on it. This turned out to be the steamed fish that K2 was intent on eating. But we had to wait an hour for it because they fly it in every afternoon from Lake Victoria after the fishermen come back in.

Tanzanians are meticulous about washing hands before and after eating. Nick's had a handwashing station among the tables. It was a square metal tank of about two gallons mounted on a waist-high stand. Two sides had faucets near the bottom and cupholders held water bottles full of liquid soap, with holes punched in the lids. This one was super deluxe, with a sort of chimney on top where they kept putting in glowing coals to warm the water.

When we did finally get the fish, it was incredible. It was whole, maybe about 3 pounds, covered in onions and peppers. On the side, we had fried bananas. Yum! The place was hopping, with a mix of tourists and locals, and cars constantly prowling through the narrow, inadequate parking area looking for a space. When I went to wash my hands after I finished eating, three Tanzanian ladies asked me very politely if we were leaving, so I pointed out our table and they came over to hover and wait. But it was awhile before we got the check, so they pulled up chairs and sat down after we urged, "Karibuni!" (Welcome!). I missed a bunch of jokes because I don't know enough Swahili. It's just like back in Mexico in the 1980's when I could tell that people were really funny, but I couldn't tell what they were saying, and I knew I had to learn Spanish.

In comments on my last post, Joanie requested pictures of cute little kids. I haven't taken very many people shots because I worry about being intrusive. But I hung my camera around my neck early one cool morning and went for a walk in the neighborhood above Kundayo Apartments. It turns out little kids see the camera and say, "Mzungu! Picha!" (White person! Take my picture!) So here are a few shots of a few of the cute little kids in the neighborhood.

And here's a picture of an internet cafe up the road from Kundayo. The one I'm using is a bit nicer.

I've been here long enough to need to do laundry. Luckily for me, Ashura, the head housekeeper at the volunteer house where I stayed last year, told me she wants my business. That's good, because she charges less than 1/2 of what they charge at Kundayo. I'm just too lazy to do it all myself by hand. But that still leaves the problem of panties. Tanzanians don't handle other people's underwear. This custom is so strong that washing out underwear is the only domestic task that married Tanzanian men do for themselves. So I spent a half hour out on the porch washing my panties in a bucket. Then I whipped out the special travel clothesline with built-in alligator clip clothespins from REI and draped my panties across the front porch. Which I think was marginal in terms of panty modesty, because they were out in the semi-open.

Saturday afternoon, I took the dala dala ride out to  the volunteer house to visit with the housekeeping staff there. We put on some Kenyan music from my i-Pod and travel speakers and drank some sodas and danced on the back porch of the house. All of the volunteers were out at an orphanage event, so we had the place to ourselves. It was a hot day, so I didn't work myself up too  much with the dancing. It was really fun to see everyone. None of them speak much English, so again, I gotta learn more Swahili so I don't miss all the fun.

Ashura and Hilda and I walked about 2 km to the new volunteer house, built since I was here last year. It's in a whole area full of new houses going up. We walked past a big rock pit wth dozens of people, mostly Maasai women, sitting in the sun with piles of rocks, breaking them into gravel with handheld hammers. What a hard job! Although K2 tells me they get paid well and consider it to be good work. Hilda and Ashura kept saying, "Pole!" (Sorry!), and the ladies would answer, "Asante!" (Thank you!) People here commonly say that to someone who looks like he's working too hard, or even out walking in the hot sun.

The new house is beautiful,  very pleasant. I met an American woman there who works for the volunteer company as an employee placing volunteers. She's married to a Tanzanian man. And the reception clerk at Kundayo Apartments is a young British woman living in Arusha with her Tanzanian boyfriend. So I'm not the only foreigner to fall for the Tanzanian charm.

As to the visa process that brought me here, we hired a lawer who's been an acquaintnce of K2's family for years. He immediately suggested a solution to the problem I've been worried about, and it's a common local situation. So I'm feeling more optimistic about the visa now. Although the lawyer himself made me a little bit nervous, because he's expensive and kind of like a car salesman (but American lawyers are like that too).

I went to the ATM one night at 9:30 to get cash to pay the lawyer the next day. I inserted my card, punched in my pin and the amount to withdraw, and then the power went out. We hung around for a few minutes, but the power goes out almost every evening here and it could be hours. K2 called the bank's customer service number and they assured him it was impossible for the machine to spit the card back out and that we should go back to the bank the next morning and they would return my card. HA! My biggest travel advice to anyone is NEVER go into a bank in a developing country if you can in any way avoid it. It took an hour and a half for the scared clerk at the front counter to admit that they couldn't find my card. Then it took twenty minutes and three demands from me before I got to speak to the bank manager. It took him another hour and a half talking to the head office in Dar es Salaam and poring over transaction records from the machine. Then he reached the conclusion that the machine, although it was impossible, had indeed spit out my card when the power came back on.  So I had to cancel my ATM card and all my plans for accessing money for living expenses here. I asked the bank manager if the bank could give me a cash advance on my credit card, and he said no. I asked him if I could access my American accounts through his bank, and he said no. I told him I was now cut off from all my money back in America and asked if he could give me a job at his bank. He laughed, but he didn't give me the job.

Then I called Wells Fargo customer service to see if they could help me. In order for them to work with me, I had to answer detailed questions about recent transactions in my accounts. Which, of course, I couldn't remember. So I went back to Kundayo Apartments and plugged in my netbook to the internet and pulled up my bank accounts, then called Wells Fargo back. I spent about two hours on the phone with them, but they couldn't help me. And when I made disparaging remarks about customer service in African banks, K2 pointed out that my American bank took just as long to not help me, either.

But all was not lost, because at one of the fancy hotels, a business will give cash advances on Visa credit cards. It's not ideal, because they charge a commission and don't give the best exchange rate, but I was so relieved when they handed me cash, that I didn't care!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Getting It Together

I went down to Jordan Institute this morning at 8:00 in response to Mr. Solomon's request that I visit that class. He introduced me and said I'd be here teaching the class for them for a few weeks. Then he took me to a second class and also told them I'd be teaching. So I made a  deal with him, saying I'd like to volunteer, but not work as hard as last year (3 classes every day,  2 of them beginning, teaching grammar). I have signed on to attend two classes, one of them beginners, on Tuesdays and Fridays when they debate current social topics in order to practice their English.

I also had my first Swahili lesson this afternoon, with Mr. Solomon as my excellent teacher. It turns out I have actually not forgotten every shred of Swahili. A lot of the verb forms came right back to me as soon as he started reviewing. I so enjoy studying language. It feels like a good workout on the treadmill for my brain.

And I am regaining my proficiency at riding the dala dala and at shopping for food and regaining my enjoyment of being surrrounded by everyday Tanzanian life.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Out and About

The Germans I complained about in the last post are actually South African construction workers here to install air conditioners in a big hotel, and the loud guttural communications on the porch are actually Afrikaans. Just to clear that up so my griping is accurate! And they’re here for another two weeks, but I can’t hear them from my new room.
Here’s a picture of my room and the porch. The color scheme is a bit disturbing, but I’m learning to ignore it.

And pictures of the grounds of Kundayo Apartments. It's nothing fancy, but it's really pleasant and the family who own it and all of their staff are really friendly.



K2 and I went out to dinner at a small restaurant, Mianzini Big Bite, across the street from Jordan Institute, the tour guiding school where I volunteered last year. The electricity was off when we got there, with the restaurant lit by candles and lanterns. It’s in a busy area, surrounded by street markets, so there was a lot of activity. K2 was very nervous and lectured me about not carrying a purse at night, but just a bit of money in my pocket. I argued a bit because he was criticizing my carefully-selected, field-tested travel purse with the wide strap diagonally across my shoulder. He pointed to a spot in the middle of my chest and said, “The robbers will cut right here. It’s OK to carry this in the daytime, but not at night.” Arusha has always had muggings, some of them violent. Tourists can avoid the muggers by avoiding certain places in the city after dark. But K2 tells me the number and violence of robberies has increased a great deal over the past year. Now gangs of robbers are armed with guns (before it was machetes), and they’re expanding from dark, isolated streets to local-style restaurants. K2 was in a restaurant a few weeks ago when armed robbers burst in and ordered all the staff and customers to the floor and systematically took everyone’s money and cell phones. One of the customers had a gun and from his position on the floor, shot and killed two of the robbers. One of the robbers shot and killed one of the customers. K2 and one other man ran up a back stairway and hid on the roof until it was over. Sometimes the differences in life here and at home just stun me. Plus, dinner out by candlelight was not fun, but scary, and we ate as fast as we could and did not linger in the shadows.

I’m having the same first week in Arusha that I had last year. But you all didn’t hear about it because I love to tell the spectacular stories and always forget about the things that make me look like the wimp I am. The first few days I have felt just bored and isolated and lonely (K2 is working and not around to entertain me all day), and frustrated because I don’t know how to do anything here. Even though I learned how to do things last year. So I woke up morose this morning. But I made myself go out to the main road and flag down a dala-dala (mini-bus) and rode into town. Then I took a long walk to Sakina Supermarket and bought some of the things I need in order to start figuring out what I can possibly cook for dinner. Then I stopped back in at Mianzini Big Bite. It was not scary in daylight and I saw my favorite waitress, Regina, and she remembered me. Also, the comedienne who has the vegetable stall bordering the Big Bite who loved to make fun of me in Swahili last year is still there. I walked around to her stall and greeted her with, “Rafiki yangu!” (My friend!) and bought an avocado even though I didn’t need any more. Next, I crossed the street to Jordan Institute, where I found Mr. Solomon,and arranged to start Swahili lessons with him tomorrow. He, of course, immediately tried to recruit me to volunteer again. I haven’t decided if I will, but I agreed to visit his 8:00 class tomorrow morning. I’m sure he’ll talk me into something. But even though last year was really fun, I don’t want to work that hard this time.

So now I’ve ridden the dala-dala, bought food with no set price from people who don’t speak English, and reconnected with some friends from last year, and arranged some ongoing activities. I feel better already!

And just to reconfirm that I feel better I was carrying my netbook over to the lounge with the internet connection, I passed by the outdoor kitchen. A few staff members were having lunch and they called me in to eat ugali and mboga with them. That's a stiff cornmeal mush and pumpkin leaves. It's traditional, everyday food that Tanzanians love and that they love to offer to strangers. It's a mark of tourist sensitivity if you can eat it with your fingers, which I can. I really enjoyed the staff's lunch break out behind the restaurant!

Yesterday, I went by the volunteer house (which I won’t name because I’m going to say bad things about it). Those of you who followed my exploits last year will probably recall that I only lasted for a week and a half in the volunteer house because of the wild partying by all the young volunteers. Since last year, the program fired the driver because they caught him having sex with a volunteer on the front porch of the house, and one of the housing managers because he was having sex with numerous volunteers. The guy who was selling pot to the volunteers is also gone, although I didn’t hear if that was the reason. But apparently the program is booming, because they’ve added a second house in another part of town. The first house has 26 volunteers right now. They split the housekeeping staff of four with two of them at each house. The grounds were in bad shape. I chatted with a couple of the volunteers who seemed interesting and nice, but still, yeecch!

I just read back over this post, and I see that it sounds alarming. So even when I’m whining, I guess I still like to make it sound as if I’m very adventurous. Let me just finish by emphasizing to everyone that I’m safe and sound in a protected environment and following the advice of an astute local as to my personal security. And also, I’m done feeling morose.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Arrived Safely, Settling In

I've arrived safely in Arusha, Tanzania and am settling in here at Kundayo Apartments. My first room was lovely with a nice new bathroom and kitchen and a front porch facing the main garden. It also came surrounded by four young German men whose daily routine includes several hours from afternoon through evening of sitting on the front porch and smoking and smoking and smoking and yelling back and forth in really LOUD German. Although F***ING sounds the same as in English. Last night, when the power went off at 3:00, they got out of bed and repeated the same routine at F***ING 3:00 in the morning! Mazo, my host, seemed to be expecting trouble from this incompatible placement. He'd placed me in that room because I'd requested one of the newer ones. So he moved me to the older part of the inn in a nice quiet corner, and I'm settling in there in an older, but still comfortable, room.

I'm almost over the jet lag of the day-and-a-half odyssey through ten time zones. The first day I lay down to "read for a few minutes," and promptly fell asleep for an hour. Yesterday, I lay down to "read for a few minutes" and promptly fell asleep for four hours. Then a few hours later, slept another seven hours. Today I feel pretty normal.

I ventured on foot to a nearby supermarket, and it felt almost as if the last nine months back in America never happened. An old man saw me walking and said, "Pole, Mama." Literally, sorry ma'am, meaning he commiserates with me for being out walking too fast in the hot sun. Three little girls in school uniforms asked me my name, where I was from and where I was going. They walked along with me, each one peeling off at the path to her own house. Two of the supermarket employees remembered me and gave me big smiles. And apparently, I've forgotten every shred of Swahili that I learned last year. That must be due to my rigorous study schedule of three sessions over the last nine months back at home.
It’s wonderful to spend some time with K2 again, after the latest separation of nine months. He met me at the airport, and we’ve been spending evenings together. Although he hasn’t been on the mountain since I arrived and has no treks scheduled, he’s still busy with work, both at the office and running errands from Arusha to Kilimanjaro. Tomorrow’s Sunday, so I’m hopeful of getting him for the whole day.

While I was at home packing for the trip and feeling all stressed out over final preparations, K2 and his fellow guides and porters were receiving payment and tips from two South African clients that turned out to be partially in counterfeit US dollars! When I start getting too whiney about life in America, K2 often has some story to tell me that puts things back in perspective.

I’m a bit at loose ends with K2 always at work and me having no scheduled activities. For next week, I’m planning to find Mr. Solomon and see if he will resume my Swahili lessons from last year in spite of my bad interim performance. He is the English teacher I worked for last year, and he also teaches Swahili. He’s a great teacher and I learned really well from him, so I’m hoping he’s still available and looking for extra work. Then I’ll have something fun to keep me busier and I’ll be able to start talking with people more. So far, as I search for words to use, I’m getting about one-tenth Swahili and nine-tenths Spanish. Guess I shouldn’t have spent Christmas in Mexico!