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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.

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!


  1. All of this is fascinating! The food, the people, the language,but not the part about losing the ATM card and access to cash. I'm glad you found a solution even if it wasn't the one you wanted.

  2. I am sorry to hear about your ATM experience sis. I guess the situation with electricity in Africa is pretty much the same. I'm surprise that even Wells Fargo, couldn't come up with something to help you out. Anyway, the good news is you found your way to getting some cash...thank God for that. I miss you and keep posting.

  3. If I can help clear things up with the bank ... let me know.. I had troubles in India with atms... grrrr. totally feel your pain! email me though as I"m rarely here!!

    hugs and hopeing for amazing more fun w/out tooo much further bank troubles! Jan

  4. Hey, all my buddies! Thanks for posting comments. It's really nice to hear from you.

  5. What a story! It might be a good idea to have a second, backup, credit card. One of mine was eaten by an ATM in Ghana, on a Saturday. The bank wouldn't give it back, said it was compromised somehow. I called the US and they had no record of any trouble, but canceled it and it took ages for me to get another one. Fortunately, I had another credit card.

    About washing your undies yourself, I guess it's probably not too hard, as long as all the other stuff is taken care of. Handwashing is a pain when you're spoiled by washing machines!

    PS: I spent my honeymoon in Tanga on the coast, going there from Nairobi on an overnight bus. My wedding was rather bizarre as you can read here:
    How (Not) to Get Married in Kenya:

  6. @Miss Footloose: Sorry I took so long to reply! I read about your Kenyan wedding several weeks ago when I first found your blog (which I really enjoy). I hope if I end up getting married in Tanzania that I get a fancier wedding than you did! But I do plan to visit Tanga-maybe it's a good honeymoon spot!