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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Visits to Doctors and Friends

I finally had to admit that my cold/sore throat had progressed to an ear infection. I told myself for two weeks that it was clearing up on its own because I so did not want to go to a doctor in Tanzania. People here do not have private doctors, but go to a hospital and wait in line to be seen by the next available doctor. At the public hospital, it ususally takes hours. But on Saturday, the pain inside my ears became so sharp that it woke me up in the middle of the night. Sunday afternoon, I went to the doctor. K2 took me to a small clinic, which he referred to as "the Wazungu (white people) Hospital." It was in an area of stately homes in huge walled compounds. I was the only patient, and there was just one doctor reading a Patricia Cornwell mystery. He diagnosed an ear infection and gave me antibiotics, which have helped greatly. I shouldn't have been such a baby for two weeks. The doctor gave me his business card, and I was just able to keep from laughing until I got back into the waiting room and showed it to K2. His first name is "Exorbitant." So I guess he had to become either a doctor or a lawyer! although I did pay only about $17 for the exam.

Meanwhile, K2, who has never before visited a dentist, was in pain because a front tooth had chipped on the back adjacent to a cavity. I convinced him to go to the dentist, and insist on fillings, not tooth pullings (which I gather are more common here). He's had sugar and temperature sensitivity in his teeth for at least a couple of years, which means cavities. He went to a European dentist, who gave him five fillings. Things were good for a few days, then one of the fillings fell out. He went back the next day, and she was very apologetic and replaced the filling free of charge. Then, that night, it fell out again!  And this is reputedly the best dentist in Arusha. He hasn't returned yet, and although it causes him a bit of pain, he's started saying maybe he should leave it as is. This is one area where I am sure Americans are right, and he has to go back and get it fixed it again. I got the name of another dentist who's supposed to be good, too, so maybe I can convince him to go there.

My favorite student from last year's advanced English class, Rhama Hassan, came to see me at school. She is a young Muslim woman whose family is Somalian. She wears "ijabu," the full-length black robe with head covering. Last year she also wore a veil over her face, but this year she's not wearing the veil.

Me and Rahma in last year's English class

She invited me to visit her house, and met me one morning at the school and we walked to her house. It has two bedrooms (for about 6 adults and a toddler), a sitting room, kitchen, and inside bathroom with squat toilet. It's in a very pleasant location, with a small shady yard enclosed by a high hedge, and a view of Mt. Meru. The floors are cement with a heavy vinyl, adhesive-backed covering stuck down. It's pretty common here, and always has some wrinkles and tears. There was a large window with a nice breeze and lacy curtains. They had big upholstered love seats and a TV set. It's common here to cram giant pieces of furniture against the walls in tiny rooms.

Her sister is adept at drawing henna designs, a common body decoration for Muslim women for various celebrations. She painted a beautiful floral design on my hand  and wrist and colored the fingernails. At which point, I realized that the reddish nail-coloring I see here all the time that looks really worn out and chipped is not neglected nail polish, but henna and it's supposed to look that way. She cooked up a gel-like substance in the kitchen, then held my arm on her lap and dabbed on the design. I felt very pampered, like having your hair done at a nice salon. My arm smelled strongly of wood smoke for about two days. The design is still bright after four days, and Rahma says it can last for about two weeks.

Rahma offered to cook Somalian food for lunch and and asked me to stay. I felt very comfortable there and was really enjoying seeing her again and being treated like such an honored guest, so I accepted. She spent the next two hours cooking vegetables and hacking apart a frozen chicken. She cooked on a small stove that has a compartment at the base to hold charcoal and a ring at the top to balance a pot. The house has electricity, but it goes out all the time here. The house also has water, but she said it goes out often, so the kitchen is stacked with containers they fill with water when it's running. She served me chicken in a tomato-based sauce with potato chunks over spaghetti. I couldn't tell much difference between this food and Tanzanian food, but it was good. I was at her house for about four hours, just hanging out and chatting, and it was very pleasant.

I went for a pedicure a couple of days ago at a salon (or saloon, as they say here) that I visited once last year and found to be clean and safe. I feel reckless getting pedicures in a tropical developing country, but my toenails are so wild and horrible that if I don't, I'll have ingrown nails and my feet will hurt bad all the time. The saloon was brand new last year, so now a year later, it's not quite as clean, but it didn't seem too bad. The girl who did my pedicure doesn't speak English, and she was scared of me at first. But the receptionist does speak English, and she translated for us. After about fifteen minutes of handling my feet, the first girl relaxed. During the foot/leg massage session, I pulled my skirt above my knees and had my legs stretched out and both girls told me how beautiful my legs are. Because in Tanzania, short, thick, pudgy legs are the standard of beauty. So all you tall, long-legged American beauties will be just too skinny here for the men to even take notice. The receptionist told me the Swahili word describing a nice, thick leg (which I immediately forgot), and said Tanzanian men like to see women like me in short skirts. While at home, I'm always looking for skirts long enough to cover my pudgy knees.

When I left the saloon, two men walking by said to me, "Umependeza," a compliment meaning something looks pretty. They couldn't see the pedicure because I was wearing shoes, so I thought maybe they were just complimenting me because they saw me come out of the saloon. Then I crossed the street and a woman on her front porch told me, "Umpendeza," again. Then I realized they all were complimenting the henna design on my arm!

Since I've arrived in Arusha, men sitting along the side of the road on motorcycles keep saying, "Let's go," or "Come with me," or motioning to me to climb on board their motorcycles. I was thinking it must be because of my beautiful fat legs, but eventually it dawned on me that they are motorcycle taxis and they want me to pay them for a ride. Damn! But I'm not crazy enough to get on one of those motorcycles in the crazy traffic here in Arusha. The pedicure is as risky as I'll go!

I went to visit Nellie, one of the principals of the volunteer agency I worked with last year. She is at home for a few months with her new baby, Ben, who is just 6 weeks old. They don't really use street addresses here, so I couldn't find her house on my own. After my Swahili lesson, I called her and told her where I would be standing in a central location. She sent her sister to meet me, which took over an hour and a series of phone calls back and forth. I had thought I'd be easier to spot, being the only "mzungu" and all. But eventually we found each other, and Agatha escorted me to their house and we had a nice visit. Nellie was just like an American woman on maternity leave. She kept getting phone calls from the volunteer house with problems about a new well and a volunteer orientation, and then one of her employees came in with money and paperwork and more problems to discuss. And Ben is really cute, like all 6-week-old babies!

On the way home, I stopped at a bar/restaurant along the road and ordered "Kuku na chips" (chicken and french fries) to take away. While the owner's wife was cooking, the owner made sure to sit me down in the tables out along the road so everyone would see he had a "mzungu" customer. And then, because I had placed my order in Swahili and chatted a  bit, he engaged me in a 20-minute Swahili conversation that was way beyond my ability. The next day when I was buying vegetables at a small market, the vendor there did the same thing. So I guess my Swahili has progressed to the point where people want to talk to me. But it hasn't progressed to the point where that's easy for me. It's great practice for me, but it wears me out to go shopping now because I have to concentrate so hard.


  1. I'm so glad you are feeling better finally! What interesting experiences you are having. I think spending time in someone's home gives you the best idea of what it's like to be a citizen of another country. That baby is beautiful!

    I know how hard it is to try to communicate in another langugage. I can't begin to imagine speaking Swahili!

  2. Do the women there like men with pudgy legs, arms... well everything? : )

  3. Hey girl, I am happy you are having such a good time. I was going write something insightful about how people have not changed much since the time of the earliest humans--procuring food, shelter, friends, family, things--but I am too tired tonight. I was going to link my insights to the ways in which Nellie is much like an American woman on maternity leave. Oh well. Stay safe. Your writing cheers me up because it is humorous and descriptive. Good job. Jane

  4. Eric, it's just like in America. Lots of discussion and expectations for how women should look, but no requirements put on the men...seriously, I have heard no discussion from women about what they consider handsome!

  5. Hi Barbara, So glad you are Barbara again and we can get on with some fun stuff. Not like you havent taken us to some fun places but when you are feeling low its not the same. I LOVE the baby Ben picture, I must need a grand some day. It snowed about a foot in Ogden last night, I was very tempted to call in today and have a ski day at the golf course. BUT here I am at work making the tax payers happy.

  6. OK, you just kicked me into nurse mode!!!! Kaen NEEDS to get that tooth attended to. The risk of an infection causing serious issues is just too high. I won't go into details (even though I really want to). I just don't want him to end up with problems. OK, that being said, I'm glad you are feeling better and have been enjoying your trip. It's so fun reading about your adventures. Take care.