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, May 29, 2010

Hannah, My Sister, I Feel Your Pain

I got my first African haircut today. A Canadian woman told me of a couple of salons that have stylists who cut straight hair, and recommended one at the fancy shopping center out here in my area, Njiro. I couldn't put it off any longer, so today was the day. Of all the ordinary tasks that are so hard for me to figure out and cope with here, this was the one that left me feeling upset. I liked the stylist who cut my hair, a 30-ish man who told me he cuts lots of Europeans' hair. And while I was there, two Frenchwomen came in and waited for him. I think the cut is OK, but I won't really know until tomorrow after I wash my hair again. Or maybe the next day, because there's no mirror in my house yet! The male stylist handed me off to a young woman to blow dry and style my hair. She put a "product" in my hair that greased it right into a smooth shellacked bowl. The head stylist could see I wasn't happy, so he handed me off to a second young woman who re-washed my hair and styled it again. I wanted a quick blow-dry to fluff it up and make it wavy. She spent about 45 minutes scorching it to absolutely straight and smooth. My theory is the two young ladies work mostly with straightening and smoothing African hair. It came out straight and smooth, all right. But I think the cut's OK--which is what I always tell myself in Utah when the stylists give me the giant Utah pouf with all the "product." The whole time these girls were flattening my hair, I kept thinking of my wonderful Nigerian friend Hannah, trying to find a salon in Utah that could work with her African hair. But now her daughter's learned how to do braids, so she's covered.

When I left my compound this morning to head to the salon, the two neighbor kids, Shabani and Fatuma, saw me coming and ran out to greet me. Fatuma's the little sister who I was thinking I needed a picture of. I don't want to bring her big brother his picture (which I took a couple of days ago) and bring nothing for her! So I ran back for the camera...

Fatuma and Shabani

Then I went back inside to drop off the camera. When I went back outside, they were standing in the road, and I could hear their mother calling them in Swahili--something like,"Hey, you kids, stop bothering that poor mzungu (white person) and get back here." But they ignored her so they could give me a quick Tanzanian hand-swipe as I left. The technique is to reach out as if for a handshake, but then only swipe fingers and pull your hand back. Obama probably knows how to do it!

Finding this house to rent was something of an adventure (misadventure?), although I have to admit I found it much faster and more easily than I expected. There are a few sources of "want ads," but they cover only a few things and are published infrequently. The customary source for rentals is "middlemen." These are guys who keep track of what's available, arrange for you to see the houses, and escort you around (you drive your own car so they don't buy gas). Then, if you rent a house they showed you, you pay them the equivalent of one month's rent. K2 found a middleman, Hasim, who took us out one afternoon. We picked him up in K2's car, then went to pick up a woman who was the sister of the owner of two houses. The first house was locked up tight and we didn't have the key to get into the compound. The sister called somebody to bring the key, then we walked up the road a bit and ate beans and rice in a small diner, where the proprietor was really surprised to have an mzungu customer. We wandered back to the house....still no key. But I could see enough by looking through the crack in the gate to know I wasn't interested. Plus, there was a small bar right behind it, which would mean loud music every night. On to the next house. This was a 2-room concrete block house, one of 5 in a line, with a big bar right in front of it. Also, there was already a woman living in the house. The sister was surprised by this, and interviewed one of the neighbor women to make sure that the surprise renter was not a girlfriend that her husband had tucked away in the rental. It turned out OK--she wasn't.

On to a different neighborhood and a very nice house in the last stages of renovation. The landlady was there supervising the construction crew. She was sitting on a stool blocking the front door, and conducted a lengthy Swahili conversation, quizzing both K2 and Hasim, and barely acknowledging me. Eventually, she stood up and spoke to me in English and let me go inside and see the house. Turns out her previous renter was a white Frenchwoman, about my age, who ran a business selling flowers. She didn't buy a business license or pay taxes, and was arrested. More importantly, I'm guessing, she didn't pay her rent. The landlady was asking K2, "But what is she doing in Tanzania?" 

Tanzanians all plan to start their own small business, or have already done so. It's easier to succeed here than in the US. So they all ask me what am I doing in Tanzania. When I say I'm volunteering, or I'm retired and would just like to live here for awhile, they are skeptical. It seems suspicious that someone would be so lazy. And stories abound of Europeans and Americans hanging out in Tanzania and making trouble. For example, I rented a house on the island of Pemba for one month in 2008. The previous tenant, who is something of a legend, was Bi (ma'am) Rebecca, a 60-something American woman who bought and sold and smoked pot. She also had an ijabu (Tanzanian version of the burkha, or Muslim women's garment) that she occasionally wore around town. She was caught in the Zanzibar airport with pot in her carry-on and kicked out of Tanzania. And last year when I stayed at the Tanzania Volunteer Experience house here in Arusha, my neighbor was James, a 30-ish American who said he wanted to live here for a few years and work for an international non-governmental organization (NGO). I thought he was great, but it turns out he took money from several people, claiming it was to be donated to various projects, and kept it for himself. He was also run out of Tanzania. At home, being a white, middle-class professional and a middle-aged woman makes me automatically beyond suspicion. Everyone assumes I'm honest and upright. So it's quite unsettling for the same characteristics to make me an object of suspicion here.

I liked that house, but felt a bit uncertain because the landlady was throwing off such negative energy to me. Also, the neighborhood was crowded and a bit noisy. We called Hasim the next day and asked him to show us more houses. He said he would be out of town for the next two days. Later that day, a Saturday evening, we drove by the house to see how noisy it would be. Hasim was right there walking around. What was going on? He knew that I liked that house. That house had the highest rent (although still not high) of any of his listings. So it was in his best interest that I take that house, because his fee would be one month's rent. Thus, he was unwilling to show me more houses. Turns out there was a small bar two doors down with really loud music. Sorry, Hasim.

Then we called Jerry. He calls himself a real estate agent and specializes in more upscale properties.The same Canadian woman who recommended the hair salon also recommended Jerry. He was much more businesslike and actually pleasant to deal with. He's realized expatriates can be a lucrative market and runs his business almost like an American realtor. He found my house for me in one afternoon of seeing three houses.

There's no bar nearby. But there's an enormous Lutheran church right behind us. Churches here are NOISY!!! Jerry dismissed this one by saying Lutherans are quiet, not like the Tanzanian Assembly of God or Church of Moravia. I believed him because I loved the house, and because at home, Lutherans are pretty quiet. These Tanzanian Lutherans, though, are NOISY!! Churches here mount loudspeakers on their roofs and broadcast services and choir practice. Sundays can be cacophonous in the wrong (or right?) neighborhood. A week ago, the Lutherans held an all-night--from 8:00 pm until 5:00 am--amplified church service. I don't know that it was the Spirit moving me, but I was lying in bed with my earplugs saying, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" They only did that once, thank God! But they have choir practice or some music service every afternoon for a couple of hours, and several two-hour services in a row all day Sunday. Tanzanian Christians make our Utah Mormons look like sissies! Also, there's a mosque somewhere in the neighborhood, so we hear the amplified call to prayer chanted five times a day. That lasts only a few minutes, but there are about 200 dogs roaming the neighborhood, and all of them frequently pause all together in their activities to bay along with the call to prayer. I find I'm getting used to the church music and can tune it out now. Whereas bar music has too much driving bass and really disturbs me when I'm forced to listen to it too long. So the churches are better. Also, K2, being a good Tanzanian Christian, scolds me if I gripe about churches making noise.


  1. Great! Thats funny about them not trusting you. I can imagine how you feel. I told Dan the other day that when I hang out with a white guy in rich neighborhoods I wont get the 'LOOK' Now on to the Lutherans, . . . wonder what bar music sounds like? maybe 80's disco?

  2. Rap-both American and African-and I HATE rap! Also, a Tanzanian music style called bongo flava, which I also don't like.