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.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Khanga Addendum

As an addendum to yesterday's post about khangas, here are a couple of pictures:

My cousin Chris in Arizona enjoying her Tanzanian khanga

And Chris's husband Jerry enjoying her Tanzanian khanga!

Habari ndyio hiyo!
That's the news!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Khangas are to Tanzanian women what shoes are to American women. In America, many women love shoes, can't get enough shoes, are always on the lookout for the next cute pair of strappy sandals or stiletto heels. I've never indulged in the shoe shopping fetish, mostly because my feet are so wide that it can be a real chore to find a pair of shoes that fit and it's just not fun. Also, shoes are really expensive.

I'm happier with the whole khanga shopping thing here in Tanzania. Khangas are rectangular pieces of cotton cloth, printed with bright designs and colors. The design has a wide border around it with either a repeating pattern or one big picture in the center. A Swahili proverb is printed just inside the border on one long edge. They sell two repeats of the pattern in one khanga, then the buyer cuts them apart and hems the two short edges. They only cost from 2,000 to 5,000 T shillings, depending on the quality. That's $1.50 to $3.50! And they fit everybody, because you take this big rectangle and wrap it around yourself, either at the waist or under the armpits--totally adjustable, one-size-fits-all. They are traditional East African wear for women and have many uses. Apron, skirt, shawl, head wrap,bathrobe, loungewear, baby carrier, bowl cover, picnic blanket.... They are given as traditional gifts for many occasions, such as weddings or church confirmations. When my Somalian friend Rhama invited me to her house and treated me as such an honored guest, she presented me with a khanga.

Here are two websites where you can read more about khangas:

They're sold everywhere, usually folded up and hung over a cord at eye level at the front of a small shop. That's how I've bought a few, walking up a street and the color catches my eye, and the vendor says, "Karibu, Mama," (welcome, ma'am), in an enticing voice. These women know the shopping look that glazes over the customer's eye!

The first week I was here, a particular khanga patterned with big philodendron leaves caught my eye hanging in front of a shop near Kundayo Apartments. I had seen this khanga last year in Dar es Salaam and didn't buy it, and it's been preying on my mind ever since. The man running the shop took it down and unfolded it to show me, along with a second blue flowered one. A woman standing on the customer side of the counter with me advised me in Swahili that the leaf design was a better quality, and she thought I should go with that one. I agreed, and asked the price. The vendor told me 7,000, which I remembered from last year is too high. I offered 5,000 and he looked chagrined because he'd been caught and disappointed because he didn't get the mzungu price out of me. But the woman gave me a high-five and a big smile because I knew the price.

The philodendron khanga. This is how you buy a khanga, with the two identical prints still joined together. The factory prints a long roll of them and they are cut into lengths of two for sale.

After I moved out to Njiro, I started noticing a pretty spring green khanga hanging in front of a tiny shop a few yards off the road out to my house. I tried to ignore it, but it just kept catching my eye. So what the heck, for $3.50, it's not like I was buying shoes or anything. The young woman who sold me this khanga gave me the price of 4,000 shillings when I first asked. She has a tailor business, with her sewing machine set up on the porch right behind the line of displayed fabrics, so I asked if she could cut the two pieces apart and hem them for me. She did it, and didn't charge me anything for the work. A second young woman with her sewing machine right next door gave her the look that meant, "Aren't you going to try to get a higher price out of the mzungu?" My tailor was tempted, I saw it flit across her face. But she decided to be honest with me. So I went back a few days later with the philodrendron khanga and a new pair of jeans that needed hemming and hired her. Again, she gave me the local price. I told her in bad Swahili ,"Asante sana kwa bei poa sio bei mzungu," meaning ,"thank you for giving me a good price and not the mzungu price."

The two Njiro tailors (the one I like on the left) working behind their tempting array of fabrics for sale.

My khanga collection. The newest one is on the left. I have one more blue one here, but it's currently pinned up over the window in lieu of bedroom curtains. When I  tried banana beer  up in the hills around Kilimanjaro, the nice Chagga woman who served it to me was wearing the same green khanga I own (center).

Most Tanzanian women pick out khangas based on the proverb. I can't translate the proverbs at all, even if I know every individual word. The verbs are always in some convoluted form, because there are a million verb tenses in Swahili. And, being proverbs, they aren't literal and they aren't complete sentences. Also, many of them are meant to be ambiguous. So me, I just go for the pretty colors! See the narrow white rectangle along the edge of the dark green khanga in the picture above? That's where they print the proverbs. I wrote down all the proverbs from my khangas and took them to my Swahili lesson on Friday and asked my teacher, Mr. Solomon, to translate them. Even he had a bit of trouble putting some of them into English--which made me feel better! Here are my proverbs:
Habari ndiyo hiyo!
That's the news!
(Everybody laughs when they see this one, because it's a line from a popular children's song. Chris, this is from your blue khanga.)

Udugu mzuri mpendane sio mnyanyasane
A good relationship consists of loving each other, not harrassing each other

Tufurahi sana harusi yetu imefana
Let's be very happy that our wedding was a success

Heri kuniambia kuliko kuninunia
It's better to tell me than to sulk  

Mimi mcha mungu ukarimu ni sifa yangu
I am close to God and well known for my generosity

Japo umenitangulia kuni wahi ni vigumu
Though you are ahead of me, it's hard to catch up with me

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Ally is one of my students from last year who really made me feel at home. He invited me and K2 to visit his family up in the hills above town and emailed me periodically after I returned to Utah. When I came back to Arusha this year, it took a few weeks to find him, because he had a driving job with Abercrombie Safaris out in the Serengeti. But he's back in Arusha now and came by Jordan Institute (where I'm volunteering) to say hello.

Me and Ally at last year's English class

Two days ago, we met for lunch at Mianzini Big Bite, across the street from Jordan Institute. At 1:30, I went over to Jordan for my Swahili lesson, and Ally walked away down a busy street to find an internet cafe and check his email. He met up with a friend, a guide coming from his office who had just returned from a safari and was carrying an expensive camera and $200. They walked together to the Golden Rose Hotel, a fairly nice hotel with an internet cafe. Four men attacked them, in broad daylight on a road that is always busy with traffic, pedestrians, and people shopping. They knocked down Ally's friend and stole the camera and cash, and injured him. They stabbed Ally with a screwdriver, leaving two deep puncture wounds in his chest and shoulder. Bystanders rushed to help, and chased away the four robbers before they stole anything from Ally. Ally and his friend were put into a taxi and taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, I was on a crammed-full,  noisy dala-dala riding home. Ally called me, but I couldn't hear anything he was saying. After I got home, I found that he'd texted me, saying he'd been attacked and was in the hospital, that his cell phone battery was dead and he was using his friend's phone. I called his friend's phone, but he was no longer with Ally and he didn't speak English. Through a brief (which is all I can handle so far) Swahili conversation, I gathered that Ally was at the hospital and would be OK.

Next morning, back at Jordan, I called Ally's phone. He answered and said he was still (or back?) at the hospital. It's frustrating sometimes, but with cell phone calls in noisy places (most of Arusha is noisy), I often can't really understand Tanzanian-accented English or Swahili, because I just can't hear well enough. But Ally's best friend Boni was with me, so I told him what had happened and handed the phone to him. We ended up going to the nearby hospital and found Ally very distressed, and waiting for an x-ray to check for internal damage. He was in pain and tired, but he was ambulatory and seemed to be OK. He sat down next to me and told us what happened. I tried not to, but I started to cry a little bit. Ole, our third companion, saw me and gave me the gesture of a hand spread palm-down, patting up and down, which I know from K2 means, "Tulia, tulia" or "calm down, calm down." Then Ally saw that I was crying, and it upset him more. Boni and Ole were very uncomfortable that I cried, which I've noticed is a common reaction to tears here. Boni stayed with Ally to wait for the x-ray and help him with whatever he needed. Ole escorted me back to Jordan, and gave me a lecture about not crying and trusting in God to take care of Ally.

The x-ray showed internal bleeding, but not bad enough to require surgery. But they needed about $30 for drugs to stop the bleeding. These are the times when it's good to have an older American friend and Boni called me to ask for money. So, as my English friend Anna pointed out, now I'm buying drugs for my students! I talked to Ally this morning, and he is recovering well and just needs to rest awhile longer.

This incident really disturbed me. First, because I feel very motherly towards Ally, who is so sweet that I feel outraged at the idea of anyone even dreaming of hurting him. Second, because this dangerous, violent attack happened in the middle of the day, in a really busy area that I walk through a few times a week, and where I've always felt comfortable. That does make it unusual. Boni speculates that perhaps the robbers had been following the guide, because they knew he had tips and salary from his safari, and Ally was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This type of robbery is common in Arusha. When I asked Beatrice, another student from last year, for her phone number, she told me she didn't have a phone because robbers had broken into the house she shares with other female students in a bad neighborhood near Jordan. They stole everybody's phone and cash, and were threatening to rape somebody when neighbors responded to the screams and chased the robbers away. Maurius, a student who moved here from Rwanda, came to English class one morning with a big bandage over his temple. He'd been beaten with a board and robbed. I've heard similar stories from so many Tanzanians, including K2. They're very accepting of it as something that happens, and then you don't dwell on it, and go about your business. But they are always subdued and distressed when they describe what happened, and some are reluctant to describe the incidents at all, but will only say, "I was robbered." Sometimes the listeners will make a joke to help the victim get over it. When I hear the jokes, I'm shocked. Sometimes the victim laughs, sometimes he doesn't. It's distressing to me that people I know and like are routinely subject to such violence.

But am I subject to this, too? Of the many stories I've heard, none of the victims are foreigners, but always poor or middle-class Tanzanians (and the one Rwandan). I talked it over with Anna, because I was a little freaked out when Ally was attacked right where I frequently walk. She said she also has never heard of a foreigner being "robbered." Logically, we'd be ideal victims because we typically have more money and expensive electronic gadgets, we're a bit clueless as we wander Arusha, and white people are easy to spot here. Anna speculates that the robbers are actually scared of us because they think that we have more power to ensure that they're punished, possibly through our home governments. This seems true to me, because I've heard stories that imply that American and European governments would be wreaking havoc with any Tanzanian that dared to harm one of their citizens. I tend to doubt that, myself, but if it keeps the robbers away, I won't correct any misimpressions. Also, rich neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods, because it's too hard to break into the houses. They all have big walls with locked gates and private security guards.

(When I'm puzzled about Tanzania, I usually ask Anna. She's 26, so really I should be dishing out auntie-like advice to her. But she's lived here for 3 years and knows everything. And since she's English, our cultural frame of reference is close enough that she understands why I'm puzzled.)

I just got off the phone with Ally, and he's feeling better. I said I hoped we could get together again, soon, and then, before I knew it, I was telling him a joke, saying, "But maybe it's bad luck for you to have lunch with me!" He laughed so hard at that one, that I said, "They weren't very good robbers. They didn't even get your phone!" And we hung up laughing.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I did a lot of shopping to furnish my rented house. It's much more labor- and knowledge-intensive here than at home. We spent three half-days driving all over Arusha looking for housewares and appliances and another three half-days looking for furniture.

I looked in a couple of nice stores with imported manufactured furniture. The furniture was pretty, but none of it was real wood, just veneer over fiberboard. The upholstered pieces were mostly imitation leather and either very contemporary or very ornate. I think most of it is imported from China or India--but only guessing about that. So the pieces were okay, but at home I'd have thought they looked kind of cheap. But no....they were crazy expensive because they were imported and the Tanzanian government charges a big import tariff on manufactured goods. So a living room set of sofa, love seat, and easy chair in fake leather in a contemporary style was about $6,000! One store had outdoor furniture of that weatherproof synthetic wicker, just like at Home Depot, but about twice the price.

The other side of the furniture market is the thriving local workshops that make bulky wooden cupboards and tables and wild upholstered furniture. In a few parts of Arusha, these workshops are strung out all in a row along the road. Fundis (technicians) build wooden frames, then add the upholstery. The workshops are rough wooden buildings, open at the front, with mud floors. Most of the sofas are arrayed outside, on mud, facing the street. So you pull up, wander through the sofas, sit on a few (if you can squeeze in between them), and notice how much dust has settled into the fabric. The trick is to custom order so you can get one that hasn't been sitting outside. Also, for me, I didn't like most of the fabrics. They tend to be quite bright with big prints. They're popular here, but kind of jarring to my typically American eye. The wooden furniture is kind of roughly made, but really nice. To my typically American eye, it's appealing because of all the big pieces of solid wood and the handmade, slightly irregular look. This local market is much less expensive than the imported, manufactured market. So, just the opposite of home, if you want cheap furniture, custom order something made from solid wood!

I spent a couple of hours by myself walking from sofa to sofa along one road. Some vendors quoted reasonable prices, but some couldn't resist bumping the price up for the lone mzungu with no Tanzanian to advise her. By the time I reached the fourth or fifth display, the vendors all knew I was coming and were waiting at the boundary line to pounce on me as soon as I walked out of the competitor's area. One older gentleman who gave me quite the sales pitch in Swahili noticed that the young punk salesman next door was getting too eager and snapped at him, "Tulia!" (Calm down!). The younger salesman immediately took a couple of steps back and waited. Every sofa and chair, even within a set, had a slightly different size and shape, being all handmade quickly. Some were pretty comfortable and some weren't. But I couldn't find any upholstery fabric I liked at all. Lots of bright colors, which I usually love, but were somehow a few shades off. Lots of big flowers with kind of jacquard-ish fern leaves woven in. Most of the fabrics were fuzzy and too thin for upholstery.

Then I hit a couple of wood furniture workshops with tables and cupboards. At these workshops, you can see a few small finished pieces, maybe end tables or stools. They might have a large piece, like a dining table in progress and show you that. And they have a photo album of past projects. I found one shop where I really liked the dining tables and chairs, but the fundi, who was really friendly and let me practice my Swahili with him during the sales pitch, quoted me 900,000 T shillings for a table with 6 chairs. Other places had said 400 or 500! Of course, just like at home, my taste is expensive and I really liked this guy's designs better than anyone else's, even after a couple of weeks of looking all over town.

Once again, K2 to the rescue. He took me to a furniture workshop where he had worked, years ago, finishing wood pieces. Their sofas and chairs were comfortable, and they had a tiger stripe fabric that I actually like. Because, if you can believe this of tiger stripes, it was one of the more muted patterns I'd seen. K2 bartered them down to about half of what other places had quoted me, and I ordered, custom made without the mud, a sofa and two armchairs. I paid about $325 dollars for all three pieces, delivered three days after ordering. The fabric is thin, and the construction's cheap, but they're comfortable and I really like them. Don't know how long they'll last!

Yes, I know, there are no tigers in Africa!

Then, back to the fundi making the beautiful dining sets, but with K2 to do the bartering. He got the price down to 600,000 T shillings, or about $425, and I waited for about 3 weeks to get the set. When K2 went to pick it up, with the delivery driver I so admired in my last post about muddy roads around my house, the fundi tried to bump the price up. He complained that K2 had struck too good a bargain and was preventing him from taking enough profit from a mzungu. So now I'm reconsidering if I want to get a coffee table from him.

My beautiful dining set

I did have to put paper under two legs to keep it from rocking

My sitting room/ dining room. You can see the jacquard-ish ferns in the upholstery.

Now if I only had curtains and a TV! Maybe next month...

When it came to household items, such as kitchenware and sheets and towels, K2 was at a loss. He claims he doesn't need to know the stores or prices because he's a man. He called in Cecy, the stepdaughter of the fundi who has made many recent repairs to his Corolla.  She was fun to shop with, and knew all the best kitchen shops and if things were priced fairly. It seems as if the vendors just go ahead and quote a reasonable price if I have a Tanzanian friend with me. Also, she helped me pick out the right items for a Tanzanian kitchen, in addition to my American-style selections. A couple of things I wouldn't have known to buy were a small wooden rolling pin and circular wooden plate for rolling out chapati and a wooden pestle and mortar for grinding fresh ginger and other spices. 

Through all of this, I kept thinking that I could have accomplished it all in one day if only I had Wal-Mart and RC Willey! For those of you who hate Wal-Mart, I know I know! And the shopping routine here is much more interesting and did provide me with more social interaction and Swahili practice than a quick run to Wal-Mart.

I ended up hiring Cecy as a maid, or "housegirl," as they say in Tanzania. She comes to the house 3 days a week and does laundry (which is all by hand), cooking, and cleaning. She's wonderful and makes life so much easier! In the past, I've been a bit uncomfortable with having maids or housekeepers work for me, and sometimes it seems like it's not really worth the trouble. But with Cecy, it's easier and she's a huge help. Plus, K2 can eat here with me and have Tanzanian dishes that he likes. The housegirl job is apparently quite sought after here. Three other people, when they heard I was renting a house, asked me to hire their cousins. I'm not doing my own yard work either.  The two Maasai security guards asked me to hire them for that, so I did!

The Road to Njiro...or, "This is Njiro, My Friend"

The road to Njiro, the area of town where I am renting my house, is wildly different day to day. With so many rich people living out here, both foreigners and Tanzanians, you might expect the road to be in good condition. You would be oh so wrong! Although they did do some repairs and reconstruction during a particularly rainy period a few weeks ago....But let me start at the start of my Njiro experience.

The major roads in and out of town and through the main business districts of Arusha are paved and in good condition.  All the residential roads and secondary business roads are packed dirt. Some roads have drainage ditches, but many do not. We are just coming to the end of rainy season, and it has been hard on many of the dirt roads, including the road to Njiro Container.

Driving from the center of town, there is nice pavement through the heart of Njiro, past Nick's Pub all the way to the Njiro Cinema Complex and out to the Amani Bar (all my new haunts). But then you hit the dirt road. The first couple of weeks in my house, it rained hard almost every morning and the road was a quagmire. Along one section a hundred feet long, one side of the road just crumbled away and washed downstream, leaving room for only one lane of traffic. In late afternoon, traffic is heavy, so cars would be backed up waiting their turn to pass. Our first time in K2's Corolla, a modest car by Njiro standards, he pulled into the narrow part. A woman driving an expensive car from the other direction pulled in too instead of waiting to let us pass. After a minute or two, K2 obligingly backed up so she could pass. Instead of smiling and saying thank you, she looked down her nose and said, "This is Njiro, my friend." I missed the subtleties of this remark, but K2 told me she was dissing his car because Njiro residents drive fancy, expensive cars--mostly big shiny SUV's. Since then, we have received that same snooty look several times when people thought we had placed the Corolla in an inappropriate spot. But now we frequently turn to each other when something interesting happens, and say, "This is Njiro, my friend."

For several days after this incident, traffic backed up every evening as both lanes waited to pass through the narrow spot. Even worse, one or two cars got stuck in the slick mud every day. (Which kind of wiped the smirk off the drivers' faces.) Then, a construction crew showed up for several days in a row. They dumped several loads of dirt into the washed-out parts of the road and ran a steam roller over it for compaction. They closed different parts of the road at different times, sending us all on wild detours through the neighborhoods with even worse dirt roads. (We discovered a restaurant and an internet cafe tucked away in our neighborhood while taking detours, though, so that's something anyway!) The construction happened during several consecutive days of hard rain. So, as the crew was laying down the new road, many cars and dala-dalas were getting stuck in the new mud and spinning their wheels and digging ruts down the shoulders. The more this went on, the testier all these rich people became while sitting in their expensive cars.

I believe this is the result of spinning tires, but it has now become a defacto drainage ditch

I took these two pictures today, and it hasn't rained for several days, so this is nowhere near as bad as it was during the long rains. Also, no rich people were around this afternoon, so here are some working class guys who got their big truck stuck in the remaining mud

We hired a man with a pickup from one of the less-rich parts of town to deliver a sofa to the house on one of these rainy days. K2 was driving right behind him and reported to me that when the delivery man got to the tricky part of the road, some rich Njiro resident in a fancy SUV gave him some attitude about blocking the road. The delivery man leaned out the window and shook his fist and went off in Swahili, telling our neighbor that he had every right to use the road even if he was not rich and that he had a job to do and that if this rich person said another word he would slap him. K2 was laughing and I was wishing I had been there to see it. Our rich neighbor backed right down! Yay for the working class! And K2 gave the delivery man a tip on top of the agreed-upon fee.

Although K2's Corolla is modest, I have to say he can drive it through anything. Through all of the construction and detours, he never came close to getting stuck. We slid around a bit and backed away from certain detours because he judged it inadvisable to drive across the ruts laid down at the intersections by wheel-spinning dala-dalas, but we never got stuck! Yay, K2! And yay for the end of the long rains!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dancing at the Karibu Fair - Toto, We're Not in Montana Anymore

OK, I'm being nerdy again. My title for this post is a pun on Ivan Doig's novel, "Dancing at the Rascal Fair," set in Montana and rife with historic Forest Service references.

Sunday, I spent the day at the Karibu Fair with my English friend, Anna and my Tanzanian friend Joyce, whose ages added together just equal my age. Joyce is the daughter of my Swahili teacher, and she's promised me that she will not report back to him on how badly I speak Swahili when we're having fun together! I really enjoyed their company and being out and about and entertained.

 Anna and Joyce

"Karibu" is Swahili for "welcome."  The fair is an annual tour industry exhibition, with displays by safari companies and lodges and beach resorts. It's a lot like being in the business exhibition section of a state fair, except for the details... this Maasai dance presented next to the food court.

Many Maasai live in or spend time in Arusha. Many, including Joyce, wear Western clothes and I only know they're Maasai if they tell me. But many wear these traditional "shuka," or robes, and sandals made from tire tread.

The Men

The Ladies

By way of context...notice the white exhibition tents, the pink cell phone company kiosk, and the big old satellite dish

Also on offer, camel rides for the kids.

We all gathered quite a collection of glossy brochures from resorts that look lovely that we really can't afford to stay at. At least Anna works for Restoration Safaris (she arranged my trip to Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks), so she actually might book clients to these places. After we'd been there a couple of hours, we started spending a longer time lounging in the booths that had set up comfortable seating areas and offered snacks and coffee. We also enjoyed several displays of beautiful jewelry and interesting, handmade wooden furniture which we also couldn't afford. Funny enough, the furniture displays were not the ones with the comfortable seating areas.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the clothes you donate to Desert Industries or the Salvation Army or your church? A bunch of them end up in Tanzania; there's a thriving market for second-hand clothes and shoes and sheets and towels here. I saw this Tanzanian in the crowd at the fair...

That's Ketchum, Idaho, and it's a souvenir t-shirt of the type sold to firefighters at wildland fires

I see so many commemorative t-shirts from America here that are wildly out of context. I'd love to do a photography project to show them. One chapter of universities, one chapter of fun runs, one chapter of summer camps...and now a chapter of wildfires. But I'll need to improve my Swahili first, since many people here don't like strangers taking pictures of them. Unless I get all the pictures by secretly stalking my subjects, just like I stalked this man!

And one more name that sounds odd to English-speakers. K2 arranged for a taxi-driver friend of his to drive us to and from the fair, and his name was Double Roho, meaning either Double Spirit or Two Hearts. Although maybe this name doesn't count in the list, because it's a nickname, and also because Joyce, a Tanzanian, also thought it was a really strange name.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What a Shitty Day....

I had a bad day yesterday. This post will provide some balance for my usual "Little Miss Mary Sunshine" perspective and all my stories of how much fun it is to learn to live in a totally foreign place.

The morning started out rainy and cold. K2 and his car were not around, so I intended to ride the dala dala to town for the 8:00 English class at Jordan Institute. But I just didn't want to face walking through the mud and rain to the dala dala, so, being a volunteer and not an employee, I just stayed home until 11:00. The dala dala ride was actually kind of fun, because two people that I know boarded and I got to say hello and chat a bit and feel like I'm really getting to know Arusha because I keep running into friends.

I had a nice lunch downtown in a restaurant I've visited twice. The waitress there remembered me and likes me because I'm trying to learn Swahili. She made a point of chatting with me in Swahili and speaking very slowly and clearly, so lunch was nice. Then my Swahili lesson was good, too.

After my lesson, I went downtown to the tourist zone to hang around in a coffeehouse and read my Kindle. My plan was to meet K2 when he finished work and he'd pick me up in his car and we'd run a couple of errands and have dinner. I went to Hot Bread Restaurant and Internet Cafe. Going in, I ran into Joyce, the daughter of my Swahili instructor and a very fun friend who we've visited with a few times. So that was good, too. Then I sat inside the restaurant, near the door, drinking tea and reading my Kindle. I was carrying a backpack with my Swahili books, a bunch of cash, my ATM card, and assorted other items in it. I set it on the floor, leaning it against my chair, between my chair and a counter, kind of back in a corner where I thought it would be safe. After awhile, a respectable-looking 40-something African woman, nicely dressed, wedged herself into that corner and was looking at a display of snacks on top and asking the cashier questions. She was standing against my backpack, so I thought it was in her way and moved it, saying, "Excuse me." She said, "Oh, excuse me," and walked away. I put the backpack back and continued reading. About ten minutes later several people started shouting right next to me, between me and the front door. The restaurant owner held up my backpack and said, "Is this your bag?" The respectable-looking woman was shouting in Swahili and rushed out the door, past a group of 4 or 5 other customers who were blocking her and shouting. She was stealing my bag! She'd somehow worked it past the back of my chair toward the door, and was about to pick it up and get away with it--and I was so caught up in reading a Patricia Cornwell mystery on my Kindle that I didn't notice a damned thing! The restaurant owner explained to me what had happened, and gave me numerous well-deserved warnings about being more careful and not relying on people's appearance to judge their honesty. The waitress kept saying, "Pole sana, pole sana." (So sorry, so sorry.) I couldn't believe how stupid I was!

Oops...I just got interrupted by the delivery of my new dining table, and it's really beautiful, so it's going to be hard to maintain enough of a bad mood to finish up this post....

I left the Hot Bread Restaurant, still in possession of my backpack, with about an hour to kill until I could expect to meet K2. And then the flycatchers moved in. These are men who haunt the downtown area and try to sell souvenirs to tourists or to guide tourists to certain shops, hotels, or safari companies. They are really persistent and incredibly annoying. Some days they leave me alone, and I feel hopeful that they recognize me and know I'm living here and will stop. But then a few days later, they'll follow me around again. So, of course, yesterday, they were out in full force. As I walked out of the restaurant scowling, one started walking with me and said, "Jambo, my friend. Why are you so angry?" I told him, "Too many flycatchers," and walked away as fast as I could. I walked around with the flycatchers for awhile, which didn't improve my mood.

As 6:00 approached, I tried to call K2 to arrange a meeting place. But both of his phones (many Tanzanians carry 2 or 3 cell phones so they can take advantage of different companies' special promotions) were turned off, which meant the battery was dead. I am careful not to be out alone after dark here, and I was at the time of evening when I had to catch the dala-dala and head to Njiro if I was to be home before dark. I couldn't reach K2 and he didn't know where I was, so I caught the dala-dala. When I got to the bus stop nearest my house, I called him and reached him. Sure enough, the phone battery was dead, but now (too late) recharged. I had a five minute walk home. Right at the start of it, I walked past a mentally ill man who was sitting with two women at a fruit stand. I heard him say something really enthusiastic about the mzungu and then he came running up behind me. He started walking along with me and going on in loud Swahili, which I didn't understand. I stopped walking, and he kept going and talking. Another man saw that I was scared, and he ran to join my companion and keep him walking away from me. He turned back to me and made the gesture of the finger spiraling over the head to let me know the man was crazy, but harmless. Then a woman who'd seen what happened came over to reassure me that he was crazy, but harmless, and don't be scared. (I think that's what she said--it was all Swahili and I understood only part of it.) I reached home on foot just a few minutes before dark and locked myself inside.

It was a day that reminded me I am indeed a stranger here and still have a lot to learn. But even when a couple of bad things happened to me, people were gathering around to protect me, even though I am a stranger.

And now, my new dining table is sitting here looking beautiful! More later on buying furniture in Tanzania...and pictures of my tiger-striped sofa...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Asking For Directions

A few weeks ago, K2 and I had dinner at the Blue Heron restaurant with Tera and Martin, a Canadian woman and Tanzanian man who had gotten married a few days before. Halfway through dinner, K2 started one of his Swahili comedy routines with the waiter. Martin and the waiter both were rendered practically helpless with laughter. Martin turned to me and said, "He's giving the waiter directions. He's making fun of our Tanzanian way of giving directions. Something like, 'turn left where you see the big tree, then keep walking, then turn right where you see two chickens having sex on the corner." Tera worked here with a Canadian volunteer program for a year, and she said that she frequently was told to look for NGO offices "near the big tree."

While shopping for appliances for my rented house, we wanted to find a certain hardware store owned by Mazo, the proprietor of Kundayo Apartments, and check out his used refrigerators. K2 didn't know where this particular store is, and a big part of Arusha's business district is a crazy quilt of small stores, some with names, some without. We drove into this district, K2  watching for landmarks and making turns. After we'd circled through one set of streets three times, he started muttering, "There are Maasai everywhere. Look at all these Maasai." Sure enough, there were a couple of hundred Maasai concentrated in an area of a few blocks, standing on every corner, chatting, dressed in their red robes. Turns out, the last step in the directions to Gam Electronics was, "Look for the Maasai selling tanzanite on the corner." We came back the next day with different directions and found the store. Sure enough, there was a small group of Maasai on the corner right outside the store. There was a raised concrete block set into the curb, and they were sorting through small tanzanites and displaying them on the block. And I got a good deal on a used fridge!

Last week at Swahili lessons, I asked Mr. Solomon how to ask for and understand directions. We discussed north, south, east and west and left, right, and straight ahead.The last piece of advice he gave me was that big trees are often used as landmarks and "Karibu na mti mkubwa" means "near the big tree."