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.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All the White Girls Got Cars

Yay! We bought a car! We've had it for about three weeks now. After an initial period of utter terror maneuvering through Arusha traffic, I'm feeling calmer. And it's wonderful to be more mobile. You can get around most of town on the daladalas, but it takes some effort and it's inconvenient for hauling groceries home or getting out of town. I've been feeling 16-years-old again, bathed in that heady freedom of going anywhere I want to without asking my parents for a ride (or, I guess in this case, taking the daladala). At 16, it was a 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix, dark green with a peeling black vinyl roof and bald tires. My older brother Bobby (now an auto mechanic) bought it for $95 and made it run. Then my father forced him to either sell it or let me and my younger brother drive it when he went Back East for a year. But I digress....

What other white girls got cars? My Scottish friend Anna and my Dutch friend Martina both bought cars within a few days of my purchase.

Our baby!

It's a 1992 Suzuki Escudo Nomade with 4WD. That's old, but Tanzania slaps such a steep tariff on imported cars that we couldn't even dream of buying a new car. This cost $6,500, and it was a bargain. One key point is that it's been in Tanzania for less than a year, and was imported from Japan. Time spent in Tanzania is more indicative of condition than total age, because the roads here are so hard on cars. This one seems to be in really good condition. I'm thinking Japan must have smooth roads. Also, Japan's small, so the previous owners couldn't drive all that far, anyway. The high ground clearance and 4WD make it much easier than a sedan  to drive in Arusha, even just out to my house! I see dozens of this car, even the same color, every day in Arusha. Anna and Martina bought the other two most popular cars: Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Hilux Surf (a medium sized pickup truck).

Although the top most popular car in Arusha has to be the white Toyota Corolla.

Two Arusha Icons: White Corolla and Mt. Meru

We're trying to sell K2's Corolla. He's certainly gotten good use from it over the last three years, but it needs repairs frequently. Every time we think we're done and ready to sell it, he drives it somewhere (because I took the Suzuki), and something else happens and we have to repair it again. It can be yours for only 4,000,000 T shillings! He generously offered to let me drive it several times, but I didn't feel safe with the prospect of a breakdown by myself. It's not as easy as just calling AAA! Also, it has a manual transmission and I figured I'd probably stall out every time I had to slow suddenly for the giant speed bumps on the main roads.

Now I'm able to be out after dark when I want to. I still try to be home early, but for some parts of town I can now venture out after dark. For example, what I'm calling "The Missing Tanzanian Boyfriends Dinner Club." Anna, Martina, and I have taken to meeting for dinner out about once a week. We enjoy the conversation so much that it's been taking three hours to eat dinner. There are many nice restaurants in Arusha that cater somewhat to European tastes, so we've been enjoying the food, too. All three of us have Tanzanian boyfriends whose work frequently takes them away from Arusha. K2 is starting a 9-day trek on Mt. Kilimanjaro as I sit here typing. Anna's boyfriend works for the Tanzania Wildlife Department out in the Serengeti. And Martina's Maasai boyfriend is south of here in a remote part of Maasai country. He took the new Hilux Surf, so it's parked in the boma every night, inside the thorn fence. Martina's driving the company car provided by the lodge where she works. It's kind of a cross between a Jeep and a golf cart, not nearly as cool as her new truck.

Also, I joined an outing of the newly established Twende (Let's Go) Hiking Club. A Dutch expatriate living here advertised by email for hikers, hired guides, and organized everything. It was fun to be out hiking again. Sixteen people showed up, some of whom knew each other, and some who did not. All were foreigners. Only the two guides were Tanzanian.

Twende Hiking Club. I'm in the back in the peach t-shirt. Anna's at back, far right. The donkey at farther right was not part of our group.

We hiked on July 4th. I was one of two Americans in the group, so nobody else noticed the holiday. Although I probably would have celebrated at home by going out hiking, too. The group was mostly Dutch and Australian. Anna (Scottish) and Melissa (Australian) enjoyed making mean jokes about Americans and how we behave. They prefaced it all by saying, "You're  not like that. We like you, but..." It was offered up all in good fun and they had me laughing. And most of what they said was true (hey, what's wrong with being a little bit loud? And sweat pants are comfortable!). But after all of that, when Anna asked me what exactly we commemorate with July 4th, I told her we're celebrating the date that we threw off the heavy yoke of British oppression.

The hike was easy, but I still almost died because I haven't been exercising since I got here, just drinking soda and eating fried foods. We walked on dirt roads through small farms at the base of Mt. Meru.

This spot made me think of walking through aspens in Logan Canyon in Utah

On the downhill side of the loop, we had views of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance.

Marigolds (the orange stripe in the middle ground) and Kilimanjaro (in the clouds there, you can see it!)

Marigolds and donkey

Zinnias (at the time I thought they were dahlias, but the picture looks more like zinnias). Tanzania exports lots of flowers to Europe.

Another request to "take my picture." Hey, I've been to Hanauma Bay--it's in Hawaii.

I was so excited that I have a car now that I volunteered to drive to the trailhead and invited more people to fill up the car so I could replicate my Utah experience of driving around with a load of friends to go hiking.

My carload of hikers: Anna, Toni, Raphaella, and Rebecca
Toni and Raphaella are Austrian university students earning social work credits with volunteer work here this summer. They are taking Swahili lessons with my teacher, Mr. Solomon. Rebecca is their German roommate. Toni's writing a blog about Tanzania, too, but she's writing in German, so I couldn't read it. Her pictures are nice, though.

This hike really brought home to me that I need to start exercising again. It was so easy and flat and I felt exhausted afterwards! Anna and I had just checked out a gym that's a favorite of expatriates. We were hesitating to join because it's expensive. Janneke, the Twende Club leader, told us about a cheaper gym and gave us vague directions (really, the only kind possible in Arusha). Anna and I each, separately, in our new cars, circled the area repeatedly over the course of three days until we spotted it. They offer evening classes three times a week. So far we've gone to step aerobics (Fridays) and tae bo (Mondays). Can't wait to see what's on Wednesdays! The classes end after dark, and it would not have been safe to go by public transport. So, again, with the new car!

Why is it leaning like that? Hey, wait a minute...

Oh, hell!

I went outside today to find a flat on the Suzuki. K2 left for a Kilimanjaro trek late yesterday, so I was on my own. I was lounging on the couch, pondering a solution. Maybe I could pay the Maasai gate attendant to change it? My Swahili wouldn't be sufficient, but sign language and the tire itself would probably communicate the problem well enough. But he doesn't have a car, and I wondered if he'd know how to change a tire? Maybe I should change the tire myself? Theoretically, I know how to do it, but I haven't actually done it in years. It's one of those things that I think I should be able to do, but really I can't.

Then, my cell phone rang and it was K2 from the base of the mountain, just checking in. I told him about the tire, not expecting he could help from a distance. But he came up with the same solution he often uses when he's in Arusha and the Corolla strands him. He called his cousin, Amua. Amua is about ten years younger than K2, so he's very respectful of K2 as an older relative. He's a good mechanic. He used to work as a conductor on a daladala, so he knows all the drivers, and has in the past showed up with a daladala to tow the Corolla. He's done many, many favors for us since I've been in Arusha! He doesn't speak English at all. An hour later, Amua arrived at my house. In the process of taking the flat tire off the car, his finger was pinched between the hub in the center of the wheel and the rim. He calmly, but with a funny tone in his voice, called me over. I tried my best to lift the front of the car just a bit, but I wasn't strong enough. Amua was becoming less calm, and told me, all in Swahili, to go get the Maasai to come and help. I only understood a third of the words, but the context made it clear. So I ran out the gate to find our guard sitting with his friend in a plastic chair in the cornfield across the road. I was jumping around, calling out in horrible Swahili, something kind of like, "Come and help my brother-in-law! Fast fast!" Not clearly stated, but again, the context got him to follow me back to my house. He tried, too, then told me, all in Swahili, to go bring his friend back. I repeated my performance and got his friend out of the cornfield, and picked up an extra guy who was passing by on the road. Both of them really had no idea what I wanted, but they could see it was something kind of bad. By the time we got back to the house, the Maasai had freed Amua, and they were both smiling and acting like nothing was really wrong, and telling the two other guys everything's OK now. Amua's finger was not too badly hurt. The nail was bruised, but nothing was broken or smashed. He brushed aside all my concern and apologies, smiled, and finished changing the tire. Then we drove to the nearest petrol station to repair the tire. It had a big puncture in it. Maybe something to do with the load of broken tile somebody dumped into the rainy season ruts in the road near my house and then covered with chunks of pumice? Amua dealt with the repair, quickly paid, and hustled me away before I could open my purse. I recognized this as the same tactic K2 uses in markets to make sure of getting the local price and not the mzungu price.

Amua wanted to take the daladala to his place, because he was uncertain if I could drive around town. I told him in Swahili that I could drive him to Kijenge (his neighborhood), hamnashida (no problem). My Swahili was bad, but he could understand me. So I drove him home and we had a fun conversation in Swahili, and he laughed at my jokes instead of my mistakes. What a nice guy!

This kind of favor is part of the web of favors and reciprocity and familial obligation that binds everybody up together here in Tanzania. I would guess that K2 helps Amua out sometimes with a bit of money or other favors. K2 has another younger cousin, David, who frequently does the same types of favors for  him, and will come running at a moment's notice. K2 helps him with school fees and by letting him stay at his place for weeks at a time. When students or other acquaintances have asked me to give them money and I've asked K2's advice, he tells me that if I can help, I should. My immediate reaction is to be annoyed, because in the U.S., we expect everybody to be independent and it's overstepping a boundary to ask for money or favors. But when it's someone here who I like, I'm beginning to understand that it means I've been welcomed into the web. And, being American, when K2 starts cobbling together solutions to problems that involve calling an acquaintance to come and help me, my initial reaction is to refuse because I feel like it's an imposition. K2 is puzzled by that reaction, and has commented on it a few times. I'm learning to accept the help, mostly because I need it! But also, because it's nice to be caught up in the same web with the Tanzanians. And today, it really worked to my advantage! Thank you, Amua!

One more picture, unrelated to anything I've written about in this post...but look how cute he is!

A small toad in my backyard. I just saw another one on my front step, taking advantage of the bugs lured in by the porch light.


  1. Your new car looks just right for you. How nice to have mobility. It's great that you have settled into the culture and can now enjoy the benefits of the "web". You are missed here, but whenever I read your blog, I can hear your voice and your laugh. It's almost as good as chatting about your experiences in person.

  2. Congratulations on your new found freedom and hiking friends! It sounds like things are really improving in the lifestyle department. This was a great post!