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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.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I'm baaa-aac-k! Here's a sampling of things that have happened in my five days back in Tanzania that really let me know I'm back.

K2 picked me up at the airport. It was so nice to see him again! The Suzuki was really dirty, which was surprising because K2, like most Tanzanians, is meticulous about the car and washes it often. He was appalled when he returned from treks and found the car filthy in my care. So I gave him some attitude about the dirty car. Ha ha!

The first evening in Arusha, K2 said to me, "You gained weight." He followed this with the classic up and down appraising look, and, "It looks goooood." I love Tanzania! Although I am still American, so I just want to say it's not even two pounds.

The jacaranda trees are in full bloom. It's as if lovely lavender smoke floats over the city.

And real smoke hangs over the city, and oozes into my house under the front door. People are burning trash, and the weather is overcast in the mornings, so the smoke stays low. Just a couple of hours most days. But now I'm scared about it, because a U.S. doctor said the smoke here probably caused the pneumonia I took home to Utah with me.

After two months, my house was kind of gross. There was an ant parade running up to the shelves holding mostly dry foods. I took down all the food and cleaned the shelves. There were spills of honey, sugar, and flour pulling in the ants. When I took down some bags of dried beans, I found them infested with little black beetles. Yecch! The ants originated in this one creepy under-counter cabinet next to the sink. I haven't been using it. The counter is made of concrete and the cabinets are thick wood. The sink was leaking for some time, and some of the wood is rotted. When I open the doors a musty cave smell wafts out into the kitchen.

I sprayed insecticide in the crevices. Ants didn't pour out. A half dozen smallish cockroaches poured out. And some more of those little beetles. Double yecch! Across the kitchen on the dry side, I opened the under-counter cabinet where I keep the pans, and something big (for the insect world) and dark made an actual rustling noise and darted down the inside wall away from me. I immediately thought cockroach and slammed the door and ran out of the kitchen. Upon sober reflection, I realized it was more likely a gecko. Geckos have been pooping on the windowsills and bathroom fixtures, so I don't know why it made me feel better to have a gecko in there than a cockroach, but it did.

We had chicken and chips at Ceti Gardens. They have a car wash next to the outdoor restaurant so you can eat dinner while you wait for the guys to wash your car, which can take 45 minutes or more here. K2 loves Ceti Gardens because he so loves a clean car. When we got into the car after dinner, the front seats were wet. Turns out I left the sunroof open a crack earlier in the day.

An acquaintance dropped by my house unannounced my second night back to ask me for money. I gave her some. Two days later, she asked me for money again.

Another acquaintance started a conversation with, "But what else can you do here in Tanzania besides teach?" This is always the run up to convincing me that I should start a small business, as any hard-working Tanzanian with a bit of  money would do. I told him about an idea for importing some Tanzanian items into America. He thought that was too cumbersome, due to the need to have an agent in America handling things. Then he launched into a description of his own business plan, a cement block-making business that would require purchase of two or three machines. This is always the run up to asking me to invest. I've developed a talent, though, for avoiding the direct request at the end of the pitch by dropping discouraging comments into the sales pitch. For example, "That's why this importing idea is good, because I could start with a very small investment until I see how it goes." No Amway or Nutralife or Mary Kay here, but it feels the same sometimes!

My Dutch friend Martina went out to dinner with some friends at a nice restaurant and left her company car, a Suzuki that looks like a cross between a Jeep and a golf cart, parked in the restaurant's lot with its security guards (askari). After dinner, it wouldn't start, which has happened before. Her friends helped her push it for quite a way, and it still wouldn't start. She left it overnight, with more askari nearby in front of a bank. When she returned in the morning with a mechanic, it turned out that thieves had opened the hood and stolen the distributor while she had dinner.

I came home in the dark and flipped on the kitchen light. I heard loud rustling from inside a cardboard box I'd stuffed with empty plastic bags. It was loud enough that I was thinking mouse or gecko. I gingerly carried the box outside, turned it upside down and shook the bags out. The biggest, blackest cockroach I have ever seen (and don't forget I lived two years in the Philippines, which is a hotbed of giant cockroaches) scuttled out and took up his position on the porch steps. Since he didn't run away, I did--back inside the house and slammed the front door, in case he might have been attracted by the light inside. Oh, wait, cockroaches run away from light. Anyway, I stayed inside for an hour listening to the plastic bags blow all around in the wind until my conscience forced me outside to pick them up. The cockroach was gone and I haven't thought about where he might be now. Before I left for two months, this house only had geckos (cute) and mosquitoes (annoying, but manageable with a mosquito net). While I was in America, all insect hell broke loose.

I was walking through a busy shopping area and passed two young men unloading a truck. From behind me, one of them said, "Oooh, Mami, mazuri!" in a lascivious voice. By which he meant roughly, "Ooh, baby, nice a**." It must be the extra two pounds. I love Tanzania! Of course I pretended I didn't understand and kept walking because he was obviously not a nice man. This is what I was talking about in my previous post about the difference between mama (or mami) and ma'am , where I said mama is a respectful, affectionate form of address for an older woman. Except maybe for the respectful part.

In Tanzania, we leave our shoes at the door and slip into flip flops to keep the floors cleaner. We also wear flip flops into the bathroom to avoid creating mud when the floor's wet after a shower. I needed to buy some flip-flops. After passing the young men and their truck, I approached a big outdoor market and kept asking women "Wapi naweza kupata ndala?" "Where can I get flip flops?" They answered me in Swahili, most of which I didn't understand, and did multi-phase pointing, indicating some type of corner to be turned. I ended up at a narrow alleyway leading back among the stalls with a young man guiding me (for a tip). We wended our way through dozens of stalls selling dried beans, spices, and plastic kitchen wares. After several twists and turns, we stopped at a stall with flip flops hanging on the outside. The guide, and three of his buddies who swooped in, called back and forth to the proprietor who was deep inside the stall unpacking boxes. We passed different sizes in and out until I found what I wanted. I drove a hard bargain--I got him to come down from double the local price to 1.5 times the local price, and bought four pair. I was pretty sure I was lost, so I made the guide take me back to the street before I tipped him.

K2 and I were in the house in the evening and going in and out of the kitchen. I flipped on the light, and right next to the stove on top of the counter was the second biggest, blackest cockroach I have ever seen. I screamed a little bit and acted up, hoping K2 would take care of it. He said, "What?" I said, "There's a giant cockroach in here!" He said, "Kill it." OK, but I used his shoe to do it. All. Insect. Hell.

K2 had told one of the staff at Kundayo Apartments (where I'd stayed for my first two months here in the spring) that we were coming to visit one evening. My phone rang, then the caller hung up before I could answer. It was the Tanzanian Missed Call Strategy, wherein you phone a friend, letting them know that you want to talk to them, but that you are not willing to use your own prepaid phone credits to do so. Often I don't return the call, because I think people can pay for their own darn phone credits. But it was Fatinha, a waitress at Kundayo Apartments. She's young and she's a waitress, so I  know I have more money than she does and I called her back, to let her know that K2 was late and we'd reschedule soon.

Then K2 called me, employing the Almost-Missed-Call. My phone rang from a number not in my contacts, but since K2 was out late, I answered. He said, really fast, "This is K2. Call me back on this number, please," and hung up. This meant his phone battery was dead and he'd borrowed someone's phone and did not want to use up their credits. If he had run out of credits himself, he would have simply sent me, for free, a text message saying, "Please recharge me." Then I would have transferred credits from my phone to his via a text message to Vodacom. He told me the company car in which he'd been expecting to ride back to Arusha had been diverted to the trailhead to meet a tourist with altitude sickness. He was waiting for the public bus and starving, so please buy chicken and chips. And use this number if I need to call him. Three hours later I tried to call him, and the unknown phone was also dead. I didn't really worry, though. With K2's plans all gone awry and him riding a bus through the middle of the night and out of contact, it just seemed like I must be back in Tanzania. Eventually, I received a text message saying, "Recharge me." I recharged him, and he texted to let me know the bus had broken down and he'd just arrived in Arusha and don't worry, he'd see me in the morning.

I returned yesterday to Jordan Institute, the tour guide/hotel management college where I volunteer in English classes. When I entered the classroom, all of the students' faces lit up with smiles and they said, "Oh! Barbara!" Several of them prefaced their English practice pieces with "welcomes" and "pole sanas" ("very sorries"), both for the loss of my mother and for my long journey. When class was over, many of the girls gave me the greeting in which you hold each others' shoulders and rub cheeks on first one side, then the other, sometimes adding a kiss on the cheek. Many of the boys shook my hand in all the Tanzanian varieties of handshakes. In the hour between classes, I spoke with many students, all of whom were so happy to see me again that I felt warmly welcomed back to Tanzania and happy to dive back into the whole adventure. Even if one of the students in the advanced English class, when invited to ask questions in English about America, asked me for the history of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War!

And after three days of focused cleaning, I'm happy to report I've seen only a half dozen ants and no more cockroaches in the last two days. The geckos are still pooping, though.


  1. Great post Barbara. I'm glad you are taking your house back from the insects. It sounds as though it was quite the task. Also, the pics of the trees were great. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I don't even want to think about the biggest, blackest cockroach on the planet! Ewwww. I was fantasizing about running away to Tanzania until I read that part. Nothing like reality to wreck a fantasy.

  3. I lived in the PI too - I'm having trouble imagining the biggest, blackest cockroach ever!! What! No pictures!!

  4. After I posted this, I had the thought that the 6 or 7 people I almost had convinced to come visit me might change their minds now...or at least insist on staying in a nice hotel.