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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Kitenge Report

I promised to report back on the kitenge dresses that Anna and I ordered during our Christmas shopping excursion (which you can read about here). We picked them up today, and they are so cute! The tops on all three were a bit different than we expected. For two of them, it was a nice surprise. For the third, alterations were quickly accomplished and everything is good.

Here are pictures of the finished dresses. We thought we'd try some of the dramatic, fashion magazine poses that are popular here in Tanzania when you take pictures of your friends (or pictures to post on Facebook).

This pose, in addition to being dramatic, shows off my car. I was expecting short sleeves, a v-neck, and no ruffle at the collar. But I love it anyway! The skirt is just as ordered. I asked them to shorten it a couple of inches (the hem was hitting the ground), and they took care of it while we waited.

Anna's car was in the shop, so she posed with her Christmas tree, which has strawberry-shaped flashing lights.

Here's a better look at her dress. The top turned out to be ruched with rows of elastic stitching, which was a total surprise. But she loves it! I think she is stunning in this dress.

She picked this one up on Christmas Eve. It had huge puffy short sleeves cuffed with blue ribbon. She thought the sleeves looked "too '80's." She brought it back today and asked them to change the sleeves, which they did while we were out at lunch.  Now she loves it!

That's all for now. Happy New Year everybody everywhere! I hope to see you here again next year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robbered: Part 3, And Other Less Weighty Matters

Just a bit of housekeeping before we dive into Tanzania stories. A couple of posts back, I got a message from Blogspot urging me to turn on formatting for mobile devices. I did it, but apparently I somehow blanked out my list of ten readers who receive new posts by email from Blogspot. I've gone in and tried to remember who those ten of you were. So if you've suddenly received this by email and didn't expect to, I guess I didn't remember right. Ditto if you've suddenly been dropped from the emails. Just drop me an email if you want me to change it! And now, onto Tanzania stories.

Robbery is an unfortunate part of life here in Arusha. I've written about it before in "Robbered" and in "Robbered: Part 2." Apparently robbers don't take a holiday for Christmas. A few weeks ago, our neighbors called a neighborhood meeting to  discuss the "security situation." Neighborhood meetings are common here, used to discuss and resolve problems amongst neighbors, rather than calling in planning commissioners or police to fix the problem. We didn't make it to the meeting, nor did any of our neighbors in our six-house compound, Nyumba Sita. But our askari reported back to us a few days later that robbers had killed an askari, or security guard, not far up the road from us! I'd been feeling quite complacent in our neighborhood, because it's been peaceful and safe since I've lived here. Now, I'm not feeling so complacent.

Saitoti, our askari, was friends with the victim and told us that he'd be away from the gate at times, assisting the family of the victim. If I were him, I'd just be scared to do my job, unarmed and watching a gate up the road from a murder. Usually, when he's away, one of his posse of Maasai friends mans the gate for us. But for about two weeks, Saitoti came and went, with no substitute at the gate. Several times, one of us pulled up to the compound's outer gate late at night, only to find Saitoti nowhere in evidence and the gate left unlocked so we all could get inside. So, in the wake of a nearby violent robbery, our gate was left open. Any would-be robbers had only to observe us pulling up in our cars and getting out to open the gate from the outside. I was not feeling complacent at all! Safety measures still in effect included the wall with locked gate around my individual house, heavy wooden doors and steel security grates with deadbolts, and steel security grates over the windows. On Christmas Eve, lots of people go out and celebrate at clubs or bars and make a lot of noise. At midnight Christmas Eve, we heard several gunshots on the road near our compound. Well, at about 12:13, so that's midnight African Time! Even though we knew it was most likely just party noise, it scared us a bit, under the circumstances. We were starting to think we needed to call the landlord and arrange for a new askari, but were reluctant to do it because we like Saitoti and he'd done a great job before. But three days ago, he came back and has been manning the gate consistently, with about three of his posse assisting.

In Anna's neighborhood, a group of robbers had been stealing generators and cables from outside houses. The other night, a group of the neighborhood askaris trapped the robbers at around 9:00. Neighbors gathered outside and held the robbers captive all night. They yelled at them and beat them up a bit. They debated loudly whether they should call the police and turn the robbers over or kill the robbers right there. The next morning, the neighbors brought out their children to see the robbers and illustrate to them what happens to you if you become a robber. Then they called the police and turned the robbers over. Anna heard all this from safely inside her house, with her Tanzanian boyfriend translating for her. I've heard several stories, which I believe to be true, of people beating robbers to death when they catch them.

Okay, take a deep, cleansing breath. After telling you two scary stories, I'm going to move on to more light hearted fare partially set in a yoga studio. But I don't have a good segue, so just get ready to change gears...

My Dutch friend Martina is the manager of a rustic luxury lodge, Karama Lodge.

She asked me to teach an English class for some of the lodge employees. For about a month, I've been conducting twice-weekly English conversation practice sessions for groups of 5-10 students. The students work in reception, housekeeping, maintenance, the kitchen, and security. All of them are eager to attend because they get to take 90 minutes away from work and sit and chat about random topics. Just kidding! They really are eager to learn, because speaking English well is a key skill for good jobs in tourism here. This class is so much fun for me because these employees, even in a country full of nice people, are just so darn nice! The skill level varies a bit among them, and those that are more proficient always help the beginners. There's quite a bit of laughing, but it's always good natured. Some of it is at my attempts to speak Swahili. Three of them were very shy about speaking English in front of the group and in front of an American, but by the end of the second class, they were jumping out of their chairs to take the floor and take a turn speaking English. I love this class!

Some of my wonderful Karama students in the yoga studio where we hold our class.

And on top of the fun of spending 90 minutes with these fun people, I also get a free lunch every time I teach. The food is fabulous. Three of the chefs are studying English, so sometimes one of them cooks for me and then attends class. The setting is even more fabulous than the food. I try to arrive good and early so I have plenty of time to lounge around eating lunch, reading my Kindle, and enjoying the view.

 Here's the restaurant and bar.

 Here's where I sit for lunch.

And here's the view.

 They're adding a pool. Workers dug the hole entirely by hand. Then they dropped in a metal tub with a vinyl liner. They're backfilling around the pool now.

Here's one of the guest rooms. I want to live here. Especially after the pool's finished!

It takes a lot of work to keep a nice place like this running smoothly, so Martina is very busy with work. That gave me and Anna the chance to go house hunting when Martina recently needed to find a place to rent, but couldn't break away from work. We called Jerry, the agent that I used to find my house (read about that house hunting experience here). He showed us a pretty nice two-bedroom apartment. I took pictures and Anna took notes.

Upstairs apartment with a balcony.

It was a possibility. Until we saw the next place...

...this perfect little house...

...with rooms full of light...

...set in this beautiful garden.

Just as we walked out of the gate, Martina texted us asking if we'd found her dream house. We immediately called and told her that yes, as a matter of fact, we had. It was a little out of her price range, but she had to take it! Some things are the same in every country, I guess. She's settled into the house now. Anna and I were pleased at our success, but a little disappointed that we only got to see two houses. When you're not looking for your own place to live, the pressure's off and it's all fun.

Maasai man wearing a straw fedora with his traditional shuka. Sometimes I see Maasai wearing dark ankle-high socks and dressy business shoes with their shuka. It just cracks me up.

I'm including this picture because it's New Year's Eve tomorrow, and they say that whatever you're doing on New Year's is what you'll do for the next year. In 2011, I want to keep seeing the beauty of Tanzania. And a serious New Year's Resolution: In 2011, I resolve to be more consistent with my Swahili study.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Shopping Arusha Style

Tanzanian Christians celebrate Christmas with their families, giving gifts, attending church, and preparing special meals. But it's all much more modest than the frenzy of shopping and gifts and eating we generate in America. Most parents buy a gift of one nice outfit for each of their children. A common gift from husband to wife is kitenge, or traditional cloth with wild prints. There's no one Christmas dinner that's traditional. Each family has their own favorite.

At home, I hate the crowds in the stores and try hard to avoid all shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But since things are quieter here, I figured it was time for some Christmas shopping-- Arusha style.

I didn't make it far before my first impulse buy...

This is Mama Chupa outside her shop, about 100 yards up the road from my gate. Usually she just sells soda, bottled water, beer, and a few household items. But she's branched out for a few days into a Christmas boutique. Chupa is Swahili for bottles. K2 nicknamed her Mama Chupa because she lets us take sodas without paying the bottle deposit. Her real name is Nancy.

The boutique display caught my eye and I swerved to the side of the road and started shopping.

I bought this great zebra purse. I've been missing my Wal-Mart vinyl zebra purse that I left at home. And even though I'm in Tanzania, no, it's not real zebra. It's a cheap-looking synthetic something. The black stripes are actually fuzzy, like flocked wallpaper. How could I resist?

I drove another few hundred yards on the shortcut track through the grassy field, where I spotted a machinga, or vendor walking around carrying his wares. The word is a Swahili version of the English phrase, "marching guy." This machinga was an albino. Albinism is much more common in Tanzania than in America, and it's also a social issue. In some remote parts of Tanzania there is a market for albino body parts to be used in witchcraft. No, it's not just a horrific story making the rounds. It's documented in occasional  news stories and the government here has hosted conferences to work on the problem. That kind of made me more inclined to buy stuff from this guy.

The day before, I drove past a display of sparkly Christmas decorations spread on the ground beside a main road. There were about a dozen cars pulled over and people shopping. I didn't figure it out in time to stop, and when I passed by again an hour later, everything was gone. But here, right in the field near my house, a machinga loaded down with sparkly Christmas decorations! I stopped the car and waved out the window to call him over, and from the comfort of the driver's seat I loaded up on fun decorations. I got a mylar "Merry Christmas" banner in red and gold...

 ...and a string of flashing lights shaped like roses.

The steel security grates in the windows are handy for stringing up lights.

But my favorite machinga  purchase has to be the "140 Music Lights with Music Device."

Play the video and listen to the sounds of the season! Two good things: I only paid about $6.00 for this, and it has a dial that lets me turn off the music!

I drove into town and had lunch and waited for Anna to finish work at 1:00. We had both been buying kitenge cloth over the last few weeks, with the intention of having dresses made. And now that we're so close to Christmas, we figured we should get it done because it's a traditional gift. In this case, I guess from ourselves to ourselves.

Don't confuse kitenge with khanga. Both are traditional African fabrics with wild prints, usually on light or mid-weight cotton fabric, with the best quality being produced through a wax print process. Khangas, which I wrote about in a previous post, are printed in squares with borders and a Swahili proverb. They're used in lots of ways, including as wrap around skirts, and occasionally sewn into dresses or skirts. Kitenge are cut lengths of cloth with a repeating pattern. They are also sometimes used as wrap arounds, but most often are sewn into dresses. Kitenge dresses are a nice, dressy outfit for occasions such as weddings and church services. Many Tanzanian women wear them to work. They're not as popular with younger women, who seem to prefer western styles. You see them everywhere around Arusha.

Anyway, Anna had previously found a good tailor. There are hundreds of them in town, but some are better than others, and we wanted a reference. Anna had given a Tanzanian woman a lift one day. The woman was wearing a beautiful kitenge dress, so Anna asked about tailors. The woman guided her to this shop in the business district. You can't just give an address here. You can narrow it down to a small area by citing landmarks. But to find one small shop, you just have to have a guide. 

The tailor shop was a small storefront with a counter, and behind the counter a tailor sewing and a girl heating an iron on a small charcoal stove. In front of the counter, a woman was hand sewing beads  and sequins into an elaborate floral design on a satin dress. Behind the counter were several large posters with multiple pictures of different kitenge dresses, and a catalog with more designs. Anna and I crowded behind the counter and pored over the pictures. About 1/4 of them were not modest enough to wear in Tanzania--must be those Nigerians. Interestingly, all of the models looked like ordinary, real African women. Most of them were in their 30's or 40's and were plump. That made it easier for me to envision what the designs would look like on my 52-year-old plump body. Anna picked two designs, and I picked one. The tailor brought out a notebook, looked at our pictures, measured us, and jotted down some mess of chicken scratchings that I don't know how he'll ever make sense of it. And then he snipped  a sample of each fabric and taped it to the notes.

Anna jumped in and started bartering prices for my dress, which I appreciated, because she's so much better at bartering than I am. All in Swahili, she asked for the first price. Then she told the tailor he should lower the price because I'm short (5' 3"), so there's less sewing. He said no, because I'm fat, so there's still a lot of sewing! So I told him, "What? I'm fat so the price is fat?" My Swahili's still not good, but I'm getting to where I can make a joke now and then. We were all laughing, me most of all. In Tanzania, it's not rude at all to comment on a person's physical appearance. Being fat is considered attractive, and friends will often greet each other after a long absence by saying, "You're becoming fat." It just tickled me to be called fat by a businessman who was selling me something. But hey, he had the numbers to back it up, if he could read them. Anna got the price down to 20,000 T shillings, or about $13.50 U.S.

Then Anna asked for the starting price on her dresses. I spoke up and said, "Thirty thousand, because she's tall." (6"0'.) Anna was outraged and the tailor laughed. She got a good price on her dresses, too.

We decided our next stop should be the big second-hand clothes market. I've never been there, and have been asking Anna to escort me there (too chicken to go on my own the first time). But first, I needed to stop somewhere and sit down and have a cold drink. I'd sweated about a liter inside the tailor shop, starting with standing near the charcoal stove for a minute too long. We headed to the Arusha Backpackers' Hotel.

Here's their water tank and generator, to cover the water shortages and power outages. I like the tinga-tinga painting on the tank.

The restaurant's on the roof, where we sat in the shade right against the railing and enjoyed a cool breeze while drinking a cold Coke. From up there, you can see everything happening on one of Arusha's main downtown streets.

Here are some Tanzanian ladies wearing kitenge.

  Anna had ridden the dala-dala to come meet me earlier. She ended up on a brand new one that still had a factory sticker on the inside of the door saying, "Do not stick arms or head outside while vehicle is moving."  This is a typical conductor posture, looking for prospective passengers. When she noticed the sticker, the conductor was riding just like this.
Refreshed and rehydrated (and caffeinated), we were ready to hit the second-hand clothing market.

The market is about a city block long, consisting of four of these open-sided sheds.

Most of the clothing is used, coming from all those donations you make to the Salvation Army and Goodwill and Deseret Industries. Some things are new, maybe overstocks or seconds. They have everything in there! I saw hundreds of pairs of jeans, hundreds of pairs of shoes, neat piles of used women's panties (no thanks, ick), prom dresses, bed sheets, towels, and drapes. Also, quite a selection of polar fleece jackets, and knitted winter hats and scarves. Also, no thanks, because I was sweating liters again.

We dived in at one end, right next to a display of dangling shoes.

They had a very good selection of daypacks and duffel bags and lots of brand new carry-on bags.

Some merchandise is hanging, and easy to see. A lot of it is stacked up on tables and you need patience and time to rummage around and find what you want.

I wasn't looking for anything specific, but ended up buying a cotton nightgown that was hanging up. I saw it and it reminded me I'd forgotten to bring my favorite one back from America with me. It's used, but in good condition. I'm squeamish about wearing used clothes, which I know is silly (and I think is American). So we'll see how many times I have to wash this cute nightgown before I feel comfortable sleeping in it.

Anna was looking for capri pants, not blue. After walking the length of the entire market and doubling back, a young salesman who was especially persistent stopped us at his large table piled with all kinds of pants. He frantically dug through the piles, pulling out every pair of capris that could be anywhere near Anna's size. She held the possibilities against her waist, trying to judge size by looking. The discard pile grew deeper, including a pair with big white and blue roses. We got into a rhythm where the vendor would hold up a pair and snap them a bit to show the size and stretch, then Anna or I would say yes or no and he would toss the yes's across the table to us. At one point he got going too fast and held up a really large, baggy, hot pink pair of capris. I shook my head no, and tried not to laugh. But pretty much my every thought marches right across my face, so he knew I wanted to laugh. Which made him laugh, and then I laughed. At this point, we were about 20 minutes into it. Anna wasn't sure whether any of the possible pairs would fit well enough. They do have a changing "room" set up outside the market, but it doesn't look very private.

That green cube is the changing "room."

By this time, our vendor really wanted to make a sale. So he offered a better changing room. He walked us back through about half of the market and into a stall with walls made of hanging blouses and skirts and dresses. At the back wall, they had constructed a little alley closed in by blouses. Anna took four pairs of capris, all brown and tan, no pink or flowers, and went behind the wall. I stood in the open doorway and told the two young male vendors that I was "Mama Askari" (Mama Security Guard). The vendors and I chatted in Swahili while Anna tried on pants. She ended up buying two pairs.

So, compared to Christmas shopping in America, I'd have to say Christmas shopping here requires more effort. But it was much less crowded and hectic here. Also, I didn't spend anywhere near as much as I would have in an afternoon in an American shopping mall. And I got a bit of Swahili practice for free. I won't get my finished kitenge dress until around New Year's Eve, so I'll have to report back on that later.

 Merry Christmas everybody everywhere!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Visiting Nanny Goats in Panties

"Nanny Goats in Panties" is a humor blog written by Margaret in Sacramento, California. It's not about goats every time, but it's funny every time. She does return to goat themed posts at least once a week, with her feature, "Goat Thing of the Day". There are so many goats in Arusha that I'm always saying to myself, "You should send that into "Goat Thing of the Day!" Today, Margaret kicks off a new feature, recipes using goat meat, milk, or cheese. My recipe for goat kima, featured in my last post, is the first one. Click here and join me in visiting "Nanny Goats in Panties."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Simple Goat Curry

Maasai woman bringing goats inside the boma for the night.

Cooking is not too difficult here in Arusha. I have a kitchen with most of the conveniences of home, including a gas stove that lets me cook during the frequent power outages. I can usually find most of the ingredients I need to make a dish. Shopping is more complicated than at home. I usually have to visit several different shops to collect everything I need, plus an open-air market if I'm buying fruit and vegetables. Although the fruit and vegetables are better here--fresh and picked when ripe. None of this picked green and hard for maximum shelf life.  I can't make everything I made back home, and sometimes I substitute ingredients for almost the same effect. This is a story about one of those substitutions.

I set out to make kima, a Pakistani recipe included in a Mennonite cookbook I bought over 20 years ago in paperback. I thought I brought the book with me to Tanzania, but I can't find it anywhere. So now I'm thinking it must be one of the items I pulled out of my suitcase at midnight the night before I left while trying to bring it all in under 50 pounds. 

So, from memory, I made a mental list and set out to gather ingredients. My first stop was the fruit market on Serengeti Road for onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and green beans. Oh, and one green pepper, which here is called pili pili hoho. I don't like green peppers very well, but I really like their Swahili name.  It's a local style market, but very accessible by car and with big market stalls with lots of choices. It seems that most of the foreigners in town shop here. I found everything I wanted here, except garlic. It's odd, but garlic is seldom sold with the other vegetables. And when they do sell it, it's so tiny it will drive you crazy trying to peel and chop all those little cloves.

Next stop, the Pick-n-Pay Supermarket. "Supermarket" here is more like a small grocery store back home. Here, I found tomato paste, spices, rice, coconut milk and big garlic that's easy to peel. I planned to buy ground beef, or "beef mince" as it's called here, at this store, too. I rummaged around a bit in the chest freezers on one side of the store, but couldn't find beef mince. I asked one of the clerks if they had any. She was sure they did, and after a bit of further rummaging, she methodically emptied the freezer, and stacked up all the frozen meat on the next freezer. No beef mince. But there were so many packages of this....

...that I thought, why not try it? I'd have to drive all the way through the busiest part of town to look for beef in the other supermarket open on Sunday. And I've had goat barbecue before and that was good.

So..back at home after only two shopping stops, with all my ingredients (with only one substitution), and here's how to make goat kima.

  Cut all the vegetables into a large dice. I used a kilo of tomatoes, a quarter kilo of green beans, a half kilo of onions, a few cloves of garlic, one green pepper, and two potatoes. 

For this recipe, it's not important to be precise with ingredient amounts. Which is good, considering I lost the cookbook.

 Brown the meat. Ground meat here is so lean that I actually add a bit of oil when browning it. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add all of the spices and stir until the meat and onions are coated.

I didn't measure the spices, but let me estimate how much I used. About 1 tablespoon each of curry powder and cinnamon. About 1 teaspoon each of ginger, cloves, and turmeric. About 1/2 teaspoon each of black pepper and red pepper. (Is it mixing together the metric system and the old English system to have kilos and tablespoons in the same recipe? Surely metric doesn't mean you have to add spices by cc's?) The coconut milk and rice I'll get to later. And just ignore the soy sauce. I didn't use it for this dish, but I didn't think to move it out of the picture.

Add the diced tomatoes and two foil packets of tomato paste. At home, I would have used canned tomato sauce and canned diced tomatoes. Canned tomato sauce is available here, but it's quite expensive and the fresh tomatoes are cheap and very nice. So for tomato sauce, I boil down diced tomatoes and then add tomato paste to bind it together. Simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the potatoes and green beans (you can use fresh or frozen peas in place of green beans). Simmer until they start to soften. Add the green pepper (hoho), and simmer for a few more minutes. Put some rice on to cook. I like coconut rice with curries. Just replace about half of the water with canned coconut milk and boil as for plain rice.

Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the sauce is the right consistency, a bit dry, just enough to bind all the ingredients together. 

Here's my finished dinner, with heavily processed "long life" skim milk from a box. We used to drink this stuff in field camp when I worked with the forestry crew in Alaska. It's not too bad, actually. Whole milk is available fresh here, but after so many years of drinking skim milk, I just don't like the creaminess. Also, served with my Kindle to keep me company, since K2 was, as usual, working out of town somewhere this evening.

The end result? The goat mince was good. It tasted slightly different than beef, but if it was served to me and I didn't know, I might not have noticed it wasn't beef. Later, I used the rest of the goat mince in spaghetti sauce, and that was tasty, too.

Sorry, guys! (Photo by Anna.)

If you'd like to see more cute goat pictures, and it won't make you feel bad after reading about goat mince, you can click here to revisit my last post. But you'll have to scroll past several reptile pictures to get to the goats.