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, July 29, 2011

The News on the New House

 I am still haunted by the house K2 and I rented two months before I came home, even though I am far away in America, luxuriating in 24-hour a day electricity and running water. Back in Arusha, we made an extensive search for a new house, after a bar opened just outside our bedroom window at the old house, following five months of no water. Various other things bothered me, too. Although most Tanzanians, including K2, would have barely noticed them, let alone been irritated enough to move.

We eventually moved into a new house.  We were the first occupants of this newly constructed house. It  looked pretty and upscale and like a comfortable place to live. But, of course, appearances are often deceiving.

I felt insecure in the house because, unlike most nicer houses in Arusha, this one does not have a block wall all the way around. It has an incomplete wall with a giant metal gate across the front of the compound, and just a wire fence down the long side. I remedied the insecurity by hiring KK Security.

We heard our first bit of gossip about the house one day when K2 was out in the garden. A passing neighbor, who could easily see everything happening inside our compound, stopped to chat. He told K2 that the owner did build a block wall. But it collapsed! That explains the piles of rubble and broken cinder blocks in the corners of the garden. Some neighbors carried off the gate, but it was huge and heavy, so they didn't get far, and the workers found it and brought it back.

Two weeks after we moved into the house, the kitchen sink and the dining room sink (customary in Tanzanian homes so you can wash your hands before you eat) both sprung leaks at the same moment. Lucky for me, at that moment, K2's friend Ali was out in the garden. He managed to stop the leaks by wrapping them with strips of plastic bags. Meanwhile, K2 brought a plumber. The plumber fixed both leaks. As long as he was in the house, I took the opportunity to list my many complaints about the house's  plumbing--which I still imagined might be repaired. His conclusion? All of the pipes in the house are in very poor condition, apparently salvaged from older houses. All of the plumbing is assembled incorrectly. The roof-top water tank would need to be elevated much higher in order to provide adequate water pressure into the house. Hmmm.... At least the sink and shower fittings are pretty.

After the plumber left, I wanted to make tea for Ali and K2. I carried the electric kettle from outlet to outlet. The two kitchen outlets just went, "bzzztt," and provided no electricity. The two outlets in the dining room and sitting room didn't say anything to me, neither did they provide electricity. Finally, the outlet in the hallway worked and I was able to serve tea. And when the refrigerator turns on, the ceiling light in the sitting room dims. So I need to be careful that I'm not standing in water from the leaking kitchen sink when I try to plug the kettle into the outlet that buzzes.

A couple of days after this, K2 was telling  Mama Q, the agent who helped us find the house, about our travails. She told him that our landlord, a married man living in Dar es Salaam with his wife, had sent the construction money to his mistress, who lives in our neighborhood. It was her job to buy supplies, hire workers, and supervise the construction. She skimmed money off the top, by buying used materials and hiring the cheapest workers. That explains why the house looks so pretty, with granite counter tops and shiny faucets and a big sink, but everything you don't see is crap. And why the builders made so many mistakes. So the owner can walk into his house, look around, and see that it's an expensive, modern house with all the amenities. And his mistress made a nice profit.

K2 wasn't expecting to spend many more nights at this house, because he was solidly booked for guiding Kilimanjaro treks until October. But two groups in a row cancelled their treks, and he found himself living in the house. And fixing more plumbing leaks. Then the water stopped flowing inside the house. It's not a supply problem, because the outside tap in the garden has water. The lower tank is full, but it seems that the water is not reaching the roof tank, even though the electric pump is running. And now the lower tank has started leaking.

Workers placed this tank and back-filled around it with very loose, wet dirt during heavy rains a couple of days before we took possession of the house. Before I came home, it was already settling and crooked. Maybe it's crooked enough that it's pulled connections loose. See that lump on the right rib on top of the tank?

It's a snail the size of an apple. Yecch! I don't blame that on the mistress, though.

I kind of wanted to call the landlord and tell him what the plumber said about the old, salvaged pipes and poor workmanship (hoping that he'd reach his own conclusion about his construction supervisor), but K2 wouldn't let me. Too much a breach of Tanzanian manners. 

For those of you reading this from America, you are no doubt wondering why we don't get the landlord to fix the place. For those of you reading this from Tanzania, you are no doubt thinking this man sounds a lot like your landlord. In Tanzania, it's customary for the tenant to pay 6 or 12 months' rent in advance, when you move in. The tenant bears responsibility and the expense of repairs needed during their tenancy. In our old house, we paid a few times to fix electrical problems and plumbing leaks, but it wasn't too expensive. In the new house, it's routine that we paid for the first two plumbing leaks. 

We did call the landlord at one point and talk about the plumbing, and he promised to send over a plumber right away, but he would be the one to call the plumber, because he had somebody special in  mind, and he would pay for everything, don't worry. Of course, no plumber ever showed up. Our previous landlord did that to us, too. Repairs on the scale of those needed here would probably go to the landlord if we pressed it, but since he's already got our money, we've got no leverage. And K2 is not of a mind to spend more of his own time or money or energy on this house. 

So, K2 is abandoning ship. He's looking for another place to live, even as I enjoy the comfort of my American house. Not sure he'll find a place with room for our furniture. Anyone want to buy a tiger-striped sofa?


  1. Of course I want the sofa!!! Sounds like this place continues to be a money pit and you're correct in the difference between cultures.. I would demand assistance from the landlord especially since you gave him money up-front. Sounds like a win-win situation for you. Sorry to hear that K2 will be looking for a new place!

  2. I meant win-win situation for the landlord....

  3. I just discovered your blog vis Miss Expat and wanted to share my toe story from Belize with you. Sounds similar. Please keep in touch. I used to live in Nigeria as a child, then Paris, UK and now California.
    My toe story is here:

  4. Hi, Sonia--nice to "meet" you! Your toe sounds grosser than mine!

  5. Oh Honey, I'm so glad you are young. I'm too old to put up with that kind of situation. What a mess! I envy you your "calm" and this marvelous experience though. Stay cool, Dear!

  6. Linda, I'm not young! I'm 52! Maybe I sound young because 52 should be old enough to know better.