Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Joe drove me to work this morning in his new car, a cute 3-door RAV-4 he bought last week with the help of our Tanzanian friend Billy. We have named the car “Ralph.”

Driving in this country requires knowing the tricks of the trade; not only to drive on the “correct” side of the road and car, but how to navigate the system, such as knowing where not to drive at night, keeping the number of a mechanic with you at all times, and dealing with cops when they pull you over.

Joe was pulled over twice last week. The first time was his lesson learned for what not to do: the cop saw him talking on his cell phone, motioned him over, and told him that they had just passed legislation, taking effect “tomorrow,” whereby drivers couldn’t talk on their cell phone. He told Joe to let him into the car so they could “discuss” this, and asked for his license. He then told Joe to meet him under a bridge (which he could do since he had his license) and asked for a bribe (50,000 shillings).

Rule #1: Do not make eye contact (we both wear sunglasses in the car now and I do my best to keep a poker face passing through check points…)
Rule #2: Do not let them into your car
Rule #3: Do not give anyone your real license (just a copy)
Rule #4: Do not give anyone more than 5,000 shillings

It’s ridiculous that they get away with this stuff on a daily basis, and that bribes are this commonplace. In Zanzibar this weekend, our taxi ride to and from the beach town included money for bribes, which even the local drivers couldn’t get out of paying.

Joe was adamant not to let it happen again to the magnitude of 50,000 shillings, and when he got pulled over the next day, the cop demanded to be let in, and so Joe guilt tripped him the entire way to the station, saying “I am doing good work here. This is very bad. You should feel very guilty. I am helping 45,000 people gain access to healthcare. Tsk tsk tsk.” And the cop, thinking he was a doctor, let him off for free.


Having Joe as a roommate has been great – we dance around the apartment with shaker eggs, cook interesting concoctions and have people over for dinner (last night we had Jeremy over for peanut butter okra curry, kidney beans in a tomato-yogurt sauce, and breaded chicken), therapeutically write, and have introspective conversations customary to being abroad. Joe re-introduced me to the Myers-Briggs test, a personality test centering around four trait groups (16 types total): whether you are an introvert or extravert, think via sensing or intuitively (practical or a theoretical thinker), are a thinker or feeler (logical or emotional), and are a judger or perceiver (planner or more spontaneous). It seems to be an interesting way to group people, and describes personalities with seemingly more precision than say, horoscope groups.

Last night we looked up famous individuals in our Myers-Briggs types. Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr, and Dr. Seuss were all ENFP’s, like Joe. Jeremy got Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mahatma Gandhi, all INFJ’s.

I got Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, Michael Jackson, and Dan Rather, all fellow ISFP’s.

No comment.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


We went back to Zanzibar this weekend for a super relaxing weekend in Paje, an east coast beach with a gorgeous view of the Indian Ocean.

While we were there, the power went out for a few hours both nights (and the hotel decided to conserve their generators). This wasn’t so bad for the few hours, but I learned that the entire island of Zanzibar (with around a million inhabitants) lost power for several months earlier this year. Additionally, only around 10% of Tanzania has regular access to electricity (which is a kind of vague term that may mean only 70% of the time). This statistic seems incredibly shocking, but sheds light onto why efficiency seems to be quite difficult to achieve.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Language dreams

Being abroad triggers something in the language part of your brain - people around you speaking a different language makes you want to speak it (or at least speak something other than the default of English), too.

They say that you're fluent in a language when you dream in it; my semester abroad in Spain culminated in a dream in "Spanglish." "Banglish" dreams fluttered about while spending winter session in India.

While I'm no where close to being even basic in Swahili knowledge, I wouldn't have been surprised if some of the everyday words heard on the street entered my mefloquine-doused dreams.

Instead, I had a dream in Spanish last night, a brief conversation with a friend while getting out of a bajaj. At least they're semi-acclimatizing?


A professor visiting Dar asked me earlier this week what surprised me the most about coming to Africa. I think it would have to be how expensive everything is and the fact that there is no "middle class" pricing. Huge disparities exist in everything, including living, transportation, food, etc, and phone, internet, and other commodities soak up shillings in no time.

A Tanzanian friend's interpretation was that Africa is transitioning between socialism and capitalism, and that it will take a few years for the market to work its magic. He also commented that the arrival of us "mzungus" has raised prices drastically. I'm wondering why the case is different in India and Asia, in that case.

Regardless, was not expecting to pay 120,000 shillings for 2 weeks of internet. Must stop video skyping.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Walking without crawling first

Natalie, Joe and I visited the orphanage again on Saturday, this time with Mary, the founder. Mary is an incredibly energetic Irish woman, a mother of nine, with honest opinions on everything and a heart of gold. She and her American husband have lived all over the place, including in India for several years, and have been committed to Tanzania for the last ten.

She told us how they set up the orphanage, and how they’ve slowly expanded over the last several years. A vast chunk of their budget goes towards medical care for the children: one of the kids was in the hospital with malaria when we visited, a decently common occurrence.

Mary told us about the devastating situations in which they found some of the kids, and went on about each of their individual personalities. Six kids of the bunch, she told us, are HIV-positive; most are on ARV’s and all have regular check-ups. They’re now healthy and happy individuals, and you wouldn’t be able to tell which are which. Spending time with the kids this week was great – we had brought them markers, and had a drawing session where they wrote their name and drew a picture. One girl even scrawled down, “Malaria still sucks,” a phrase she slyly saw printed on Natalie’s shirt.

Mary later made a comment about Tanzania that stood out in my mind: driving here is terrible, mainly because many drivers are lacking a sense of the space around them. At least in India, she said, there’s a method to the madness and drivers have figured out how to coexist together: there are unsaid rules, so to speak. Here, however, instead of slowing down when they see a pedestrian or a car in front of them, a driver may speed up. “And babies don’t crawl first before walking – the two are distinctly related in my mind, no coincidence,” she told us.

She went on to explain that babies spend a good chunk of their infancy tied in cloth to a mother’s back, and then at some point they are expected to teeter-totter around by walking. But, they haven’t yet developed boundaries at that point, or a strong sense of space without crawling.

Pole vs. Samahani

There are two words in Swahili meaning “sorry.” Samahani seems to mean that the person is genuinely sorry and indicates at least sympathy if not empathy.

Pole, on the other hand, while sometimes genuine, seems to mostly be used as an “oops,” or a sarcastic sorry, and is used quite a bit.

Example: someone knocks over water bottle, spills water all over the floor, and goes “pole” without cleaning it up.