17 February 2014

living the new normal in tanzania, part i.

Human beings are largely creatures of habit. Everyone experiences change. Most don't like it. But with time, change becomes normal.

And so it is with moving to Tanzania. Many things are different. But after just six weeks, it is amazing how so many changes already feel like the new normal.

Let's take a look at some observations on what the new normal looks like for us thus far in Tanzania. Since there is a lot to cover, I'll break these up across multiple posts.

Author's Note: Without appropriate cultural context, it can be easy to read certain things (like what you will read below) and pass judgment on the culture. That is not the intent. The truth is - life is really great for us here and we are very happy. I just wanted to share some good-intentioned observations about our time in Tanzania and what we have come to experience as completely normal parts of daily life.

With that, let us begin!

#1: Being the absolute center of attention whenever and wherever we go in public.
In case you did not know it, Ashley and I are celebrities in Tanzania. Or at least that's how it feels. It is impossible for us blend in with our environment, and for good reason: we look remarkably different from everyone else. Any walk down the street results in a chorus of mzungu (note: we don't like this) from just about every child, and extremely overt gawking from nearly every passerby. This subject could easily be an entire blog post unto itself.

#2: Child strangers holding our hands, poking our skin, and pulling our hair.
This kind of ties-in with observation #1. God bless the innocence of children. They are not at all hesitant to walk up to us - complete strangers - and just hold our hand and join us on our walk. This usually leads to them marveling at our body like we just landed from outer space. They poke our lightly colored skin, wonder why I have so much hair on my arm, stroke my sideburns (feeling glad I shaved my beard), and tug on Ashley's perplexingly long and lightly colored hair. Basically we are a walking, talking science exhibit.

#3: Frequent smell of burning trash day and night.
Tanzania lacks what you would call a well-developed infrastructure. For one, this means that a city-run garbage collection service does not exist. So people pile their trash outside and set it on fire (ash remnants in picture below - really exciting stuff). Yep. But believe it or not, you actually do get used to this smell (well, sort of). Actually, the thought of smelling burning trash is probably worse than the lived experience of smelling burning trash. But I'm not about to say it's super pleasant - just...tolerable. This pungent aroma greets us everyday upon our rising, and nestles us into bed every evening, much like that stuffed animal you hung onto for about one decade too many.

#4: Afternoon scent of drying fish.
Standing in contrast to observation #3, this I absolutely cannot get use to smelling - at least not yet. To be honest, I would joyfully welcome the smell of burning trash dancing through my nostrils than experience one more afternoon of the scent of drying fish simultaneously punching me in the brain and the stomach. In a previous post, I wrote about dagaa fish. This stuff is seriously everywhere and is laid out on nets in mass quantity to dry in the sun. When the lake breeze moves in (as it does every afternoon), this scent of dagaa travels our way like a dust storm in the Arabian desert, pounding the interior and exterior of our language school without mercy. It definitely makes me lose my appetite. 

#5: Eating deliciously fresh fruit every morning.
Standing in aromatic contrast to observation #4, one of the many gifts of living in the tropics is an abundance of fresh fruit. Everyday at language school, we have an array of scrumtrulescent fruits to choose from for breakfast, several of which are grown right here at the school: mangos, pineapples, papayas, watermelon, bananas, yellow oranges, passion fruit, avocado, topetope and stafeli - the latter two I had never heard of or seen before coming here.

#6: Morning routine that consists of malaria pills, sunscreen (SPF 50), insect repellant (25% DEET) and Cortizone itch-relief cream (for mosquito bites).
Ashley wrote about this a little already, but it was still worth noting. Just a few extra steps added to the daily routine of waking and getting ready. Not such a big deal though, and so far, it's all helping.

#7: Experiencing the symphonic sounds of nature coming alive every single night.
For the wildlife of Tanzania, sun down = party on. Every night at dusk, nature explodes in a chorus of praise to the Almighty for the gift of creation - either that or it is mating season. Regardless, all of the insects, frogs and dogs cannot contain their passion for making noise (bird sounds greet us every morning). So this ties into #9 below and the need for earplugs in order to sleep. 

#8: Brilliant bright white or crimson-orange moons on a very regular basis.
Even the photo below (taken by our fellow classmate) does not do this moon justice. And we have amazing moon-filled nights quite often. Just know that our moon is probably better than your moon every night. Sorry.

#9: Sleeping under a mosquito net with a flashlight and mobile phone tucked under my pillow, and while wearing an eye mask and earplugs every night.
Mosquitoes are most active during the night. You will receive numerous bites if you sleep without a net. Heck, you can even get bit with a net. This puts you at risk of getting malaria (see observation #6). Since we are sleeping under a net, we cannot easily reach onto a nightstand (if we even had a nightstand) to turn off our mobile phone alarm or grab anything else we might want in the middle of the night. So, all of those things sleep with us. Flashlight limits the amount of bugs that are attracted into the room. Earplugs minimize the cacophony of nature (see observation #7). Eye mask blocks out the bright moonlight at night (see observation #8). 

#10: Gorgeous, unchanging weather pretty much all of the time.
This is another benefit associated with observation #4. We just don't check the weather forecast here. Ever. Ask a local anything about current temperature or forecasted conditions, and they'll either shrug their shoulders or stare at you with a confused expression. The weather here just doesn't change that much. Most of the time it is sunny and 75-80 degrees. Not too shabby.

We'll limit it to ten observations on what the new normal looks like per post, so check back soon for more updates!


  1. Wallace the Bear was greatly offended by one of your comments. He says he will file a formal complaint with your editor ;)

    1. Out of Office Reply: Hello! You have reached the inbox of the Editor. I am currently out of the office, but will respond to your inquiry as soon as I can, unless of course I choose to never respond to it. Thanks!


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