24 February 2014

living the new normal in tanzania, part ii.

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In case you missed the first installment, check out that post here. We are here to talk about adjusting to the new norms of our life in Tanzania. Each time I provide ten observations, so this post will focus on observations #11-20.

As I said in the last post on this topic, Ashley and I have quickly been acclimating to our new environment here in Tanzania. Let's take a look at another ten observations of what the new normal looks and feels like for us.


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.

Got it? Great. Let's take a look!

#11: Saying hello to almost everyone we pass on the street.
This is not because we are celebrities like I talked about in observation #1 in the last post. Rather, it is cultural. Tanzanians are very communal and live with a neighborly spirit. When you pass someone on the road - at least here in the village environment - you acknowledge their presence and ask how their day is going. This will often result in stopping to chat for a few minutes. (Of course, all of this takes place in Kiswahili.) Attending to relational needs is more important here than getting where you were going or getting stuff done - a pretty foreign concept for many Americans (myself included).


#12: Shaking and holding hands with strangers for an uncomfortably long time.
This is an extension of observation #11. When you stop to say hello to someone, you shake hands. However, since the handshake does not end, it morphs into hand/forearm holding. Still getting used to this one.


#13: Greeting anyone older than you differently than anyone your same age or younger.
This goes along with observations #11 and #12. If I see someone who may be older than I am, then I greet them with "Shikamoo." They then reply with, "Marahaba." People seem to really appreciate it when you use this greeting appropriately. It took some time to adjust to this custom because we do not have anything like it in the United States - I use the same greetings with friends, parents, grandparents, strangers, etc.


#14: Frequent outages in electricity. 
Like many African countries, Tanzania suffers from unreliable power. Here at the language school, the power goes out quite regularly. Thankfully, they have a back-up generator, even if it is used sparingly. Also thankfully, we have not yet suffered from water outages, though this is also common in the area.


#15: Buying a new mobile phone or internet plan every single week (if not day), and frequently receiving threatening text messages from Vodacom Tanzania. 
Like I talked about in this post, technology works a bit differently in this part of the world. While it may seem like a weird system to us, it actually makes perfect sense for how the local people operate. Anyway, you won't find multi-year contracts or plans here. We pay for our usage (voice, text, data) by the day or by the week, so we have to continuously re-purchase when our time or allotment runs out.


#16: Internet that continuously fluctuates between dead to excellent to generally creeping along.
Speaking of technology, the internet here is very unreliable - much like observation #14 - but not because of it. Things just don't alway work as you would expect or as they should. This means that scheduling a video chat with our family back home may very well not go as planned.


#17: Seeing cows, goats, chickens, ducks and lizards everywhere. 
Yep, lots of animals here.






#18: Public transportation with seating for twelve but actually carrying twenty-nine.
The Tanzanian public bus is called the daladala. It is basically a gutted-out, broken down van. While each daladala is a bit unique in its configuration, they usually have seating for about a dozen passengers. However, I have yet to ride one with less than twenty. Just last week, we road a daladala with twenty-nine people. (Now I know how sardines feel.) Below is a very realistic and common depiction of how crowded the daladala can be. The good news is that our stop is at the end of the line, so it is usually empty when we board meaning we get an actual seat and don't have to stand.

Photo Credit: Lab Rat In Tanzania

#19: Shoes, socks and toes caked in dirt.
Paved roads are hard to come by in our current neck of the woods - the nearest one is quite a distance away by foot. So, we walk on dirt roads. This makes our transportation noted in observation #16 nice and smooth...wait. It doesn't matter what footwear you are sporting - the dirt will not only coat and stain the outside, but also find its way inside - piercing both shoes and socks. This means that the new normal involves washing your feet multiple times per day. Below are perfectly white socks after a walk through the village in closed-toe sneakers. Just the photo you wanted to see, I know.


#20: Cold showers with the water often turning off mid-shower.
Speaking of bathing...I think this is fairly self-explanatory, but to give a little background, the shower water is heated by solar panels (see photo below...we are very lucky to even have this option, let alone running water). This means that weather and time of day impacts the temperature of shower water. If you like to shower first thing in the morning (as we do), you are pretty much guaranteed cold water. I have to say that I am already completely acclimated to this. Ashley...not so much. Sink water is always cold, but adjusting to cold water shaving was not too difficult for me.



Coolio? Check back next week for part three in this series!

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