03 March 2014

living the new normal in tanzania, part iii.

In case you missed out, be sure to first read parts one and two. Otherwise, we'll continue with another ten observations of what the new normal looks like for our new life here in Tanzania.

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.

Cool? Let's begin!

#21: Pouring previously boiled water from a whisky bottle over our toothbrush.
Why a whisky bottle? I don't know. That's just what we have to work with right now. And no, I did not drink the whisky before the bottle was emptied. Anyway, any water coming out of a faucet is not okay to put into your body. So not only can you not drink it, but also you cannot use sink water for brushing your teeth. Hence, boiled water is chilled to room temperature and then poured over our toothbrushes.

#22: Watching exclusively VHS, bootleg or pirated movies.
I don't think a legitimate movie exists within a 1,000 mile radius of our current location (totally made up that figure). Point is there are no movie theaters down the road. So how do you get movies? Don't ask. It just happens. If the movie is on VHS, someone could have easily recorded it. If DVD, you don't really want to do too much digging in terms of where it originated.

#23: Paying for everything in cash and almost never getting a receipt.
It is nearly impossible to find a vendor that accepts credit cards, so every transaction is with cash. Sometimes you have to argue even just to get change owed to you, but that's not the norm. Very few vendors will issue a receipt for your purchase, and the ones that do often limit it to transactions above a certain high monetary threshold. I believe much of this centers around local businesses not wanting to pay sales tax to the government, so not having transactional records helps.

#24: Cozy words like Typhoid, Malaria, Ringworm, Schistosomiasis and rocket diarrhea becoming everyday language.
The threat of infection is a reality of life in sub-Saharan Africa, but thankfully, access to medicine and smart behavior can prevent transmission of most of these contagions. However, most locals are not as lucky as we are when it comes to receiving vaccinations or acquiring the right medicine when sick. Note: as of writing this post, we have acquired none of the aforementioned illnesses.

#25: Either not using lights at night or only using a small desk lamp on the floor.
Actually, we have a built-in overhead light. However, turning it on at night can really attract bugs like mosquitoes. Since we don't want those hanging around, we keep the lights off or we just use this small desk lamp on our cement floor.

#26: Always saying "I'm fine" every single time someone greets you, no matter what they ask you or how you are actually doing.
One aspect of Tanzanian culture is to not outright say you are doing poorly or that life is miserable. No matter how someone greets you or what they ask you, you just respond by saying things are fine. "Nzuri." That is what you say, basically without exception. So what if you are not fine? You still say that you are fine...and then you elaborate. For example:

Me: Habari za asubuhi? (Good morning!)
Tanzanian: Nzuri sana. (I am very good.)
Me: Sawa. (Okay.)
Stranger: Lakini, nina malaria na baba yangu alikufa. (But I have malaria and my father died.)
Me: ...

#27: Using dungeon-master style keys reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
Photo says it all. This is one of several sets.

#28: Having to switch power outlets on individually, and never plugging anything into the outlet without a surge protector.
If a room has an outlet in Tanzania (that's a big IF), chances are it only has one in the entire room. Each outlet has its own switch to power it ON and OFF, which is actually a good way to save electricity. Speaking of electricity, since it goes out so often, you must always use a surge protector so your electronics don't get blown to pieces.

#29: Hand washing clothes and hanging on a line to dry outside.
Washing machines are a rarity here and a dryer virtually non-existent. This means that clothes are washed by hand in buckets and then hung on a line outside to dry. We have heard (and already found) that hand washing clothes not only stretches out the fabric and elastic waist bands, but also wears down the fabric much faster than a washing machine. Oh, and to prevent colors fading in the sun, it is best to turn clothes inside out before line drying outside.

#30: Toilets that are built a bit differently.
Okay, this more of a humorous conclusion to this post. While this is a real photo of an actual toilet here at our language school, this is not the norm (actually, the norm for most folks would be a pit latrine). And just in case you are confused about the below photo, the seat was installed atop the lid.

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