16 June 2014

the empty promise of a carefree life.

Let me tell you a story. It goes like this.

Once upon a time there was a land of enchantment called "Africa." People the world over were drawn to its natural beauty, exotic animals, and the promise of a more laid back, carefree lifestyle. Still others were lured by the ambition of working alongside locals to combat unjust structures and help alleviate poverty. Even the latter took comfort in knowing that the pace of life was more forgiving, providing ample time for rest and relaxation in order to appreciate the beauty of life around them.

I'll be honest. Before Ashley and I moved to Tanzania, I was enchanted by the notion of a more laid back, carefree lifestyle. After all, this is Africa, right? People are supposed to be chill. Life is supposed to move slowly. Animals are supposed to sing "hakuna matata"…or something.

I. Was. Wrong. That story bears nothing more than the empty promise of a carefree life.

Somehow as we reminisce about our life in the U.S. it sounds so much more laid back. So much more carefree. How is that possible?

We both had demanding jobs and worked a ton and overall maintained a very busy schedule. Yet, as I recall, I had so much more free time to do as I pleased. What gives, Tanzania?!

Maybe I am just remembering incorrectly. Maybe I am falling victim to "the grass is always greener on the other side" mentality. Or maybe I am right. Life in Tanzania is less laid back and far from carefree.

But why? Simple. Everything takes longer here.


There are few packaged foods and the ones that do exist are crazy expensive, so a lot of our food is made from scratch: tomato sauce, tortillas, etc. That certainly takes a lot longer than cracking open a jar or tearing open a package and pulling out the finished product. On the plus side, most of the food we buy is completely fresh and sold in an outdoor market, which is mostly awesome. The trouble is this food is super dirty. Rice and beans are covered in dirt and mixed with rocks and bugs (both living and dead), so we have to spend a ton of time handpicking each individual grain and removing the nastiness. We eat very little meat, but when we do, we buy a live chicken from a market and have someone else slaughter and clean it. It's an interesting experience to say the least, but this meat needs to be rinsed in water to remove any remaining feathers and then boiled before we can bake or do anything else with it. Also, unless we cook them, all vegetables need to be rinsed in purified clean water. Since our faucet only serves up dirty typhoid-infested water, we have to boil water before we can clean our vegetables (and fruit).

random containers we have relabeled and are reusing to store basic pantry items.

Washing dishes

Much like cleaning fruits and vegetables, we need to rinse all of our dishes in purified water, otherwise we run the risk of getting pretty sick if we just rinse our dishes in soap and sink water. So this means we have to boil more water and submerge all of our dishes after hand washing them in soap.

basin for submerging dishes, pail for drawing water and a bucket of purified clean water atop our lone kitchen counter.

More mouths to feed

Ashley recently wrote about how we have a guard who sits in our yard for twelve hours each night to help keep our home safe. While it is not required or expected, we provide him with a simple dinner each night: boiled water, tea, sugar, bread, butter. Like I said, simple, but it's just one more thing we have to prepare concurrently with our dinner. With that, did we mention that we have a dog? So each night as we cook our dinner and prepare the guard's food, we also cook food for our dog. Each action unto itself is no big deal, but when you add it all together, it consumes a lot more of our time. Generally we arrive home from work at 6:00 PM, begin cooking dinner at 6:30 PM, sit down to eat at 8:30 PM, and finish washing dishes at 9:30 PM.

our dog noli (pronounced noh-lee)


We have talked about this before, but in Tanzania there are no washing machines and no dryers. All items are washed by hand, and then hung on a line outside to dry. Hand washing one week's worth of our laundry takes three to four hours and then another six hours for everything to fully dry. To be honest, we recently hired a young woman to help us with the laundry. We found that we were constantly doing chores, so this afforded us at least some time to take care of other things…like our own health and sanity.

our clothes hanging in the afternoon sun back at language school.


In our prior life, each of our commutes to work was about 30 minutes, and it was in the comfort of our own air-conditioned, music-packed car. Recently, we were fortunate to gain access to a shared Maryknoll Lay Missioners vehicle, but we still largely travel by public transportation - the infamous Daladala - to save money. These days, my commute to work takes 60 minutes one-way and I'm packed in like a sardine amongst sweaty, non-deodorant wearing bodies. Could be worse. Could be better.

Entering and exiting our home

Our small home somehow has seventeen individual doors, each with three to four keys. None of the doors line-up properly with the frame, meaning none of the locks are easily lockable (we literally cannot use our front door). Our small home also has twenty-three pieces of sliding glass for windows, which is great for letting tons of natural light in. Unfortunately, not a single glass pane is sealed closed, meaning every time we open windows we have to shove a long piece of fabric in between two of the panes to prevent the pesky malaria-bearing mosquitoes from entering our home. Entering or exiting our home takes no less than five to seven minutes, which is a lot when you consider we could leave our prior home and lock it up within precisely three seconds.


We already mentioned that we share an electricity meter with the three stores in front of our home. This means we each have to contribute to pay the bill and ensure we continue to get electricity, however unreliable it may be. It is a prepaid system, meaning we buy a voucher that gives a code which we enter into the machine attached to our home and it recharges the electricity based upon the amount of kilowatts purchased. We can easily see when we are almost at zero and therefore about to run out of electricity. Unfortunately for us, the workers in the three stores have committed themselves to making this situation as painful as possible. They never contribute their fair share, if any amount at all, each time money is due. Somehow the power conveniently always seems to run out shortly after we get home from work in the evening, about the same time the workers are closing down their stores for the night and returning to their homes. This means we have less leverage in negotiating, and since they only contribute a very small amount of money each time, it means that we run out of electricity every three days and have to continually have this same conversation over and over. So every three days I get home from work and the first thing I do is literally spend one hour arguing with the store workers about contributing money for electricity, otherwise we chill for the night by light from a kerosene lantern and hope the food in our fridge doesn't spoil.

No sleep for the weary

I suppose this runs contrary to the aforementioned sections given this takes less time, not more. Do you know the last time I slept in? I don't. Because seven days a week I have to wake-up and say goodbye to our night guard at 6:30 AM. This is no big deal Monday thru Friday as we get up at 6:00 AM to work out, but it's a major bummer not being able to sleep in past 6:25 AM on any Saturday or Sunday…ever. But heck, Sunday Mass literally starts at 6:30 AM, so assuming we want to go to church every week, it's not like we could sleep in on the supposed day of rest either. Plus, if we want to enjoy the luxury of a hot water shower, we have to wake-up at least 45 minutes before we intend to shower so the tank has ample time to heat up (it cannot stay on all the time like in the U.S.). And because all of the other stuff previously mentioned takes so much longer, we generally go to bed later. I'm bushwhacked.

So, while it is true that culturally life tends to move at a slower pace in Tanzania, the complications of life in the developing world cause just about everything to take significantly longer.


  1. That's an incredible routine. I've been thinking life is tough with two kids, but this is rather humbling. I tasted the misery of washing clothes by hand one time in Budapest when I washed all my darks in the tub, wearing out my hands wringing them and straining my back, only to find that the slight mildewy odor that they had developed from not drying out quickly enough in winter was much more pronounced than usual afterwards. What time do you normally go to bed? And is the Daladala van typically that crowded? Can't believe y'all still find time to work out amid all this, either. Pretty impressive.

    1. Bedtime falls between 10 PM and Midnight - definitely varies a bit. But by the time 10 PM rolls around, I am pretty wiped. Yep, the daladala is almost always that crowded. Crazy, huh?

  2. I would love to talk to you guys about your experiences in Tanzania. My email is jonathansevans@gmail.com
    Thanks Jonathan

    1. Are you living in or moving to Tanzania?