As our daily life in Moshi slowly settles into its pole-pole pace, complete with previously unheard-of pre-work breakfast/jog/reading-sessions (we work from 11 to five or six on most days), life back home with its busy routines and disciplined efficiency is slowly becoming a distant idea, a memory left at the über-clean and über-luxurious Zürich Airport just ten weeks ago.
It’s amazing to me how this time has flown by in some ways – Mondays morph into Fridays – while dragging itself out in others, making these past two months and a bit seem like years of a previously unimagined life. No one is in a hurry here and no one pushes; time is a non-issue and life unfolds at a pace dictated by the sun and the deep darkness of a powerless night.
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I take out my camera and it starts instantaneously: “Kaisa – Picha, picha, picha!” and it doesn’t stop until my memory card is full or I pretend that the battery has run out. These kids love taking pictures in endless variations of poses, from the sweet and unencumbered to the hilarious and carefully thought out. Their ease …
Finally back to blogging. Sorry for the five-day absence – power cuts, long days at work and a lazy, heat-exhausted brain got in the way. As promised to the lovely Rita, here’s a little about food in the heartlands of East Africa. Although Moshi has plenty to offer on the restaurant and world food side – decent traveler fare (burgers, salads, breakfast and the like) and some of the best Indian we’ve ever had (more on that in another post – this bonafide piece of culinary heaven in Shantytown deserves a whole post of its own), we’ve also enjoyed our fair share of local grub.
I must admit I was a bit worried about this before we came – that the locals would be, shall we say, ‘food-challenged’ much like the Cubans – but I have to say that we were both pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong: the ingredients are simple and preparation lacks the finesse of Indian or Thai food (nah, pretty much all Asian food), but the local specialities are comforting and satisfying enough. The staples are maize, ugali (a kind of sticky polenta-like porridge made from wheat), beans (often served in a light stew), a banana stew (that sadly and rather disturbingly sometimes includes animal innards as a little surprise for the unsuspecting diner), plus a few special-occasion dishes, including the aforementioned roasted goat. Rice is ubiquitous, limes are plenty and feisty little ‘pili pili’ chillies are offered up with most meals as a little bright green pick-me-up.
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We had the distinct honor and hilarious pleasure of attending a local wedding this past weekend; a sort of badge of honor for any traveler or expat. Momentarily it also became a minor source of stress as we hadn’t really packed party gear with us – I guess we both came thinking we were going …
When the rain hits the tin roof so hard you have to crank up the volume on your computer to the max to hear anything.
When a gecko staring at you while doing your business in the old WC becomes normal.
When mangoes taste like zesty, sun-flavored heaven.
When every party turns into a crazy, sweaty mass dance-athon without any of those awkward first hours when small groups dance in circles at the far edge of the dance floor, pretending like no one is watching.
When patience seizes to be a mere virtue and becomes a survival skill.
When your hygiene standards have been tested over and over again and possibly forever changed.
(Forgive me for using the generic, lazy ‘Africa’ as shorthand for Tanzania. It just sounds less like something you’d print on a cheap souvenir T-shirt that way.)
Have a lovely day, wherever you are.
Goodbye sun, hello darkness.
So I meant to put a few thoughts down as our lights went out for the entire day and night on Sunday, but after a lovely but distinctly dark dinner cooked by fellow guests here – a quiet Italian couple (say what?) with a mean knack for pasta – we decided to use up the last of the laptop battery and watch an episode of We Can Be Heroes (a great little Aussie show) before hitting the hay. Lying in our room, open to the sounds of the tamed jungle around us (particularly one supremely annoying bird, I imagine it was ugly too), I was struck by just how deep and all-consuming darkness can be. You get so used to light pollution of varying degrees when living in cities that when you find yourself in a more-or-less rural area during a blackout, even eight PM feels like the deepest darkest night you’ve ever experienced. It feels like you’ve been sucked into the furthest corner of space, suspended weightless in a world of zip zero visual stimulation. No street lights, no reflections of the neighbor’s fluorescent porch light, no stars and no moon. Just total, complete darkness pierced temporarily by my iPhone and laptop with their fast-depleting batteries and an ineffective solar-powered emergency lamp given to us by our lovely host, Sandra.
The power outages are becoming an all too familiar and predictable occurrence here and no one knows for sure if they’ll get any better soon (the rains were supposed to help but apparently the cuts are also politically motivated and deliberate). I don’t mind the outages during the day – we’re either at work or do our best to charge up laptops etc. when power is available – but at night the sheer depth of darkness does kind of do your head in (especially when under-stimulated eyes are compensated for by over-stimulated ears bursting with the near torturous sounds of the bird with a shrill voice).
But I guess there is something soothing about that kind of darkness too. After all, what else forces you to be present and divorces you so fundamentally from the usual cacophony of light and visual attractions (“read me!”, check out this photo!”, “watch this clip!”) than the complete and utter darkness of an African suburb starved of power? It’s so dark your eyes don’t even get used to it and your mind is forced to decide: stay awake and listen to the crazy bird or just shut down, tune out and go to sleep with the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro keeping watch just over your shoulder.
On that note, good night, dear friends. Be grateful for every day of uninterrupted electricity, it sure ain’t the norm in this corner of the Earth.
For the love of math (after school & unprompted).
In a country that struggles to educate its children it’s inspiring to see how eager they are to learn despite the fact that the odds are stacked up against them in such a fundamental way. Although Amani does a very good job at providing adequate resources and good teachers to the kids that go to school there – and in that sense our kids are lucky compared to their otherwise more fortunate peers – most government schools really, really struggle. The 800-student village school we visited a month back was a ‘good’ example; schools in more remote areas are an even more sorry affair with no teachers and no learning materials to speak of. The buildings might be there, the eager students in their tattered but sweet uniforms show up every morning, but the infrastructure to learn just isn’t available. Even if you take corruption and embezzlement of state and aid funds out of the equation, what does a country like Tanzania with almost no taxable income and few examples of success do about more than 20 million children who desperately need and want an education? Is the government to blame for the sorry statistics – literacy rates are decent but only 54% actually graduate primary school, a sad seven percent make it through high school – or is the equation of too little money with far too many children just impossible to solve?
Given that many of the Amani kids have been so hungry to learn for most of their lives, they’re amazingly unselective about how and what they learn. They’re also incredibly patient. From 9-year old Mwanaisha sitting in front of the whiteboard after school doing maths on her own just before the library closes, to 14-year old Mudi spending a good hour just going through alphabet cards with Boogie in the library, trying to remember and memorize letters with a patience and persistence you rarely see in an adult, their enthusiasm is heart-warming and somehow deeply humbling. Rama, another teenage boy, spent nearly two hours after class learning how to pronounce English words with Boogie and afterwards just picked up another book and sat down to read it on his own, while one of the roughest kids at Amani, a 17-year old who doesn’t read a word and understands little English, came over with a Cinderella book and asked that Boogie read it for him… Can you even imagine that happening back home?
A strong coffee, a thought-provoking book and way too much downtime on a Sunday afternoon results in this (read below).
Let’s talk culture.
I hope by now that you, dear readers, have a fairly good idea about Moshi, Amani and our daily life here. Next big topic to tackle, even if only in a preliminary sense because I can’t claim to have gained any definite insights in a matter of seven weeks, is Tanzanian culture, seen through the prism of working life at Amani. I think you can really gain insights into how a culture operates when you live and work embedded in the day-to-day life of a country. Amani, from a personal perspective, has proven enlightening in this sense, a microcosm of sorts of the simmering clash between traditionalism, religion and modernity.
Before I start with my cultural rant, I feel I need to put in a little disclaimer: Treat these as the lazy musings of an opinionated foreigner, over-caffeinated and bored with her book. And please bear with me – I’m afraid you’re in it for the long-haul with this post (take breaks if you must and most definitely grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea before you read on).
Heavy skies over Moshi
Like clockwork, the rains began on the 1st November and the season of crisp, bright days is over, at least for the next three weeks or so. The sun still seems to peek out every day, but the clouds are heavier than usual, darker than usual and as one might expect in rain season (duh!), a tiny bit wetter too. B & I just escaped the nighttime downpour (hoping our friends back at the al fresco bar didn’t get absolutely soaked / covered in mud), heavy as hell as I write this, and after weeks of sunshine and at times pretty exhausting heat, it’s a welcome change (cue collective sigh of relief from pretty much anything and anyone alive).
Tarangire was Dry with a big D, the dusty Masai plains on our way there were Dry, Moshi is Dry and even the city’s electricity supply has been affected – as it’s mostly produced by hydroelectric power, when the hydro runs out, the power does too. In addition to a (hopefully) more steady stream of electricity, having less dust between by toenails and in my shoes (nah, everywhere really) will be a real treat. We’ve heard the roads get pretty grim though as the mud oceans take over the already very uneven and frankly pretty precarious roads. I wonder how my already half-ruined shoes will fare. God only knows how the taxi drivers with their little Toyotas will get through…
Anyway, dear readers, as millions of raindrops turn the East African dust plains into oceans of mud and the clock ticks well past midnight, I head off to bed.
Good night, sleep tight, stay dry and take good care of each other.