Daily life

IMG_9037What I’m looking forward to:

Family & friends: Dinners with people whom I share a lifetime of history with (with wine, haven’t had that in six months). Talking about our experiences and hearing about everyone else’s six months. And simple banter with the guys, where a crass joke follows a crude one.

Being back in a system that works, where people have real choices, where you find innovation, creativity, culture… a million different ideas from people who try to create something every day.

My electric guitars, musical friends, and a massive amplifier. Concerts and nightclubs, where the bass pulsates through every bone in your body.

Fresh food… Mozzarella di Bufala, antipasti, feta, salads, a freshly baked ciabatta.

Driving in the hills around Zurich.

City visits (first London, then Florence, hopefully Paris, Berlin, Helsinki…)

Less sweating

What I’ll miss:

The simplicity of life lived at a totally different pace.

The 1000 exhausting greetings every day… acknowledging everyone you see, even if it’s from a moving car.

Amazing Indian curries for 1/6 of the price

The archetypal, awe-inspiring, Avatar-trumping nature of this cradle of life.

Our fellow volunteers and all the other great people we’ve met here.

My many street kid friends…who will replace that humor, that enthusiasm, that perseverance of the toughest people I know?



It took six months to the day, but we’ve finally got our permits and can now safely and legally exit the country – and, in a rather strange twist – enter (and volunteer) again until January 2015. Mysterious are the ways of the Tanzanian Department of Immigration: it not only took six months to process a couple of pieces of paper, and another visit today to get the permits validated with a barely legible stamp in our passports, but instead of giving us our $550 visas for the duration of our stay, they – very kindly, I must add – gave us two-year ones instead.

We’d heard lots of pretty bad stories about corrupt officials asking for kickbacks in order to process visas or get back stolen passports, and although we’ve thankfully dodged that kind of treatment, the shadow of ‘kitu kidogo’ as the Kenyans call it (‘something small’ = bribes), looms large over everyday life. It does untold damage to the economy, and fundamentally, possibly irrevocably, erodes the trust people have in their elected representatives. Although the problem is well publicized in Kenya (I can only recommend ‘It’s Our Turn to Eat’ – a shocking, highly informative primer of Kenyan politics examined through the lens of a mass-scale, high-level corruption scandal) and underlies the fears for renewed ethnic violence after today’s election, Tanzanians – at least on the surface – seem much more passive and resigned about the scandal brewing in their midst. Sadly, however, there would be every reason to rise up to this sorry state of affairs in this beautiful country: Tanzania recently beat Kenya to second place in Transparency International’s East African Bribery Index, only barely trailing behind bribe-soaked Uganda.

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162 down, 12 to go and I’m looking forward to…

Long , lazy dinners with friends and family. Meeting our two new nephews and their proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles

A glass of good red wine and a delicious cocktail or two (you won’t get past a rudimentary G&T here)

Vietnamese food

Good chocolate

Going to the movies

Riding my bicycle

Walking around town without being covered in dust, choking on the fumes of (probably) toxic burning trash or dodging deranged street chicken. Wearing unreasonable shoes on even road surfaces

Cool, fresh air plus a dusting of fresh, powder snow (too much to ask for in March?)

Reliable power and ipso facto, reliable internet and refrigeration

Long walks with Billie, the Danielsson family dog

Having a healthier relationship with mosquitos again (I find the whole ‘kill or be killed’-type situation over here a little draining)

But I’ll miss…

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IMG_6129Our mighty and ever-so-slightly imposing neighbor is more often than not hidden away behind high, fluffy clouds. But as afternoon turned into evening today she suddenly revealed herself, dressed in the very finest clothes Mother Earth could provide: a full, fresh coat of blindingly white powder snow. The impending end of the long dry season has brought daily storms around the mountain and this one seems to have left a particularly enchanting mark. The glaciers may be receding at an alarming pace, but snow still caps this beautiful mountain every now and then, reminding us that the roof of this hot and heavy continent is still as white and light as ever.

Even the usually blasé locals (“oh, that thing again…”) seemed in awe of her mountainous majesty and we couldn’t help but to stand there and stare at the humbling beauty of it all. A friend is climbing the mountain this week and I have to admit a smidgeon of envy swept over me: shouldn’t we be up there too? Next time, maybe. And that’s a pretty strong maybe. Can’t think of a better reason to come back sooner rather than later: Kili and the kids…

Good night from the foothills of this beast of a mountain. She’ll watch over us tonight.


This little lady follows us to work every morning. We call her Twix.

This little lady follows us to work every morning. We call her Twix.

Life has found a new(-ish) groove here in Moshi with a move to our very own slice of suburban heaven, walking distance from Amani, in a slightly rough-around-the-edges-but-still-friendly area called Soweto (yes, that’s the same name as the notorious Johannesburg township). We’re sharing it with two of the other Amani volunteers, Jay and Annmaree (last featured in this wedding post) and finally have an en-suite bathroom (yay!), real windows (double yay!), proper water pressure (ah, how I missed you), and yes, the ultimate ‘piece the resistance’ in a tropical country: air conditioning.

We’re also now back to cooking and cleaning for ourselves (normal life, I know), and it’s actually so refreshing to be in control of our of environment again, and to be able to move around without calling a driver (a slice of the non-normal life that you can actually afford here) and to go to and leave work as we please, usually with our new doggy friend in tow. Walking to work we must end up saying ‘Mambo’, ‘Habari?’ or ‘Shikamoo’ (the three key greetings, used depending on the age of the person at the receiving end of it) at least 20-30 times. We get just as many stares – or even outright wonder – when kids scream out ‘mzungu’ (white person!) and run to us to say hello/bye/good evening. Though people here are shy and rather reserved, they’re also unfailingly warm and welcoming. They take the time to acknowledge each other (as Kristy said over dinner tonight), to make that connection – even if it’s with a stranger and even if it’s only for a fleeting second…

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IMG_5838Part of the reason for coming to Africa and leaving all the secure and seductive trappings of life back home – even if only temporarily – was to buy some time from incessant busyness and tiring obligations, take a breather, and approach life with a new level of calm and acceptance.

As anything in life, it’s turned our rather harder than the deceptive simplicity of ‘taking it easy’ implies. Although our mornings are lazy, our days just busy enough to stay challenged and engaged but not to get stressed, time still flies and the mind wanders. As we pine for a holiday or plan our next restaurant outing, something within scrambles for a plan to anchor time without really, truly appreciating the here and the now. Even in strange, alien Moshi the hypnotic lull of routines, peppered with the incessant need to plan the future, can prove irresistible.

Time may be on our side, but it isn’t always so easy to realize, to really understand that the experience is right here and right now. These wonderful, inspiring kids that we have the privilege to hang out with will soon be just another distant memory; this whole experience will fade into the past, occasionally revisited with the help of pictures and funny anecdotes… Not doing our best to appreciate it right now would be a huge disservice to us and unfair to everyone around. But it’s so much easier said than done.

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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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Magnificent Makande.

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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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.