Tag Archives: culture shock

IMG_6494We’ve been back for three weeks now and all these sharp edges, clean streets, stern but efficient people, and endless days of winter seem at once odd and very normal. Neither of us felt quite like we’d expected to feel back in this hyper-organized and fast-paced world. We thought we’d both feel lost and alienated because it is so fundamentally different from the slow-moving, slow-going tropics of sub-Saharan Africa. But maybe six months was never long enough to become alienated in this way. Although we learned to love our new world in small-town Africa, we never lost our deep-seated connection to these strange, western ways. The ‘pole, pole’ (‘slowly, slowly’) of Africa may have gotten under our skin, but the umbilical chord of home was only ever stretched, never severed.

Yet something about this schism between Switzerland and Tanzania continues to strike me every day. Whether it’s the guarded Swiss children – in Tanzania we passed¬†hundreds of shy but insatiably curious children every day on our way to work, while here they’re taught not to say hello to strangers – or the almost unbelievable efficiency with which official matters are handled – from buying a train ticket to sorting out taxes – I find myself slipping back into this world while trying to retain a connection to our slice of cool and chaotic Africa.¬†I can’t help but to appreciate how organized and predictable life is here, but in many ways it is the cold, polar opposite of a life we came to love and feel comfortable with; a distant world only a 8-hour plane ride away.

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Crazy how the weeks just pass. I wrote the last blog post a week ago and it’s suddenly Sunday again. As we’ve gotten settled in a routine here it’s become just like it is back home: Mondays morph into Fridays in the blink of an eye. But I wonder if it’s a product of age – doesn’t time just fly faster and faster as you grow old – or familiarity? Maybe heat plays a role too – doesn’t the predictability of each hot and sunny day play into these patterns that make our brains forget about time, about the fleeting uniqueness of each day, each passing moment?

And how can you slow down this proverbial train? The funny thing is that although we’ve of course been thrown off course by this profoundly humbling and deeply invigorating experience, leaving behind all that was comfortable and cozy back home, even dusty East Africa has become so familiar, so normal that our brains only wake up to the craziness of it all in moments where something extraordinary happens: like when Boogie had a positively ancient local doctor tell him “Una malaria, rafiki yangu” last week (“You have malaria, my friend”, and don’t worry – after a serious course of Malarone B’s oddly mild form of the big bad M seems to have been defeated and we’ll have it checked again next week).

And in a way as we approach the end of our trip we’re getting ready to say our goodbyes to everyday Africa before we get completely absorbed by its hypnotizing ways and seductive slowness. The heat’s been intense in these past weeks as the beautifully warm but crisp mornings inevitably turn into relentlessly hot days. As we mentally prepare to say goodbye to this mysteriously charged, life-affirming, happiness-inducing, yet completely maddening place, we try to absorb all its goodness in our minds and in our memories. We try to make sure that we’ll always carry a piece of Tanzania with us: a piece of this beautiful country that will see us through even the toughest and coldest spots back home…

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Never in a rut and resilient as hell.

Never in a rut and resilient as hell.

The ‘pole pole’ (slowly, slowly) lifestyle has made us a little stir crazy. Maybe the shine and excitement of a new place has just worn out. Maybe there’s a bit of culture shock mixed in there somewhere, or perhaps the near-incessant heat has just worn our bodies and minds down. Somehow we’re just in a bit of a rut; not unhappy by any means, just not entirely in the flow of things either. Moshi has gotten too small, the heat too repetitive, the routines a little too set once again.

It didn’t help that our plans for weekend trips fell through because of distances and overpriced hotels. We’ve had to postpone a few cool trips to next year, including one to the lusher-than-lush Usambara mountains, and by default rather than choice ended up spending a few too many weekends in small-town Tanzania. Work is still good – the kids don’t exactly have an ‘off day’, they’re always great and full of energy – but we’ve had a lot of weekend shifts in the past months and I guess our batteries are just near-depleted. Cultural discovery, adjusting, fitting in… it’s exhilarating, it’s exciting, but it’s also exhausting.

B’s wallet also went missing under strange circumstances a few days ago. Suffice it to say this didn’t exactly lift our spirits. It either dropped from his pockets when we were talking home from the taxi, or – more unbelievably and quite likely – was skillfully pick-pocketed by two young girls pretending to be fundraising for a local church right in front of our house gate. We’ll never know what exactly happened but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that there was something ‘off’ about those girls hanging out in front of our gate at sunset, only talking to us, not the locals and asking for donations in a hasty-cum-guilty sort of way. But then again, maybe I’m just imagining things. Maybe it’s the heat playing tricks on my brain.

But what do we really have to complain about? It’s sunny, it’s beautiful, it’s exciting in a subtle kind of way every single day. And our holidays are fast approaching: Zanzibar for Christmas and a second safari after New Years with my dad who’ll be visiting us. Lots to look forward to and lots to be happy about. Every reason to get over this rut, pronto.

Sending some of our over-abundance of pole-pole vibes your way. We miss you (you know who you are).