Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oh, Tanzania...

I wrote this on Saturday when I was feeling homesick: “I think I am realizing how very far away from home I am! I was just looking through a Washington book that I bought for $3 at ½ Priced Books that I intended to give as a gift to my host family, but haven’t yet. I am secretly glad I didn’t give it to them because looking through it helps me to remember how beautiful WA is. The book isn’t that high quality or anything, but it is filled with great pictures of the mountains, forests and cities that I have grown up in and love. There are times when I love everything about life here in Tz, but then I also have days like today where I really miss everything about Seattle. It has been raining very hard all morning, except the rain here still brings hot, humid air—nothing like the cold Seattle rain that happens this time of year. If I were in Seattle today, I would put on jeans, tennis shoes, and a sweater, pull on my black raincoat, and take my iPod, a book, and a crossword puzzle to a Café Fiore and drink an Americano… (I mean I would do that if I weren’t out hiking…)

Well, since I am obviously very far from all that, I am finding myself doing things that probably would not be happening to me in Seattle: I woke up at 8am to the sound of my host sister moping the hallway outside my room; my bedroom door was wide open. I was very hot and sweaty upon waking even though I was sleeping in a t-shirt with no covers. So, I decided to go and cool off by showing—with cold water out of the bucket, or course. I felt hungry because I did not have dinner last night, so I crawled out from under my blue mosquito net and went out to the dining room to see what I could find—tea and plain white bread, as usual. After eating something, I came back into my room and decided to reorganize my things a little. This didn’t occupy me for very long since my few belongings that I brought with me are still all in the bags that they came in. Around 1pm my host sister who is 12 came into my room and announced that lunch was ready (yes, it STILL feels very strange to have a 12 year old take care of me…). We ate ugali (a thick, pasty, white, starchy substance always served for lunch) and some meat made with a tomato sauce. After eating, I washed the ugali and sauce off my hands (ugali is always eaten with your right hand—you grab a chunk of it, roll it into a ball, then use it to grab the other food, in this case meat) then went off to decide how to spend the rest of my Saturday here in Salasala, Tanzania…”

...But it seems like just when I am missing home a lot, I experience events that make me appreciate the very fact that I am far from home…

For example, yesterday on my way to work in the daladala, two young girls were talking about my hair, and how they wanted to touch it (I was secretly listening to them). They started to touch my tiny ponytail and then proceeded to giggling. I just looked up at them and smiled, which made them laugh even more. Throughout the rest of my bus ride, they kept taking turns grabbing my hair when they thought I wouldn’t notice.

Everyday for lunch, I go to this little canteen and buy a plate of fresh fruit—papaya, banana, cucumber, and watermelon. Louis, the guy who prepares my plate of fruit is always very excited when I come. Actually, all the people that work there always greet me happily “Dada (sister) Rachel!” Today when I went to pay Louis for my fruit (less than 40¢) he proceeded to tell me how much he loves me and wants me to marry him. He was quite disappointed when I told him I already had a boyfriend in the US. But then he said that’s okay—he’ll still love me and give me fruit everyday.

Then after work (we left early because there was no electricity) I boarded the daladala and was lucky enough to have snagged a seat. The sun was shinning warmly on me and since I had just eaten lunch, I started to drift off to sleep (yes, I really can sleep anywhere!). But, I was rudely awoken by the bus halting, pulling over and people rushing out yelling “moto!” (fire)! So, I followed suit and quickly disembarked. With everyone off the bus, the konda and driver did some tinking around inside and got rid of the smoke then told everyone to get back inside. I was a little skeptical, but everyone else got back on so I did too. It took a few tries to get the engine started again, but eventually it did and we were off on the road again, this time with no smoke. The bus was sputtering a bit so the driver pulled into a gas station (yes, daladala’s frequently make a pit stop with all the passengers on board) filled up and again we continued. After going a few minutes, the engine caught on fire AGAIN so we all had to evacuate hastily once more! This time, no one bothered to wait around, so I had to find another daladala to take me the remainder of the way… It’s ironic almost because I was just thinking the other day how I’ve never broken down on one of my trips to/from work (it’s not unusual to see broken down daladalas on the side of the road with passengers stranded).

When I got home, I found my host sisters busy in the kitchen. Rebekah was sifting the bugs and sand out of the rice and Rehema was preparing the beans. They both looked busy, so I asked if I could help (when the power goes out it is usually by 6:30pm, so lately we have been trying to cook everything before then). I was handed a basket filled with dagaa (little dried fish, sort of like sardines but a little bigger) and Rehema showed me how to snap the heads off then put the dried, silver fish bodies into the pot. So, I proceeded to break off little fish heads for 45 minutes…not something I would have necessarily preferred to be doing since a) dagaa smells like fish (no surprise there and b) I knew that I would be eating these in a little bit. But actually, the way dagaa is prepared tastes pretty good—lots of tomato, coconut milk, and of course lots of salt and oil.

After I was done beheading the dagaa, my tasks were done in the kitchen so I went jogging up to the top of the Salasala hill. I always receive some sorts of funny comments and reactions, but today a few things in particular made me laugh. I ran past a few women who were carrying what looked like pretty heavy loads of something on their heads. They seemed impressed as I jogged past them (really I was impressed with them—I don’t think I could balance something on my head while walking!) making noises and saying “hongera, hongera! (congratulations). Then, when I was almost back home, coming down the bumpy dirt road that leads to my house, there was a group of men gathered around a pothole that they had just filled. As I approached, one man quickly pushed everyone out of the way in order to make a lane for me to run through, between everyone. It was quite awkward, as everyone stopped their work and starting yelling faster, faster and clapping, cheering me on, but was also really funny.

It always seems like when I am feeling the most homesick is when I begin to take note of all the small things—scary, funny, unusual—and it helps me appreciate the chance that I have to live here in Tanzania and have encounters like these that will make good stories to tell for the rest of my life!

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