Lately I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my daily life. So I thought I’d answer some of the many questions. I’m not ignoring your individual messages, it just takes jumping through a number of hoops and the internet gods smiling down on me to get a message out. To get this post up and to FaceTime with family and friends, I had to escape the village and go about 25 minutes away by car to the Rivertrees Inn, which is a great hotel/restaurant if anyone is thinking about visiting. More importantly, it has awesome free wifi! So it is just easier for me to compile all of the questions and answer them in mass. Sorry! Please don’t think I don’t love hearing from everyone.
What is your daily routine like?
I am typically up between 7:00 – 8:00 am. Depending on the day and the weather, I’ll either try and exercise in the morning or later in the afternoon. Occasionally, the sun is out in the morning, but more often than not it doesn’t come out until around 2ish. It is usually fairly chilly (60s) in the mornings especially if the sun isn’t out. I had to pull out the fleece one morning this past week.
If I don’t exercise in the morning, I’ll either read or study some Kiswahili while I’m eating breakfast. I’ve also managed to get in the regular habitat of mediating. All of you who are laughing and saying there is no way, you can stop! Village life forces you to slow down whether you want to or not, so I’m doing my best to embrace it and trying to add all of the things to my life that I always said I wanted to do if only I had more time.
Getting “ready for work” takes all of five minutes nowadays, ten if I put some effort into it. But really why even try when your hair is turning gray and there isn’t anything you can do about it, and you’re likely to get pretty dusty if you have to go out on any of the “roads” throughout the day.
Around 9ish I have a whole minute commute to the office. Depending on what kind of connectivity we have, I tackle some of the work that requires the internet or work on stuff that is not dependent on connectivity. Lately I’ve been working on fundraising messaging and donor research. I’m also working on providing them a long-term communications plan, especially for the website. In between “work” there is plenty of socializing and lots of chai. On any given day there is probably about 100 patrons that take advantage of the library and the courtyard. Folks curiosity of the mgunzu (white person/foreigner) hanging around has mostly warn off, but if I pull out my smart phone I’m instantly surrounded by children that want to swipe and tap. And if by chance, I actually have a strong enough signal to FaceTime there will definitely be a child that wants to say hello and will stick around until I move away. The problem with moving away is there is a limited range where I get a signal.
Depending on whether they need any help in the library covering lunch shifts, lunch is somewhere between 12:30 and 2. I return to the house for lunch, and there is always way too much food available. More on that below. If I’m lucky I rope someone in to come and eat with me.
After lunch back to “work” until about 4. On most days a young woman, Glory, comes by for an hour to practice my Kiswhahili. It is slowly ( pole pole) coming along. The ‘ngy’, ‘nya’ and ‘mb’ sounds still trip me up. When you add in the fact that many words are four or more syllabuls, I’m slowly trudging along.
If I’ve already worked out in the morning, I often go for a walk in the afternoon, taking a different “road” or footpath each time. You can reach the three other surrounding villages within a 30-45 minute walk. Last week on one of my walks, I stumbled on the University of Arusha. I’ve gotten pretty good with directions and can often guess correctly where a toe path will come out. But you need to keep a careful watch on the time as it gets dark quickly. If you are out after 6:30 pm you need a flashlight or the roads become downright treacherous with all of the rocks/boulders that make up the roads.
Evening is spent reading, writing up blog posts, or practicing my Kiswhali. Dinner is always leftovers from lunch.
That’s it. Pretty basic simple day. Thus I have lots of time to think and reflect. Probably too much actually, but that’s another story…
What’s the food like?
Fresh is the best word to describe the food in general. Now that I’m in the village, I’m eating very traditional meals which consist primarily of vegetables. The problem is their diet is also extremely heavy in starches and carbs. With every meal there is either rice, ugali (grain similar to polenta), potatoes, or pasta. You can’t escape it. These are the base for whatever vegetables, almost always in some type of sauce, you are having. I think I’ve had chicken once or twice, and they were small pieces. They also eat a lot of bread, which surprised me. Breakfast for most Tanzanians is toast with margarine and tea. Luckily I make my own breakfast so can get away with just fruit or avocado toast when I need to use up the bread.
So the problem is I have someone cooking my meals. I know I shouldn’t be complaining, and I have to admit it is great coming back and having everything prepared for you. But I’ve asked her to make less food and that hasn’t really panned out. I do know from experience that it is hard to cook for just one so we’ll use that as the excuse rather than the assumption that foreigners just need/want more food. I also suggested that maybe she not come every day, until I realized she is paid by the day. Sclearly that isn’t going to work. I have a mental block against letting any of it go to waste, especially here, so whenever I can, I invite people to join me or pawn off fruit on others. If all else fails, I just suck it up and eat. Oh well…there are much worst problems someone could have and doesn’t everyone come to Africa and gain weight?
Oh and who knew, the edge of the ceramic title on the counter top makes the perfect place to sharpen your knives. I’m learning all kinds of nifty new things every day.
Bottle water is easily available but given their tendency to burn the plastic, I try and use the water filtering system in the house whenever possible. In the photo below, the top tank is filled from a hose running from the well. That is the water that is piped into the house pipes that is fine for washing. I brush my teeth with it, but it’s recommended that most don’t. The bottom tank is filled from rain water collected from the gutters around the house that empty directly into the tank. You can then take that rain water and place it inside the ceramic container below. The water filters through the pottery into the container and then it is safe to drink.
The rain water is also used to wash clothes, clean the floors, etc. I’ve learned from experience that you need to shake all of the clothes out once taking them off the line before bring them in the house or better yet stacking them with your other clothes. You never know what lovely insect, spider, lizard, etc. has been enjoy the sun and your clothes while out on the line.
Loading SIM Cards
I’m finally starting to look like a local when it comes to switching out SIM cards and loading money. The NGO provided me with a hotspot to use while I’m here. It runs on one of the other networks available here, but although the service is better than Vodacom in the village, it still has a mind of its own. Anyway, in order to load more time on the hotspot you have to pop out the SIM card and place it in a mobile phone. Add the credit to the SIM via the mobile phone then take the SIM card back out and place it back in the hotspot. It was comical the first time I tried to remember how to use one of the older cell phones. I know it wasn’t that many years ago but remembering how to use the up and down arrows and hitting the button 3 or 4 times quickly to get the letter or number I wanted took some practice.
The photos below are basically the center of the village. Four roads converge here. The two buildings below are the general store and a drugstore, that was a store that sold cell phone time when I first moved in and then one day it was painted over and was a small drug store that sells maybe 15 items. For both you don’t actually go in. There is a window where you tell the owner what you want. Around the corner there is a barber shop with one chair, that always has the music playing loudly. There is another building where I believe cement is mixed, and the Methodist Church which clearly believes the louder and longer you go the more likely the spirit will fill you up (you can see the speaker on top of the church in the photo below). In the wood shack photo below, you can pick up vegetables and eggs. There is another one next to the two stores below that isn’t in the photo.
There are usually people and animals around throughout most of the day, but I took these photos early one morning. Many from the village will go to the market in Usa River on Tuesday and Sunday. The market is about a 30 minute walk to the main road and then a 30 minute bus ride. At the end of the 30 minute village road there is a poultry farm. So on Thursday you often see villagers that don’t own their own chickens walking around with a live chicken or two under their arms. If you have a motorbike, you hold them on the bike or put them in a cage, and if you have a car, they go in the trunk of course. That’s until you get them home and can butcher them.
Other Random Things
In general, I steer away from the news. I’m sure you understand why, but lately I’ve been tuning in to the Kenyan elections. They held their presidential election on Tuesday, August 8, and there were/are concerns about protests and violence surrounding the results. The incumbent was reelected. His opponent claimed they hacked into the system and rigged the votes. Assuming all continues to remain mostly peaceful, I’ll buy my ticket to begin the next volunteer opportunity in September.
My most strenuous stresses lately have been whether to tackle Mount Meru before I leave or to buy some tanzanite jewelry. I had thought I was going to do some extra traveling this month/early September, but that hasn’t panned out so I have money left over from what I expected to spend while here in Tanzania. Or another option, as someone keeps reminding me, I could just donate it.
There would be something fitting about starting and ending my time in Tanzania with a mountain. The problem is although Meru is not as tall as Kilimanjaro (just shy of 15,000 ft), I’ve heard it is harder given that it is steeper and requires a lot more scrambling. But it only takes 4 days, and I believe you sleep in huts, although I need to research that further. Although I’ve pretty much gotten to the point where I’ve romanticized the climb up Kilimanjaro, I haven’t quite forgotten the hell of summit night and the blackened toe nails are still here to remind me whenever I begin to forget.
Or I could buy some tanzanite jewelry. Sadly despite being in the country where the stone is mined (the only country in fact) it is not the bargain one would hope for. Climbing the mountain would be far cheaper. But I have to say I’m really tempted.
What say all of you? Mountain or jewelry? I’m already donating enough, paying to volunteer. What was I thinking? Rich definitely wouldn’t have approved.
Next up, I leave for Rwanda and Uganda to see the gorillas this Friday! I can’t wait.