There were many things that made me nervous and apprehensive about spending a semester in an East African country that was literally half way around the world. The most daunting element of this trip was the unknown. I did not know what to except when we landed in Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport, I did not know what to except when we arrived at the Untied African Alliance Community Center, I did not know what to except when we flew into Dar, and I definitely did not know what to except when we would meet our host family.
After spending two weeks in Arusha I got very comfortable with my surroundings living at the community center and very comfortable with the people that we had met. Just as I had gotten that feeling, it was off to more of the unknown. Before arriving in Dar I knew that it was a big city of about 4 million people, had a healthy mixture of Christians and Muslims, and was very hot. The morning we left for Arusha I said goodbye to all the sounds you would hear throughout the day: chickens clucking, the children having their school lessons,“parachichi” or avocados falling on the roofs of the buildings throughout the community center, late night church services happening nearby, and the howling of the pack of dogs that roamed around the village. As we drove down the rocky road one more time, I said goodbye to the beautiful view of Mt. Meru that we had enjoyed during our time in Arusha and prepared myself for more of the unknown.
The first difference that I noticed when we stepped off the plane in Dar was the temperature! We landed at the airport mid-day and you could feel the heat and with the sun shining down on you, it was that much hotter. I think maybe it was such a huge difference for me was because when we were in Arusha it was so cold. One mistake people make when thinking about Africa in general is that it is hot everywhere. Well let me tell you this is not true! While we were in Arusha I don’t think there was one day that my feet weren’t cold. I was not prepared for the cold weather in Arusha and I was not prepared for the hot weather in Dar! When we walk to class everyday in the morning, by the time we arrive at the university everyone is dripping in sweat. One interesting thing that I noticed after observing people is that it is a common practice for people to carry what we call “sweat rags”, with them because it is so hot all the time that it is normal to sweat all throughout that day.
Another big difference that I noticed immediately was all the different types of people that I saw walking around the airport. There were people from Asia, many people from the Middle East, and people from Europe. This reminded me that we are now in a big city. People travel here to do business, look for work, and experience city life just like you would find in any city in America. However, when I think of a big city I think tall skyscrapers and structures. In Dar, the buildings are only a couple stories tall but still close together. Dar is such a big city and spread out that people who are from Dar sometimes haven’t even seen the entire city.
I also think of lots of traffic in a big city and Dar is no exception! Just on the ride home from the airport we experienced the amount of traffic that is part of the daily life in the city: locals have to add an extra couple hours into their schedule each day just to account for the traffic! This is something that took sometime to get used to because I am used to being able to hop in a car, drive to the grocery store and have no issues. Here in Dar, that could take the whole day to do. This really hit me when on the first day of our internships, it took the whole day to drop off everyone at his or her organization and some of us only got one hour at their organization while others got almost a full day. MaryKate and I were one of the lucky ones because our internship, Health Promotion Tanzania, is only a bajaji ride away. The traffic can be frustrating at times but it is another part of life in Dar that everyone has to deal with!
Once we arrived in Dar we had one full day to get acquainted with the city before we met our host families. Everyone was very anxious and excited to meet the people that they were going to live with for the next 2½ months. The last morning before we meet our families, we finished our last “family” meals for a while where we all would be together and we eagerly waited for our parents to pick us up. This was the first time I was super nervous since we landed in Tanzania because I would be living with new people in their house with different rules and customs that I am not used to. Our Baba was the one who picked us up and helped get my “sisters”, Elena and MaryKate, and my giant bags into the car. We said goodbye to everyone else and we were off to see where would be living for the rest of our time here.
We pulled down a street right near the University of Dar and drove up a large hill that we would later dread hiking up everyday, with giant trees covered in vines on both sides of the street. We got to the end of the street and pulled into the driveway that would be ours for a short while and saw our family’s beautiful house. Inside our mama and the lunch that she had cooked for us greeted all of us. This was the first time that the three of us realized that our mama could cook and we would soon after cherish dinnertime at the Towo house! We got to know the Towos better at lunch and we listened to stories about their 14 year old daughter named Nina who is currently at boarding school and about all the previous students they have hosted. One student they hosted came back to Tanzania and got married in their backyard. This made me realize that I was very lucky being placed in the Towo house because they are wonderful people and truly love to host students from many universities from across the world.
From there on in, it was an easy learning process of figuring out how to fit into the daily routine of the Towos. We have breakfast every morning that our maid, Esther, cooks for us consisting of delicious omelets, bread with or choice of jam, nutella, or butter, some delectable fruit, and hot tea to top it off. Baba loves to watch the news in the morning and pretty much whenever he watches TV. For the first couple of days we weren’t 100% sure if there were any other TV channels except the news! Mama loves her bottle of beer after a long day of work. Both of them encourage us to have fun and go out as much as we want to. At first I think they were afraid that we weren’t having any fun because the first weekend we were at the house, the three of us stayed in because we had so much work to do! After we had a long day of tests, Mama offered us a glass of wine after dinner because she said that we deserved it.
We learned it was best to do laundry on Saturday mornings because that is when they always pump the water, other days it is not always guaranteed so we need to save the water for showers and dishes throughout the week. The three of us have grown accustom to making sure the four locks on each of the doors that go out to the balconies were we hang our clothes to dry, are always locked when we are done. When it gets dark we turn on the lights inside and outside and make sure the downstairs door is locked and we unlock it when Mama or Baba come home. One major adjust that we all had to make was eating dinner so late! The first night it was around 7:30 pm and we thought that they might have forgotten about dinner but no. It was just that the normal dinnertime is between 8-9 at night.
Timing here is very different than back in the US. Things in Dar seem to start very early in the morning and end very late at night. No one really seems to be in a huge rush to get from place to place and just because there is a starting time doesn’t mean it will actually start then. When it takes a long time to get lunch or a when it took us an hour or so to get our student ids, we just say “Oh well, it’s Africa time”. I told you that people don’t eat dinner here until 9 at night, so imagine how late people go out to bars or discos. Our first experience at a disco we got there around 11 maybe at the earliest and we weren’t sure why it seemed so empty. It turns out that people don’t start going out until maybe 1 or 2am- our mistake!
I have learned that I take simply things for granted sometimes. Back home, I can almost always count on running water, electricity, people taking my garbage to the dump, getting mail delivered to your house, and Wi-Fi access. In Tanzania, there is no guarantee that there will be a constant supply of water or electricity so you have to factor that in to cooking, showering, doing laundry, when you do homework, and so on. Its part of life here so people are prepared: when the electricity went out one night when Mama was cooking, she just got out a heavy-duty flashlight and kept on going. There is a water tank in the backyard in case of emergencies when there is a water shortage. Most people don’t have Wi-Fi in their homes so you have to go to an internet café or buy a “Wi-Fi stick” that plugs into your computer in the hopes of getting enough signal to check your email. These are all just aspects of life in Tanzania and everyone adapts to them at their own pace.
For me, I haven’t had too much of a hard time adapting to the lifestyle here but one thing that has taken me a while to get used to is the cuisine. It is so very different from what I am used to at home. The staple foods here are rice, beans, chicken, fish, greens, and ugali, which is a cornmeal based substance that looks similar to mashed potatoes. Fresh fruit is a huge part of the diet here and I am truly in love with the fact that at lunch, I can order a big bowl of mixed fruit for less than two dollars and watch them cut the fruit up right in front of me. My favorite dish that I have tried here so far is called chipmayai, which is basically eggs cooked over French fries and some vegetables mixed in to form one big omelet. You can top it of with tomato sauce (think ketchup but sweeter) or “pili pili” a fresh hot sauce if you need to kick it up a notch. Eating out is an experience but eating Mama’s food is definitely where I have had the best food since coming to Dar.
We have been in Dar for not quite a month yet so every day brings new experiences and more of the unknown. Every night I think about what I would see outside my bedroom window and what sounds I would hear going to bed back home and it makes me realize that I am actually in Africa and it’s not just a long dream. I think about how different living in Dar has been compared to living in the United States. Before I go to bed, I look outside my bedroom window to look down at the city center all lit up with the Indian Ocean in the background. I listen to the all the neighborhood sounds of children playing and unfortunately often crying too, music from bars that we are close too, karaoke every Sunday night from the discos, praying from the mosque that we are close enough to hear the call to prayer five times every morning, afternoon, and night, bush babies in the trees outside, chickens cock-a-doodle doing, and even crickets on a quite night. It’s all part of the experience of living in Africa for three months and I am trying to soak up as much as I can before our semester is over!