Getting to know Africa

It’s been almost three weeks since I came to Arusha, and I have learned how to live here, how to walk through town undisturbed, whom to greet and whom not to greet etc. I actually like living here, even though I have days when I wish I was back in my apartment in Finland. I thought I’d just give you a little taste of what daily life is like here.

Ok, so firstly, when you wake up in the morning, you go down to the kitchen to put some water on the stove (you can’t drink the tap water here, so you either have to buy water or boil it for 15 minutes and let it stand for a while). While doing this you kill about 20 ants that have taken control of the kitchen at night. You go take a shower while the water boils. Well, this means turning on the instant-heat in the shower head, and then, after about a 3-minute shower, turning it off again ’cause you can’t stand under the steaming hot water anymore (the instant-heating shower head gets a little overly excited after a few minutes) – so you shower under cooling water for about a minute, and then you go turn it on again, so it becomes perfectly warm (hot) again by the time you stop showering. The catch: the on/off switch for the instant-heating is just outside the bathroom door!

Then you go down to have breakfast. You shake out all the small ants from all the pots and pans you’ll need, and you check the ingredients for ants and throw away the foods that have gone bad (i.e. in which there are ants – do you notice how I keep coming back to the ants?). Well, then you make breakfast – usually fruits, and pancakes (I love making American pancakes here! Especially if I’ve bought some of the really expensive Western raspberry jam from the store) – the bread here tastes sort of sweet, and the butter is not even to think about, the cheeses they have are imported and usually not the good kind of cheese and the sandwich hams are very expensive, so traditional Finnish breakfast (which, in my case, would be sandwiches in different forms) are not really an option. After breakfast you brush your teeth, with bottled water of course. Oh my, I just realized that after 4 months here I’m going to be so used to this that it will go against my instincts to put my toothbrush under the tap when back home. Useless trivia: it takes me about 2,5 dl of water to brush my teeth, so after two times of doing that, I need to refill my 0,5 l bottle.

Before leaving to work you empty your bottle of water and take it to work. I.e. I have a 1 l bottle that I carry with me, at work they supply us with drinking water so at the day’s end you fill your bottle and take it home, which saves you a lot of money!

You walk out to the road to take the UN shuttle to work. Our shuttle comes at around 8 am – ish. You can never be too sure. Sometimes it’s ten minutes early, sometimes it’s ten minutes late. If it’s a Monday we pass by our neighbors Christina and Jimmy, whose maid Susan works for us once a week (on Monday) – so you’d have to go pay her (we pay her 7,50 € a week, she washes all our clothes except underwear, and cleans the floors). Uh, regarding cleaning the floors, my mother will enjoy reading this, she’ll love her job after hearing about cleaning in Africa: here, you don’t use mops. We have a mop at home, but we ourselves are the only ones who use it. Cleaners here use towels that they soak and then they use their hands to sweep the towel along the floors. Sometimes (usually on terraces) they use a brush and water. Useless trivia no. 2: African women interestingly enough don’t bend their knees when they bend over – no matter if they’re picking something up, cleaning or doing something else. So they keep their legs straight and just bend all the way down to the floor – that’s something not all middle aged people in Finland could do!

Anyway, on our way to the bus we greet the guards in Swahili, and we walk out the compound where our house is situated (there’s a lot of “town houses” inside a fenced area, which makes it way more secure. There are a lot of Asians (Indians) and Middle-Eastern people living here, at Sun Park Estate. The bus ride to work takes about 15-20 minutes, and is really dusty and bumpy. Here you drive on the left side of the street – on principle. But there are no exact rules. If there’s a lot of bumps on that side you just drive on the other side, and somehow the bus manages not to hit any person or any thing along the ride to work. The margins are always counted in centimeters though, and once we did scratch another car – and there was a lot of yelling and shouting before we just drove off. On the way we pick up other people, and I don’t know how they do it, but a few people actually get on the bus on a different location and they still manage to find them! Somehow the system just works. And oh, when I said bumpy – I mean b-u-m-p-y. After my stay here I am convinced that there are no bad roads, only bad drivers.

At work you go through the security check to get into the tribunal, and you use your key card to open doors on your way to your office. Interns always share their office with other interns – so there are one interns’ office in every department. You do your tasks, whenever your computer works. Everything might crash just whenever, there are frequent power cuts and everything just works so slowly. And whenever there’s a computer related problem there are different guys you need to call – and they promise to come fix it shortly. However, TIA (this is Africa) – which means you have to call them several times and you MIGHT get the problem fixed within a few days.

Well, during lunch we always go to this local canteen, which serves great food for 1 €. You get rice, beef, spinach and cabbage (that’s what they refer to as “vegetables” in these places), ugali (similar to polenta), beans and sauce. It’s the same food every day though, so you get bored with it after a while, but the other lunch places in the area are obviously targeting the foreign staff of the tribunal – which means that prices are just a little bit lower than the ones in Europe, but you get great food. Almost all of us have language classes during lunch though (I’m taking Arabic while others are taking Swahili or French), so you usually only have time to have a sandwich at your desk.

You get off work at 5.30 pm, and take the shuttle home. On Fridays we finish earlier though (if you don’t have a lot of work to do, that is), at 2 pm – so then you have time to go into town to do some shopping.

There’s the central market which is lovely! They have an abundance of fruits, vegetables, spices, chickens – whatever! There are different corners for everything, it’s not all just mixed. So there’s the watermelon-section, the fruit-section, the meat-section etc. I saw a guy in the fish-section today, preparing some fish. And if I say that the conditions where the same as in the place where my father cuts and stores firewood (“vedlider”) I think I’ve said enough. The guy actually used a machete to cut the fish on a stump of wood. Hmm… Not buying fish from there! And you know, the market is busy, noisy, smelly, muddy and crazy – but I love it. There are children actually helping you out – if you buy fruit you’ll have to buy the plastic bag separately from them, and for a small fee they actually carry your stuff when you walk around the market. There are also children giving people (usually female sellers) manicures in the midst of all the craziness. And then, of course, you bargain and try to get a good price (Swahili is needed)…

While walking through town you get called mzungu (meaning “white person”) at least a dozen times, and you have to watch out for pickpockets and avoid people trying to sell you stuff, offer you a taxi ride or just begging for money. You get used to it, you don’t carry around valuables and you just learn how to interact with the people here – you greet them and you say no politely but firmly. Today I took a dalla dalla home from town. If you take a taxi you have to make sure you use a taxi driver you know and trust – I already have a few taxi drivers I use, so I just call them whenever I need a ride – but that’s only in the evenings. A taxi ride home costs 5000 Tanzanian shilling, which is about 2,50 €. There are motorcycle taxis, which apparently are a new thing, there’s been a big boom during the past 6 months or so of people buying cheap Japanese motorcycles and driving them as a taxi. Well, motorcycles here drive however you want, and there are no helmets, so you’re very vulnerable in the traffic – and you are at risk of getting robbed or even raped by the driver (that happened to an intern earlier this year). So, you want to avoid taking motorcycle taxis! So during day time I take a dalla dalla, which is a bus, home. The buses used in cities here aren’t big though. They’re vans, into which you surprisingly enough can fit about 20-30 people, if you try hard enough 😛 They only cost 0,15 €, so they’re a lot cheaper. I only take them during day time though, since I have to walk the last bit to the compound, and there are no street lights. The area where I live, Njiro, is also kinda’ remote, so it’s not safe to walk outside at night, especially not if you’re alone – and a mzungu! There are still some things I need to learn about taking dalla dallas though – cause today I wanted to take one from the “bus stand” in the city, and apparently they go to different places, even though the ones I asked where headed for Njiro – the vans are marked differently (color + text) depending on where they’re going – but there must be some other difference, cause the dalla dalla guys had to help me find the right bus out of all the Njiro-buses. Hmm, my Swahili is not good enough for me to have understood what they meant – they just showed me to a bus, I got in – and I got a really good seat as well – the front one. With all my bags of fruits and vegetables that was really nice, I got a really comfortable ride home! Usually you’re crammed in the back (you can’t be afraid of human contact here, you’re basically sitting on top of each other), and whenever you wanna get off you just shout or make a sign to the guy at the door. There are two guys working on each dalla dalla – one of them drives, the other one stands/sits/leans at the door, letting people on and off, shouting for more passengers, and charges people.

There are a lot of dogs living on the streets in the city. There’s a lot of garbage lying around, and a lot of people on the streets selling all kinds of stuff. They just spread their goods out on blankets or in baskets on the streets – be it souvenirs, dvd’s, fruit etc. You can find anything to buy on the streets! There are obviously markets for clothes, food (that would be the central market) and handicrafts (it’s called the maasai market).

Once at home, after dark, there’s not really much to do, because you can’t go out. So I basically just socialize with my roommates, we cook, and then we study or read. Later the mosquitos arrive, so I usually just sit on my bed, reading or surfing the amazingly fast web here (actually internet here is terrible, but at least I have internet at home – it costs me about 15 € a month, for unlimited, but it works when and however fast it wants to :P). Sitting on my bed means protection from the mosquitos because I have a mosquito net. It’s crucial to have one of those here, because there are a lot of mosquitos at night (you can hear them at night, they’re desperately trying to get inside the net), but hardly any during the day. I don’t eat any malaria medicine, so I’m happy I’ve only got bitten once so far!

Well, there’s a lot more to tell about life in Africa – and I will, in time. I’d love to talk more about cultural differences etc – but I have a feeling this blog post is long enough as it is! So, I’ll leave you with this, and hope that you’re all doing very well back in your respective countries!


~ by Nina on September 17, 2010.

One Response to “Getting to know Africa”

  1. More pics!

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