Life in Arusha after more than two months

I feel like I have got used to the life here quite well already. I actually like it here more and more. I am eager to go back home as well, of course, but it feels like I’ve gotten to know some people here, and I’ve established some kind of life here now. And life here does have its own special moments, which I’ve gotten used to by now, and which I will surely miss (for the first week or so) when I’m back in Finland. For example, every night when lying in bed you can hear the mosquitos circling outside your mosquito net and you know that they cannot bite you (except if your mosquito net fails to cover the whole bed properly, there was one night when I got more than 20 mosquito bites, just on my arms and hands!). And after several black outs and ”empty-water-tank situations” you realize what the necessities of life really are. It is hard to cook something if you don’t have any electricity, so you always have to make sure to have something that you can eat without actually having to heat it up (e.g. I had avocado, red onion and bread last night for dinner). You also notice that cold showers can be quite refreshing! And that you don’t necessarily need 2,5 dl of water to brush your teeth (I’m down to about 1 dl per time at the moment). In short, life is a lot simpler without electricity, hot water etc. – on the one hand this is absolutely annoying to someone used to having all these luxuries, and on the other hand it is actually quite cozy reading a book in the light of a few candles.

What I do miss about Finland, however, is the freedom you have there. Here you cannot go out after dark, even in larger groups – you have to take a taxi. Even during day time you could get mugged. As a Finnish person, used to a six-month long darker period every year, this is so hard to get used to. I really want to go out for a walk in the evening, but that is just not an option here. I’ve heard about people getting mugged in the most brutal ways here, so I do try to avoid danger. One local woman refused to give away her purse, so the mugger (who was armed with a machete) cut her hand off. Another local woman got killed in a muggery. Those are, apart from the few rapes you hear about, the most brutal muggeries I’ve heard of though, and so far I’ve been fine. You just need to use your head and be very careful with where you go and what you carry when you go there. A good tip is actually to put the things you need to take with you in a black plastic bag. That’s a really good way to reduce the risk of getting mugged, because the muggers weigh their options as well. If they attack somebody carrying a fancy shoulder bag or purse, they know they’re going to get something of value. But if I’m carrying a plastic bag I might have just done some vegetable shopping at the local market. There are, obviously, a lot of good ways to reduce the risk of getting mugged, and I try to adopt them all.

And I’m not going to lie. I will LOVE to come home and put my clothes in the washer. It feels like my clothes are always dirty. Hand washing just isn’t as effective as machine washing. And it’s not as gentle as machine wash either! And I won’t miss the dust, which is everywhere! And since it’s so hot here you always wear sandels, so my feet haven’t been completely clean in two months now! I also won’t miss the beggars. Nothing wrong with that itself, it’s their only means of surviving, but it is so emotionally draining walking past beggars everywhere you go. I want to help every single one of them, and I can’t. Usually it’s women and children, other times people without legs, fingers etc. There’s one guy in wheelchair who sells Vodacom/Zain vouchers – he makes a small profit. In Tanzania it’s virtually impossible to buy something on credit. Here you pay up front. So for your phone you buy vouchers and for each 1000 TSZ voucher they make 100 TSZ in profit, 2000 TSZ – 200 TSZ etc. So totally selfishly I can honestly say that I won’t miss the emotionally draining walks through the city, where someone asks you for money or food every few minutes!

I’ve talked to my taxi drivers a bit about the new mototaxis available all over the city. It’s a new thing in Arusha, these motorcycle taxis. Motorcycles cost around 1 500 000 TSZ (750 euro) whereas cars cost a couple of million shillings more than that, so ever since the cheap Japanese motorcycles became available here a lot of people have bought them to make a living as motorcycle taxi drivers. They are not at all safe though, mostly because you don’t wear helmets and they drive like nuts! I have already seen a few motorcycle involved accidents, including them sliding off the roads into the small but deep canals running beside the streets (they have canals approximately 1m wide and 1m deep running along the streets) – this happens to cars as well, and it does not look pleasant. Once, when I was walking with one of my friends and it was dark, I actually managed to fall down into one of these canals, and they are surprisingly deep! Thank God it’s the dry season though, the canals are totally dry.

There is a big difference in shopping manners between Tanzania and Finland. I would even like to generalize and say that there’s a big difference between shopping in Africa and shopping in any Western country. They don’t display their products in the same manner here. Here you would have street vendors selling nearly everything, and only for rare buys do you need to go to a shop. This is both good and bad, however. For one thing, when walking down the street you can randomly find someone selling something you actually need. On the other hand – if you’re a foreigner here, meaning you don’t KNOW where to look for a certain thing, it can be very hard to find what you’re looking for. Usually when you ask someone local where to buy a certain thing, the answer is ”there’s a guy on XX road…” The big difference lies in that here you don’t ”go shopping”. Here you buy something when you need it. So, you can actually find a lot of great things at the small stands next to the streets, but the products are so hidden in the ”mess” that they don’t catch your eye. What is with us Westerners that makes us need big shop windows displaying the products for us to even think about buying it? In short: window shopping is a concept unknown to Arusha.

Random facts:

In more rural areas they bury their dead family members right beside their houses. I must say it felt really weird to drive past gardens with graves on them.

On a more positive note: Did you ever notice bananas grow upwards? And the plant, or the tree, itself grows really fast. In six months you would have a full grown tree, which then bears fruit and after this the tree starts to die. What then happens is that the tree itself starts to rot, but it gives birth (that’s actually the expression you use, yes) to new banana plants through its roots. So, banana trees are actually really easy to have, and you get a lot of food out of them (like I’ve told you earlier, you can actually cook and eat the green bananas just as potatoes, or then eat the sweet ones as fruits etc etc).

The cars here are different from cars elsewhere. And now I’m not talking about the remnant of the British (left side traffic) but about the cars in general, and the colors of them. When you walk the streets here you start to notice that almost all the cars are white. There are a few black or dark blue cars as well, and you might be able to see the occasional red car, but other than that options are slim.

We watched the movie The Lion King with some friends the other night, and after having spent some time here in Tanzania you see the movie with totally new eyes. For example, they use a lot of Swahili words: Simba = lion, Naala = female lion, Rafiki = friend, Pumba = dirty/stupid, hakuna matata = no worries, asante sana = thank you very much etc. Plus, the scenery from the movie is almost identical to the scenery in Serengeti or Ngorongoro (two national parks here in Tanzania) and the animals are the same. They’ve manage to capture the characteristics so well! Anyway, when watching the movie as an adult, in the company of adults and more specifically, in the company of an Israeli who kept saying the Walt Disney himself was antisemitic, you realize certain things about the movie that you wouldn’t notice as a child. Scar is obviously made out to be Arab, with his dark lines and all. And – during the two songs he sings in the company of a bunch of hyenas he is twice portrayed standing on top of a cliff with the big moon in the background. Nothing wrong with that, except the moon is shaped like a crescent. The crescent is a symbol for the Arab world (for example, the Red Cross is called the Red Crescent in Arab/Moslim countries), so this makes their (the movie makers) intentions really clear. You would think that Disney wouldn’t have made movies like that in 1994, but true it is! Oh, and just as a final point: apparently some pervert computer geeks had some fun while making the movie. At one point in the movie Simba falls down in a big ”sigh” and some leaves fly up. These leaves supposedly spell the word ”sex” if you pause the movie at the exactly right time.


~ by Nina on November 8, 2010.

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