Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mambo Jambo- thats how are you doing and hello, the extent of my swahili

I cannot believe how much has happened since the first post... I have met many friendly people (TONS working in the aid community) and have basically stumbled upon a great apartment. I was initially planning on moving around Tanzania but one night after spending my evening in a cafe I kind of felt like fate intervened. After waiting a while for a daladala to come by the street I was on I finally asked one of the people hanging out nearby if the daladalas in fact came that late at night (9pm) turns out they stop earlier and so my only option was to hop in a Bijaji (a tuk tuk motor taxi kind of thing). Of course the Syrian man who I had asked decided it was now his job to help me and we chatted in stunted English as cars passed... when a bijaji finally came around the corner (it had been a while and my small talk was pretty much exhausted)he flagged it down only for us both to see there was already a passenger. She very kindly let me join her on the ride and when she discovered I was staying at Q-bar (the guest house) she, mildly shocked and disgusted, asked me why. I told her it was basically the best deal I could find at which point she told me she had a house with 3 other room mates (all of whom work for various NGOs) and was looking for some one to move in to the final room for 2 months. She gave me her number told me the price and I got out at my "guesthouse"/brothel and pondered a game change.

Didn't sleep much thinking about the choice and decided that if the room was nice and in a good spot I would go for it. I definitely think things happen for a reason, so here I am the proud new room mate. So far I'm pretty happy with the choice, sorting out money and a cell phone here has been a bit of a trial, but Dar ES Salaam is the headquarters of pretty much every NGO AID project in Tanzania and there are literally tons of people here to talk to who have experience in the Public Health sector. I have already met a bunch and a common theme seems to be a lot of frustrated people.

Two of the girls I met were even nice enough to invite me to an event their NGO is putting on for World AIDS day tomorrow. Their NGO uses sports and activities to educate and engage orphaned and/or HIV positive children... I cannot imagine how difficult that has to be. So plans for tomorrow, some new friends, and piles of NGO offices/clinics/even a disabilities hospital within walking distance of my house. Things are starting to come together and I really cannot believe tomorrow is December... especially as it is like a million degrees outside with the sun shining.

This is a pretty incredible place and I keep saying it but, totally unlike anywhere I have EVER been. I saw a lot of poverty in Latin America but being here really, more than anywhere else, makes me so thankful for the life I have and my American passport. Just imagine our biggest city, NY, with daily power outages that in some areas go on for days... unfathomable. Makes for a society where people get very envious of people that have private generators...

Friday, November 26, 2010

And The Culture Shock Begins

Hello again! Over the last month I traveled from Lima to Arequipa (the wonderfully beautiful second city of Peru), Puno (where I saw the uglier side of commercial tourism, how lucky I am I live on solid ground, and Aramu Muru- the Portal that will save me from the end of the world in 2012) and then finally to Cuzco where I saw some incredible salt pans and Machu Picchu. My last days in Lima were really sad so many good friends and some wonderful people I count as family, I will be back! Yvette took me to the airport and waited with me in the enormous line to check in, staying with me until I went through security... plenty of tears! Much more happened in Peru (including robbery) but I really don't feel like recounting as I have so much to tell about these first few days in Africa.

My journey to Africa was a long one, 12 hours (I think to Amsterdam) where I spent the night sleeping in the airport (it is a REALLY nice airport I must say) and got up the next morning for a 8 hour flight to Dar Es Salaam Tanzania. I arrived at 12 at night in a different world.

First the Visa thing was pretty interesting, we all gave our papers and heaping wads of cash (100USD for Americans and 50 for everyone else) to one guy who then gave stacks of passports, papers and money to a relay system of people working behind a glass desk. Once every 30 minutes about 4 passports would emerge. I was lucky to have given mine with one of the early groups and only waited for something like 45 minutes. Got out grabbed my bag and hopped in a cab to my hotel.

The next morning, jet lag saw me wake up at 12 in the afternoon sweating like crazy when my fan went off thanks to a power outage... something I have come to learn is quite frequent in the city. I wandered around totally shocked into oblivion. This is not like anywhere I have ever been and my oh so useful Spanish had become obsolete... I'm thinking I am going to try and take a week course in Swahili, it is NECESSARY!

Anyway, I have started to settle a little, I moved out of the hotel I was in to a dorm room with AC for a cheaper price... there really is not much in terms of affordable guesthouses. Only super high end or medium price... not great for my budget. Nonetheless the place I have found is GREAT (the AC is a dream). The reason for so few dorm rooms, I feel like this might be one of the only ones in Tanzania is because of the cultural (I think Muslim) sense of propriety... most hotels will not let a man and woman share a room unless they have proof of marriage.

My hostel is an exception I think because of the bar downstairs. With what the guidebook calls the "well dressed prostitutes" that frequent the place separating unmarried men and women seem a bit obsolete. Anyway the place is great, good bed, nice terrace, AC, really quiet despite the bar downstairs, and as of right now empty. I am totally happy. I am also a bit out of town, a daladala ride from the center... Dadaldala is the name for the minibuses that shuttle people through the city (every country I have been in has them micro's, camiones or chicken buses in Guatemala combi's in Peru and now here I am with daladala!).

Navigating local transport successfully (especially with a hulking backpack) really does wonders for making a person feel like they have a bit more of a grasp on things. With the culture shock easing a bit with the last few days of wandering I decided yesterday I would visit the local market, kariakoo.

It was pretty much unlike any market I have ever been in. On the way I had one of the morning mango's that seems to have become a new addiction- green and peeled by the local vendor, super delicious for 500TZS or 30 US cents- and wandered through another smaller market nearby. People are so friendly! Made some conversation with one of the chicken vendors and joked that in 3 months I would come back speaking Swahili, we'll see.

Continuing on I stopped and bought a very interesting neon green drink (no clue what it was, but it was good) and chatted some more with some people also getting refreshments. Making my way further I finally came to the market... WOW. The place was filled with everything from woven baskets, plastics, musical instruments, electronics, and even a guy selling motorcycles on the second level (no idea how he would get the bike down to the first level... he must not sell many). In the main market there wasn't so much in terms of foodstuff but as markets so generally do, this one flooded out into the surrounding streets. Not only were their fruits and vegetables but in another covered section, I came across all types of spices, dried fish, tamarind, rices, grains, and even these bags each filled with different vibrantly colored seeds.

I initially thought the bags were filled with a popcorn type of thing as they are white and fluffy when they don't have the colorful flavoring on them. Curious and intrigued by their brightness (I'm talking green, orange, pink and purple) I bought a bag and bit in only to find that no... they were not popcorn. The seeds (I bought tamarind flavored) have a white fleshiness that you suck off, the color turns your tongue a different color and makes them interestingly sweet and sour. Apparently sharing is part of the deal and I had several people put their hands out. I was more than happy to share as the bag I bought was huge and only cost me 30 cents. They are called Komba, according to one guy I shared with but beyond that I have NO CLUE what they are.

Anyway, after sharing I continued on... wandered out of the market and down in hopes of finding a certain street I was looking for. It was so crowded, really hot and traffic seemed confused (to say the least). As I was walking (I had my bag in front of me) these two wonderfully kind ladies came up to me and told me to "hold on to your bag and get in a cab, there are some guys trying to rob you" well that was a bit of a shock. It was so crowded with cars and there didn't seem to be any taxis around, I got pushed up against a car but managed to get away and keep walking. The ladies told me to get in front of them and go with them to the store they were heading towards. I duly moved into position and led/followed. We made it to the store and they told me there were 3 guys who were really going for me, they followed the three of us for a good block and a half and only left when they saw us enter the store. Nothing was stolen but of course I immediately started crying out of shock and thanks to these wonderful women. They both gave me big hug and told me not to worry. I had had no idea and these ladies, upon seeing what was about to happen had come to my rescue, I couldn't believe it. After telling me I should avoid coming to the area alone but that the rest of the city was safe, the lady behind the counter asked me where my husband was and why I had gone there alone... ha ha. The shop owner, the people working there and the ladies then all helped me into a cab. Lesson learned.

I took a cab to the daladala stand and got on the next bus to the mall on the far side of the city, found the first place with AC (a local fast food joint), and sat down to a very unique club sandwich and litre and a half of water... A thanksgiving for the books.