Wednesday, April 30, 2014

While I was in Tanzania... Part A

Part 2 of my commemorative mini-series about Tanzania. (Yeah, it's going to be a four-part series now.)

Before I get into talking about my day-to-day life in Tanzania, let's address the issues that I mentioned yesterday and see how they actually turned out.

- I took exactly zero malaria pills during my eight-month stint in Tanzania. A member of my church, a retired dentist who travels often to do volunteer dentistry in needy places, advised me to wait to fill my prescription until I was actually in Tanzania. He told me that malaria pills (and probably many other medicines) are way cheaper in developing countries, and since I had been informed prior to my departure that the area I would be living in was at a higher elevation and didn't have a high prevalence of malaria, I took his advice. And I never actually filled the prescription. (I also learned later, from some other volunteers, that taking malaria pills continuously for more than six months can have some serious side effects - not really sure what the travel doctor was thinking when he even prescribed them to me...)

- I walked around the area, with others and by myself, quite often. I walked alone to the nearby cafe, the post office, and a couple times even all the way to the village center to go to the small grocery store or the market, though it was a long walk and taking the dala-dala (mini bus) was usually a better option. I never did walk around Arusha Town alone, but that's mostly because whenever one of us volunteers wanted to go into town, more often than not another one would want to come along. But while traveling with ADRA I did spend one Saturday wandering around the coastal town of Tanga alone, never once worrying for my safety and thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds of the town.
Wandering along the Tanga shore on a Saturday morning

- I pretty much forgot about rabies or making a rabies plan the minute I walked out of the travel doctor's office. I never once did see a dog, monkey, or any other living thing foaming at the mouth while overseas. I guess that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened, though. I did keep my distance from the large monkeys that liked to wander about our campus and swing through the trees overhead, but mostly because I was wary of their huge teeth.
Two monkeys very interested in the mulberry bush

- The morning after I arrived in Tanzania I learned that all the water on our campus came from a mountain spring and was clear as crystal. I washed my hands in that water, used it for cooking and drinking without worrying about boiling it first, and used it periodically to clean my contact case. First thing every morning I popped my contacts into my eyes and showered with them in all the time. I wore my contacts pretty much every day, except maybe while traveling if I wanted to sleep on the trip. When traveling to other areas of the country, though, I was a bit more cautious, but if I'm remembering correctly, I think I still showered with my contacts in, just made sure to keep the water from getting into my eyes (or my mouth).

- Since I wore contacts pretty much all the time, I very rarely had the opportunity to try out my new glasses lenses, and I surely never unwound those carefully-wrapped older lenses.

- I learned the capital city of Tanzania within the first few days of work since I sneaked a lot of looks at the large map of Tanzania hanging on the wall in my boss's office (sorry Max, but it was a very interesting map, and I'm afraid I never was too good at writing grant proposals...). From that map I learned that the capital city is Dodoma, but the largest city is Dar Es Salaam (which many people just assume is the capital).

- The nannies at Cradle of Love Baby Home (the baby home that shared a campus with ADRA) told us volunteers that there were hundreds of tribes in Tanzania, and said that they could often tell which tribe or which part of the country a baby was from just by their skin colour, facial features, hair textures, or other features.

- I learned my first Swahili words from that large map hanging in my boss's office (ziwa - lake and mto - river). Although I never took Swahili lessons, I slowly amassed a child's-sized vocabulary (which makes sense since I learned many of the words from the toddlers, their nannies, or other volunteers who worked at the baby home). By the time I left I probably knew around 120 Swahili words and phrases. Sometimes some of those words still come to my mind before the English word (asante - thank you, karibu - welcome, pole - sorry, hapana- no, njo - come, simama - stand up, sasa - now, wewe - you, wapi - where, watoto/mtoto - children/child, maji - water, chafu - dirty, chupis - underwear, darasa - class, and a random assortment of words for foods and animals). (For anyone who's interested, I kept a running list of the words I learned here.)

- I quickly learned that the Tanzanian currency was Tanzanian shillings (Tshs) and that the exchange rate was, then, approximately 1,500 Tshs to $1 US. I also learned that the local ATM, halfway between our campus and the village, was often in high demand, with line-ups stretching across the parking lot and waits of anywhere between 5-30 minutes.

- The first full day I spent in the country, we went into town for the new volunteers to buy groceries and other staples. On this trip I saw many women with babies tied to their backs. Once I had seen a few, I realized that I had definitely seen pictures and probably videos of women carrying babies on their backs, but had never really thought about the logistics of it before. During that year the nannies would often help us tie babies to our backs to take them on walks to the park on a neighbouring campus, or to a nearby cafe. Although I never totally figured out how to do this myself, I did learn that all those specialized baby carriers we use in the West are kind of overkill (and cost a lot more than a length of cloth), not to mention the large strollers we're all so fond of using. One of my favourite things ever was when the toddlers asked the nannies to tie dolls or stuffed animals onto their backs to pretend to mother their 'babies.' Just adorable!!
Ashley on her last day in TZ with Hidaya tied to her back
Mama Jackline and her duckie-baby - The sweetest!
As for cloth diapers, I never learned how to use them, since the nannies did most of the changing and dressing of the babies, but I did learn that they are fairly effective, and that they line-dry quite nicely.
TZ cloth diapers drying in the warm breeze
Colourful diaper covers airing out

As you can see, I learned a whole lot very quickly. Come back tomorrow to find out more about my day-to-day life in Tanzania!

Read Part 1 here - Before I left for Tanzania...
Read Part 3 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part B
Read Part 4 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part C
Read Part 5 here - Since I've come home from Tanzania...


  1. You sound a bit - "homesick" for TZ.
    Lovely to read this now and see your matching photos to the words.

  2. Fun to read Alison :) we should travel together sometime!