Sunday, October 14, 2012

On living in Arusha

After living in Tanzania for a whole week, I am now an expert on the culture here. So I will share my observations on life here in Arusha.

First up, the driving. It's pretty amusing and at times terrifying. They drive on the left side of the road here, but other than that the rules of the road are pretty loose. The cars have the right of way. Always. Occasionally a car will wave for you to cross, but usually it is your responsibility to get out of their way. Not that they are going to run you over if you don't, but they will honk and go around you, clearing you by about two feet. They don't seem to be very concerned about driving very close to other cars, pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, goats...I'm sure I'll get used to it, but right now I keep thinking, "Oh my gosh, he's going to hit that dog. He is, he's going to hit it. He's not even slowing down....Oh. Nevermind." Also, there are no stop lights, no stop signs, and no one directing traffic. Everyone just seems to understand the routine of driving here.

The transportation is definitely different as well. At various spots along the major road you will find groups of parked cars, motorcycles, and bikes, with a bunch of guys standing nearby. These are all ways of getting around. You just hop on the back of some guys motorcycle (don't worry, Dad, I won't). There is also the "bus" system, known as the daladalas. They are little Toyota vans that they cram about fifteen people into, plus the driver and the conductor. At first they intimidated me. Now I find them entertaining. The conductor is always hanging out of the side window, calling at people or whistling as the daladala drives past, asking if people need to get on. I went on my first ride in one this morning, and it wasn't so bad. The conductor just stands by the side window hanging out up to his torso. He taps on the top of the van when he wants the driver to stop, and taps on it again when he is ready to go. Often the daladala starts driving away before the conductor is even back in, and he just hops in while it is driving away. Also, they don't wait for you to sit down before it drives away, as I discovered when I almost fell over when I got in for the first time.

The food here is very good, but definitely starch based (not that I mind; I like starch). Most meals have some base: rice, roasted plantains, chips (fries), or pasta. Rice is probably the most common. The first time I had roasted plantains, I expected it to be a little sweet, but it is really much more like a baked potato: starchy with a very mild flavor. They eat dinner very late here because they get hungry late at night if they eat it earlier. I've generally eaten dinner with my host family around 8pm, though some of the people I've talked to say they usually have dinner around 9. Apparently snacking isn't very big here. People tend to stick with the three main meals, so they are spaced so that they don't get too hungry in between meals. So far, I have loved the food that I have been served.

Animals here are handled a bit differently than in the US. Many families raise chickens to sell, so it is not uncommon to see roosters pecking about the neighborhood. I have also seen the occasional goat. Dogs here are not pets. They are guard dogs. People don't allow dogs in the house, and they think it is so strange that we do, and unbelievable that we would let them sleep in our beds. I can see their point because most of the dogs here are quite dirty. There are many dogs wandering around (I'm not sure how many of them are strays and how many belong to a family, but I think quite a few of them are strays). They are usually scavenging for food or sleeping in the shade. The people mostly ignore them, and the dogs do the same. As a dog lover, it is hard to see the dogs and never stop to pet them. I am tempted to carry bits of food with me to toss at the dogs. After all, they mostly eat garbage and table scraps here anyway.

One things I've noticed about Arusha is that is is rarely quiet, which at times is invigorating but sometimes it is overwhelming. During the day there is a lot of talking, laughing, horns honking, music, etc. At night there is a lot of barking, as that's when the dogs do their job. If you are prone to be annoyed at a neighbor's barking dog, Arusha is not the place for you. I don't mind the barking. I sleep through that easily enough. In the morning the honking starts up and the roosters become active. There are so many roosters. I suppose the noise level here is like many other big cities (although Arusha really isn't that big), but there is a greater variety in the types of noises. It is so different to be in a place where you can hear as many car honks as roosters.

Several people have asked me if it is beautiful here, and I haven't been quite sure how to answer that question. Really, the answer is yes and no. There are many beautiful plants here, and Mount Meru is very beautiful and so close. The plant life here in Arusha is fairly tropical, so I enjoy walking around and looking at the trees and plants. As far as the buildings reality they have little aesthetic appeal. I was told before I came here that Tanzania is a fairly poor country, and it is true. Most buildings are pretty run down and look more like the abandoned buildings you might see in the states (Except for the hotels, of course. They provide a certain amount of visual dissonance). I would say that Arusha and the area around Arusha is beautiful in a humble, resilient, irrepressible kind of way. Because it is the dry season, the landscape around Arusha is quite dry, but I can only imagine how much it comes to life when the rains renew it. The plant life here is made to weather those extremes in water availability. It is similar with the people here. So much of what we have done in America is to make our life as consistently convenient as possible. Many of the things I have grown so accustomed to are not available here, like easily available safe drinking water. Here they boil there drinking water. In fact, hot water isn't something that most families here can access by turning on the spout. They usually have to heat their water on the stove. The family that I am staying with doesn't have a shower, or a bath tub. They take bucket baths (that is when you have warm water in a bucket and you use a bowl to pour water over yourself). There are no washing machines; clothes are hand-washed and line-dried.This is not to say that they are completely without technology. Everyone has a cellphone, and they are just as attached to their phones as we are in the states (granted, they generally don't have smart phones). Many families, I think, have a tv or a laptop, or both. Despite these things, many of the technologies we have in the US that function to make our lives more convenient are not easily available here. But no one seems to mind. No one seems to notice the inconvenience, and may not even see it that way. Not like in the states where we wilt where our AC stops working. Although most of the details of life here are quite different than in the states, all of the core things that really comprise a life are the same: food, work, education, friends, and, of course, family. Anyway, I do see some beauty in that ability to take life in stride, unflustered by anything that I might typically find inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Of course, I'm not saying now that I am ready to give up my comforts back home. I still feel homesick at times and am too attached to anything familiar or associated with home to consider giving up any of it at this time. Ask me in three weeks.

I'm sorry that there are no pictures again. I have been taking some, but I can't quite figure out how to upload them. Sorry.


michelle harnish said...

i'm glad things are going better since your last post! leo and i pray every night that auntie katy will be safe in her travels. I love that you are getting this amazing experience, i can only imagine how this will change your whole point of view as now you are a world traveller!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping us up to date. I enjoyed reading the details about life in Arusha. We enjoyed talking to you on the phone this morning and hearing your voice again.
Mom and Dad

Donna Bardsley said...

Yes, stay away from those men on motorcycles.

Can't wait to see pictures!

Dakin said...

Wow Katy! What an amazing experience you're having. What do you miss the most? The washing machine, the shower, the hot water, the drinking water? So humbling to do without conveniences.


Very similar to rural South America.

For those who want to see pictures of the area, download Google Earth.

The stray dogs are some of the best entertainment on the street. German Shepherds with miniature legs like dachshunds, dogs that got stuck in "the act", other things I probably shouldn't write.