Dear Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Limited)

16 April 2012

Dear Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Limited),

In future, kindly screen potential employees to determine whether or not they possess a minimum level of common sense. When my meter first started beeping (for 30 seconds each half hour, day and night) I thought perhaps some sort of external overload had happened, or possibly that it was about to detonate a nuclear bomb. As this started on Easter, I had to wait till Tuesday, when your office re-opened, to come talk to you. After an extensive, semi-guided tour of your complex, I was finally instructed to go outside to the ’emergency’ window. There, I told a crew of three of your employees what was going on. They said I should go with the fundi* right now to the house to have a look, because he is very busy. So I piled into your car with three fundis and a driver (perhaps you have an overly-eager hiring manager?) and went to the house. The head fundi, who by the way, didn’t realize that when I said, please speak slowly, I meant, please speak at a less rapid pace than you currently are, said there was no problem with the meter and it was probably an overload. I, catching the word ‘overload’, which thankfully they’ve borrowed directly from English, said, ‘but I use very little electricity; the fridge doesn’t even work’. He said, hmmm, well, sodfskfjdyiajf.  I’m not sure what he said, but I thought perhaps it was that someone would come have a look at a later time. Then this troup of fundis left.

On Friday, dear sirs, my power went out. At night. Only mine, not the neighbors, so it was clear even to me that it was not your usual rolling blackout (though if you care to explain those as well, that would be lovely). So, on Saturday, I returned to your emergency office and explained the new situation. A fundi called me shortly thereafter and said he would come today. First thing the next day, he came. Well, not he – they. Another committee. This intrepid team of fundis informed me that there was no credit left on the meter, and my power had thus been cut off. But, protested I, I just bought electricity two weeks ago, and I use very little. Bring us the receipt, said they. I did. The committee scrutinized and scrutinized, and another man even emerged from the car to come have a look as well. The problem, he explained after some time, was that you bought this electricity at a store, not at the Tanesco office. You will have to go to Tanesco and buy it again, but of course not today because it’s Sunday. Ok.

Today (Monday) I bought electricity directly from Tanesco, not one of your vendors. I came home, full of hope but low on expectations, and indeed, the power was still off. As it happened, the fridge fundi came by shortly after I arrived home, and inquired as to whether or not I still had electricity problems. Indeed I do, I told him. I bought electricity today but I still have no power. Bring me the receipt, he said. I did. Wordlessly, he went to the meter and entered the numbers from the receipt into the meter. Look, he said – my lights were on.

Now we come to the crux of the matter and the reason for my writing this letter. Why didn’t one of the roughly dozen Tanesco employees to whom I spoke over the course of four different trips to the office or my house, not say, did you enter the numbers into the meter? Why, when I repeatedly pointed out that I bought electricity, and at no point mentioned entering the numbers into the meter, did no one think, this area only recently got hooked up to the electricity and furthermore, this person is clearly a foreigner, perhaps, perhaps, she doesn’t know the process, maybe we should check and make sure that after buying the electricity she also entered the numbers into the meter before she spend another Tsh30,000 on electricity (all of which she probably doesn’t use anyway)?




A pissed-off white woman who just bought her monthly electricity twice – unnecessarily, it turns out – on the advice of your employees.

*fundi = skilled worker, like plumbers, electricians, etc.


Secondhand clothing market

7 April 2012

I went to the secondhand clothing market yesterday with Mama Dora. It’s huge! It just goes on and on, tables and tables of piles of clothes sent by Goodwill. Each stand sells a certain thing, so there will be ones with children’s clothes, ones with skirts, ones with men’s shirts, ones with bras, etc etc. It’s really fun – digging through a pile, never knowing what treasure you might unearth. And it’s cheap, which makes it more fun too.  I ended up getting three dresses for the equivalent of about $15 total – I kind of figured, why not, for that price? I wanted more dresses, and I had a genuine Tanzanian’s endorsement that they were appropriate (as far as length and amount of shoulder shown).

This is something white women here struggle with – what’s appropriate clothing. Well, I should say some don’t appear to struggle with it at all, and just dress like this is Miami, but I think people who actually live here have to think about it. Skirts, dresses, and shorts above the knee are out, no question, but what about the shoulders? Very few Tanzanian women expose their shoulders. Almost all of them of any age wear at least short sleeves. There’s leeway for foreigners, but you don’t want to take is so far as to flaunt local standards of modesty – but where’s the line? I’ve had this discussion with other white women here, and it’s tough to figure out. And you have to take into account where you are. What I can wear in town is different than what I can wear in the village. And so when I wear my jeans, which are quite fitted, I wrap a folded in half kanga around my waist till I get to town. The dresses I bought all have thin straps. But they also have a straight neckline, no plunging between the breasts, and all are knee-length. I would have thought that more shoulder coverage would be appropriate, but perhaps this is where the overlap between cultural sensitivity and wiggle-room for foreigners lies. Only the occasional young single Tanzanian woman would wear these dresses, but it’s perfectly ok for me. So even though you don’t see many Tanzanian women wearing them, a Tanzanian woman (Mama Dora) says it’s ok for me to do so. Good to know.

Zanzibar photos from January

DELICIOUS fish skewers in Dar. The restaurant was on the beach. Literally.

View from the top of the stairs leading to the beach.

Sitting on the beach.

Look at the color of the water!!

Look at the color of the sand!!

Hotel room balcony.

Fort in Stone Town.

Stone Town

Dhows, etc. on the Indian Ocean.

Rainy season…take two?

4 April 2012

It has started raining again. This time it feels more like the rainy season is actually here, knock on wood. Good thing too – as my friend’s housegirl said the other day, without rain, they can’t grow corn to make ugali. And without ugali – hunger in Tanzania.

Ugali – stiff cornmeal porridge. The main staple here.

Ugali with meat and vegetables. Eaten with the fingers.

People have been re-planting, since the first time they planted, it didn’t rain anymore and the corn didn’t germinate. This can get expensive, replanting. But they have no other choice. People’s livelihoods and for many, their life, are completely dependent on the increasingly unpredictable weather.

When it rains, it pours. No, literally. An absolute deluge. It’s only happened at night, but it’s really loud and keeps me awake. I don’t really mind – it’s so needed. And then, today especially after a couple of nights of this, seeing the changed landscapes. Mounds that used to be there aren’t any more. The water has cut deep paths everywhere. The roads going up to the hills are already looking awfully muddy and rutted, and I imagine that if the rains keep up they will soon become impassable.

It’s much cooler, too. Humid, but not having the sun beating down makes a huge difference. And the breeze is cool. It’s wonderful!

A plumber? Surely not…

3 April 2012

You’ll never believe what happened today – the plumber came!  The water issues have been piling up. I know I’ve written some about it, but let’s review. It all started when the thing in the water storage tank that senses when the tank is full stopped worked. It was late at night and I was awakened to the sound of water gushing from the tank. Well, it took me a couple of days to figure out how to turn the water off, so it happened more than once. And then I figured it out, but that meant that I had to have the water off at night and whenever I wasn’t home so it wouldn’t happen. Yes, this is inconvenient. But then it went to a whole other level: because I had the water off so often, the tank ran empty one day after the trees had been watered! Ok, not cool. Now, let’s note at this point that was shortly after I moved in – two months ago. Ok. More recently, one the taps outside bit the dust and wouldn’t turn off unless you held the handle down, so I’ve been balancing a rock on it. Then the superfluous sink in the dining room leaks like crazy. And the drippy kitchen finally gave up the ghost entirely and stopped turning off. Even before these things happened, I was hit (and nearly fell over) with a $60 water bill.

So, after weeks of being told the plumber is coming, the plumber is coming, he came. We went to town together to buy the new parts he needed. $75 bucks later, we had them and he was installing them. Brilliant. Last thing he needed to do was put the new sensor in the tank. Here is my water tank:

What do you think happened? Here’s a hint: you need a tall ladder to get up there. Have you guessed it? If you said, there is no ladder that tall in the whole neighborhood, you guessed correctly. Gah!

Welcome to the present

3 April 2012

Congratulations, me. This is the first post coming to you in real time! Yes, I have caught up to the present. It is a present with many avocados, tentative rain, half the lights not working, dwindling savings, no social life, lots of sweat, peanut butter, traumatic bug experience (didn’t blog about this – let’s just say now when I shower I keep one eye on the drain, always), no job offers, dirty floors, and oh other things I suppose. Here is a photo of a lizard to celebrate this occasion:

How to use a squat toilet

2 April 2012

This is a squat toilet.

Here is the response from a certain former Tanzania Peace Corps volunteer regarding the confusion we white folk face when using a squat toilet, the type found in almost all homes and establishments aside from those in which white people reside or are the primary patrons:

“Anyway, for me, the question is more than the direction, but also, how to clean.  I am one of those who sees toilet paper as a relative novelty item, an added expense, and an environmental waste.  That said, I use it.

BUT, I honestly think it better not to (kind of like I think it would be better to eat bugs and the French imported snails in my garden, but generally I don’t (minus the 2 times I’ve eaten at a French restaurant)).

So, with a spigot, a dirty plastic cup, and soupy brown water, how does one take care of business and clean?  Facing the door is the intended direction, but doesn’t work for the female stream.  Facing the wall is stifling, but keeps the area cleaner.  However, if you are peeing AND pooping, it doesn’t make sense to turn around mid-stream!

I’ve tried all directions, and to save my nose hairs, just face outward toward the door for all operations, squat and tilt pelvis, use the water to slosh around the toilet to clean up any sprays or spills  AND when using for cleaning, its like this: you can’t avoid the hand.  (My Tanzanian husband) has ingrained a type of left-hand taboo that I learned was Arab specific, and I know it is because he grew up without toilet paper. The left-handed taboo for me was always just a sort of bigotry, but it actually is best, because… well… you never know!

All THAT said, it still is an art, like carrying a bucket on the head, or taking the chaf off the rice, something that looks so easy for the natives, but I am totally inept at.  How do I wash my bum or yoni without getting completely wet?  How do I hold my skirt/pants while pouring and wiping?

So, sad to say, after all of my purported “cultural fluency” truth be told: I am just another mzungu.

Hand sanitizer anyone?”