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Published: October 22nd 2005
So. Things are going well and I am happy, but the challenges this week have been enormous. We have a new fun thing here in Dar es Salaam. Now not only do we often not have internet, we often don't have power either. It started almost a week ago I guess. At first I thought it was just Msimbazi Centre, but everywhere I went I was running into the same thing. Ugh! I read in the paper finally that two transformers in my section of the city (called Ilala) are not working properly. So we can expect regular power outages for the next two weeks until they get it all fixed. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Add to that yesterday we ran out of water, and I was pretty much a woman on the edge. But this morning I am somewhat more human, having slept well for the first time in three nights, (had power for a good stretch of the night) and having scored a shower immediately after the tanks were refilled. At one point I thought I would be reduced to filling a bucket with bottled water to bathe, but fortunately it hasn't come to that. At least not yet. Keep a good thought for me, I beg you.
Yesterday I spent the day going back and forth between the two offices of the Ministry of Home Affairs, trying to get my residency permit, the one I started working on in about April. I wouldn't care except that my visa is due to run out in November and when I renew it I'm thinking they will want to know about this permit as well. The bureaucracy here is not to be believed, but it does make me laugh just because so much of it is so bizarre. As Thomas said, you wouldn't believe it if you weren't experiencing it for yourself. And that's so true. When I was in Canada I was thinking, what is with these guys, why can't they get it together over a simple permit? Now I am begging their forgiveness. I'm amazed anything gets done in this country at all. It's not so much malice as a sort of disinterest and lack of motivation on the part of bureaucrats to do much of anything, as far as I can tell. Add to that the ongoing new passport issuances...distributed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. So every time I go it is an absolute zoo, with the noise level of an airport runway, and the temperature of a pizza oven. But oh I am building character because I am exercising patience and pleasantness in quantities I didn't even know I had. God help us all if I ever blow, but hopefully that won't happen. Ha ha ha.
Yesterday I started out by asking somebody where I should go. There are two offices and I knew I wanted the regional office. I met a lovely man on the street who offered to accompany me, and he did...to the wrong location. I tried gently telling him that I was pretty sure it was the wrong office but he insisted her knew where the permits were issued. Be all that as it may, it was indeed the wrong office. But I ran into Matthew, a SwissAid worker (SwissAid is FOGOTA's main international partner, and their offices are right beside us), trying to get his passport organized, and we had a nice chat. So then I made my way across the city centre to the right location. Again a total zoo. It is getting hotter here as we head into the hottest months of the year (November to January) and it is a lot more humid these past couple of weeks because apparently we are also gearing up for the rainy season. So I wriggled my way through the packed in bodies waiting for their documents and found the woman I needed at the counter. It took a while to get her attention but when I did she recognized me and told me to wait. Which I did. For half an hour. Then I wriggled back up to the counter again, nabbed a guy, and in my sweetest voice explained that I was waiting for the woman but maybe he could help me? And I confess, I almost batted my eyelashes. I was desperate. So he grabbed the woman and with great reluctance, sort of like pulling teeth, she told him that I had to go back to the other office and speak to a Mr. Mumba. Now I ask you, why couldn't she have told me that in the first place? Or even why couldn't she have told Ali that when he talked to her on the phone, instead of telling him to send me to her? No idea. Anyhoo, I, who am learning, said, what will I say to Mr. Mumba when I see him? Oh don't worry, he knows all about you and he is expecting you. Right.
So back across the city centre I went, and the traffic was unbelievable and I was thinking, what the hey is going on? I found out later a major road was closed. It was absolute chaos but I was walking so I made my way carefully. When I walk through the city centre of course I stick out like a sore thumb and everybody everybody everybody wants to sell me something. Or wants me to come and change money at their kiosk. Or wants to test my knowledge of Swahili. So I fought my way through all this, and it was soooooooooooooooooooo hot. I was pouring sweat and thinking, I'd better get a drink because I was starting to get nauseated which is my cue that I need water. So I did. And as I was approaching the office I was in a crowd and in crowds I like to always keep moving, because you never know. I have been wearing a backpack that Muhalley lent me because the bag I had was open at the top so no good. And as I was walking a guy stepped out and blocked my way. At first I was just irritated but then I noticed that he wasn't actually doing anything, just pretending to do something but that the only thing he was actually doing was stopping me from moving forward. When I realized that I spun around and sure enough there was somebody just starting to open my pack. I yelled and was starting to curse him out but another guy came out of the crowd and beat me to it, berating the two guys for trying to steal from me. All in Swahili of course. The only word I recognized from the blocker guy was "Mzungu", so I assume his justification was something to the effect of, who cares, they can afford to lose some money once in a while. Whatever. They slunk away into the crowd and my friend warned me, be careful, and then he was gone too. You might think we could have called the police, and I would have thought that as well. But recently I read in the paper where a guy got 30 years (!) in jail for stealing a woman's cell phone. Theft is not well received here. That seems a little extreme to me, I have to admit, so I was content to let it go. I have to figure out something better in the way of a bag. The problem is I am always carrying my phone and usually its charger, my wallet, a map, my Lonely Planet, a pen and some paper, and I like to have a bottle of water. So I need something but obviously something better. But I was proud of myself that I figured out what was going on though before anything bad could happen.
So...into the office I went and found the window for visas and residency permits, and after not too bad a wait managed to tell somebody that I was looking for Mr. Mumba. Well I'm sure you can guess that Mr. Mumba had no idea who I was nor why I was wanting to talk to him. I explained it was about my residency permit and he insisted on seeing the receipt I had been issued. Um...what receipt? I never got a receipt. So this begins an argument, of course I must have been given a receipt, and I insist that I wasn't. And he insisted that he can't do anything without this receipt. I said can't you look me up by my last name. He asked for my name and agency, thought for a minute, and said, no I've never heard of you, I never got your application. Oooooooooooooooookay then. Thanks for you help. So I went outside and called Ali on the off (off off off) chance he had the receipt and had forgotten to give it to me. Which of course was not the case. I was ready to go back to the other office and talk to the woman again, but he said to leave it and we will go back at it next week. Which was fine with me, because I was beat. I was supposed to go swimming with Carol in the afternoon but got back too late for that to happen. So with no power and no water, I lay on my bed in my own nastiness and fantasized about swimming back to Canada. It was not pretty. But happily both the power and the water returned in the evening, allowing me to have a shower and cool off in front of the fan. So as I say, today I'm in much better humour.
In the evening I went with Thomas to the airport to pick up two girls coming in from Switzerland to work in beekeeping out in the bush. Can you imagine? I'm always amazed at what interests people. Thomas wanted company at the airport but also said he took me because "now you are a veteran" and he thought it might be nice for the girls to see that I have been here for seven weeks and am surviving nicely. Their plane was an hour late and I thought Thomas would blow a gasket. He is a good guy, but wound pretty tight, I have to say. He was also pretty worried that we would miss them, and as he said to me, think how disappointing that would be to arrive at the airport and find nobody waiting for you. God love him. But we had a piece of paper with their names (I got to hold the sign, a very important job) and I said to him, you just think we're looking for them. They will be looking for you like you wouldn't believe! LOL I think that helped when he considered that. I made him sit and have a drink to put in the time and later he thanked me profusely for "encouraging" him. The biggest source of his stress was that he had to leave class early to come to the airport. He works all day, then goes to school from 5 to 10 pm, five days a week, as he is just starting his law degree. Woof. So I can see where he'd be a little wired. Happily he phoned a classmate and found that they had ended early because there was a power outage. So that improved his mood immeasurably and we were able to wait in relative peace for the girls to appear.
The flight from Switzerland is apparently about nine hours, and they were completely wiped when they finally got to us. I felt bad that they were arriving in the dark. They chatted and giggled quietly to each other in French, some of which I understood, so I made a comment to let them know that I knew what they were saying. Otherwise it's eavesdropping, which always makes me uncomfortable. They were pretty excited. But the one girl just got whiter and whiter looking, and I finally asked if she was okay. She said she was just tired, but she looked like she was going to throw up or pass out. Oh well. I'm sure I looked similar when I arrived. We settled them into their hotel. They're here for a couple of days until they fly to their actual placement, but that's the last I will see of them so I said goodbye and wished them well. I was thinking as I headed home about how comfortable I am here and how much I have learned in such a short time. This place is really in my blood now, and I'm wondering about what that will mean for the future. I love it here so much. I'm also wondering about what the next seven weeks will bring. It's hard to believe so much can happen in what is really such a short time.
This week I started to fill in the forms for my midterm evaluation. I have to lasso Dorcas somewhere to get her to do her piece, as my supervisor. The problem is, they have had four (!) deaths in their immediate circle in the last two weeks, culminating in the death of a 16 year old cousin who drowned as his 10 year old brother tried to swim out to save him. Woof. What can I possibly say about that? So I'm not sure the paperwork's going to get done on time. Fortunately it goes to Marnie at the university who is a doll, and very understanding. We have spent the last few weeks planning and budgeting for FOGOTA's coming year, which has been good experience for me, and also gives me something to put on my forms, a concern being as we got off to a slow start and this is actually quite a short placement.
Ali and Dorcas are both exhausted because they were in the field conducting training for six weeks before I got here, and then when they returned I was here. So they have had no time off. I have been talking to Ali about taking some time off. He said at his last job sometimes they would just close up shop for a week or two. I said good idea. I got here early enough that I can take a week off and not have it affect the time requirements for my placement. I said, you know, I would really like to travel and visit a national park (i.e. do a safari) while I'm here. If you guys took time off, I could do that. He seemed agreeable. So I'm really really really hoping that's what's going to happen in the first part of November. I'd also really like to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it's quite a long way from here, so I'm not sure how to make that happen.
Tonight I am invited to Ali's house for dinner. He is a sweet sweet man. They are Muslim and this is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, where they fast during the daylight hours. He wants me to come and eat with them when the sun goes down and they can break their fast. That should be interesting. He wrote down directions via daladala and is quite encouraging and adamant that I can do it. They LOVE to see me getting around on my own. Even casual acquaintances will ask if I am alone, and if I am I always sense a quiet sort of approval. I think there is a sort of respect for an Mzungu who tries to be a part of things. I asked him if I could bring anything, a question which seemed to totally bewilder him. He said, just do what you think. I said, well I don't know, so if you don't tell me then I'll show up emptyhanded. Which he said was fine. But I wasn't sure. Then I asked a girl at Msimbazi Centre but she said she didn't know because she is from Morogoro, a village, and not from Dar. Then I sent Muhalley a text explaining that I don't know the custom here. She wrote back, you just take your empty stomach and that is all. Which cracked me up. What a good way to put it. I'm looking forward to the evening and just praying they don't serve an all-onion buffet.
So, today officially marks the halfway point of my time in Tanzania. I admit, I am conflicted at the thought of coming home, BUT let me say that I think, well of course I would be, because it's not time yet. I'm only halfway. I am though really really really really looking forward to seeing everybody. I do miss everybody so so much. And I am so looking forward to snow. I am praying for a huge snowfall a couple of days before I arrive home, so that the roads are clear by the time I get there.
But in the meantime, it's back to the heat and humidity. Siku njema everyone (have a good day) and keep in touch. The emailing has ground to a halt. What's up with that? Keep those cards and letters coming!
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