May 27, 2010

I heart Dar es Salaam.

Andrei returned this week after a month on the road fulfilling his dutiful and newfound role as an international development consultant. I naively thought that his move to Tanzania would effectively put to an end such extended lengths of time apart on account of work, but alas it seems we have signed up for a lifetime of this, barring a radical career move on both our parts, which seems unlikely at best, at least in the near term future.

I have always found myself experiencing bouts of loneliness when Andrei is away for such great lengths, but also, I find that I appreciate the time to focus on myself and enjoy these stretches as periods of self-imposed “hibernation.” In his month’s long absence, I managed to discover a new gym and develop a new routine around step aerobics, I “toured” Mikumi National Park and caught a welcome glimpse of life outside of Dar, I read three books, I learned to drive in Dar es Salaam and learned how to change the engine oil in our “new-to-us” RAV4, I learned how to bet on racing goats, and I indulged regular invites to work as crew on sailing boats and snorkel and swim in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the excitement and whirlwind activity described above, I experienced a great deal of idle time and (rather embarrassingly) filled this void by indulging a long held guilty pleasure – back to back episodes of Sex and the City. This three season binge culminated with the last episode in Season 4 entitled “I heart NY,” which struck me as oddly coincidental following my recent blog post entitled the very same.

Feeling particularly restless following this episode, I stepped outside onto our terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean to catch a breath of fresh air and finish my glass of less than impressive South African Sauvignon Blanc. Our terrace was flooded with light from the almost full moon. Despite the moon’s fullness, the stars were bright and vivid, almost 3-D in appearance, pulsing in the sky. I then noticed several unidentifiable shapes in the water below. It seems too many episodes of Sex and the City got the better of me, at first I confused the shadowy figures in the water for a young, breathless couple making out, only to realize instead, that these were two local fishermen casting their fishing nets. As I watched them lay their nets in perfectly formed co-centric circles, the fact that this was surely back-breaking and tireless work momentarily escaped me, rather it all appeared romantic and dreamy from the distance off our balcony. The sound of the tide coming in and the breaking waves on the shoreline was only eclipsed by the sound of the low-flying KLM flight from Amsterdam landing in DAR like clockwork at 11:30pm.

While I “heart” NY, it can wait. I have no doubt I will live there at some point in my life. Right now, I “heart” Dar es Salaam. I still have much to learn here, and am only now beginning to overcome some of the initial shock and steep learning curves that inevitably come with the process of learning to call a new place home, especially one that is so free of any influences from the place you otherwise know as home.

Prior to our move here, a good friend who received his terminal degree in Anthropology warned, you will be surprised to find yourself in a place that is so free of American influences. He and I had formed a friendship and developed a bond by sharing stories of our travels in Honduras, he as a PhD candidate conducting his field research in the Bay Islands of Honduras in the late 1970s, me nearly 25 years later as a Peace Corps volunteer. Honduras is a country that seems wholly unable to escape the influence of the United States, thanks in part to the Monroe Doctrine, a foreign policy introduced in 1823 that essentially remains “in tact” nearly two centuries later.

Tanzania, by comparison, seems far removed from the grips of American influence. Surely there are signs of it here and there, but beyond the world of foreign assistance and international aid, you really must dig deep to find compelling signs of America’s influence here. While news of Africa barely reaches the United States, the news we receive is decidedly Africa-centric (thank you BBC World Service). The United States, long complacent in its role as the world’s sole hegemony, is quickly being usurped by the Indians, who are undeniably the heart and soul of the Tanzanian business community, and the Chinese, who are pouring money into this country in the form of infrastructure investments and in turn paving the way for formidable economic advancements in their interest. The music on the streets is of a self-described “bongo-flavor” with American music only sprinkled in on the rare occasion for other “flavor.” An American manufactured car is a rare sight on the streets here, while Toyota seems to have an almost exclusive agreement with the car dealers of Dar. Similarly, while in Central America public transit often takes the form of American yellow school bus cast-offs, here the fleets of dala-dalas crawling through the slogs of traffic are almost exclusively the hand-me-downs of larger Asia cities.

Despite this, it was only yesterday that my friend’s insights really hit home, when I learned not only that there was sequel of a Sex and the City in the works, but that it is scheduled to open in theatres today! The media coverage casually asserted, “No matter who you are, where you're from, or if you've got two X chromosomes or just one, chances are you've probably heard about the imminent release of Sex and the City 2,” further yet, “With all the hype surrounding Sex And The City 2, you'd have to be living in Antarctica if you didn't know it's opening.” Or Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


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