January 29, 2010

Secondhand fashion.

Meet Boram. She is the other American “visiting fellow” at CARE in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her fashion instincts are inspiring, but this outfit in particular caught my attention when I learned that she purchased this polka dot dress from a secondhand clothing market in Dar es Salaam for 500Tsh, the equivalent of 37 cents. Some fashionable accessories from home complete the look. I cant wait to go shopping!

January 28, 2010


Toys in Tanzania are rare. With per capita income coming in well under the equivalent of $1USD/ day for most Tanzanians, the lack of toys available to children is not altogether surprising. Yet, kids can be kids. Fanciful imaginations combined with a bout of boredom yields impressively creative results. As the picture below shows, kids here make use of “scrap” materials such as milk cartons and bottle caps, otherwise known as trash in our world, to fashion toy cars that they race up and down our street.


The other day a loud knock on the metal gate across the street grabbed my attention. It was a street peddler touting a cumbersome handful of push toys, basically a metal bicycle covered in a cloth-like material with a handle to push along the ground. The man disappeared inside only to emerge a few moments later with his still cumbersome stack of toys. I commented to Andrei – seriously, how do these guys make a living around here? We were both surprised when a few moments later a little boy burst through the very same gate with one of those bicycles in tow. He rushed over to the neighbor’s house to show off his brand new toy to his friend. The excitement was palatable. All evening, they pushed the bicycle up and down the street. The next morning Andrei spotted the kid first thing in the morning returning to the neighbor’s house to collect his friend to begin anew. We were quick to surmise he had yet to part ways with the toy and had maybe even slept with it.

Later in the week, the kid’s older brother appeared with a child-sized mountain bike and had great, albeit reckless, fun test driving his new bike. Perhaps not coincidentally, these shiny new toys only seemed to appear following the funeral of someone who lived in their household described here (http://lindsaydispatches.blogspot.com/2009/12/funeral.html) by my former roommate Lindsay who is also blogging about her time in Tanzania. I don’t want to speculate, but the timing is curious.


January 27, 2010

Receiving Updates on Blog Postings.

Since some of you have asked or expressed confusion otherwise, here is a little cheat sheet on receiving notifications when I update this blog:

Option #1:

Follow this link: http://lookoutmountainlookoutsea.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Then you can subscribe to this RSS feed and choose the venue where you would like RSS feeds for this blog to be directed. I recommend google reader, a user friendly forum, where you can do the same with all of the other blogs that you regularly follow and read them all in the same location.

Option #2 (for those who use gmail):

Swipe and copy the same link above.
Sign into your gmail account, then click "settings" on the top right corner of your inbox page. Within settings, click on "web clips". Then copy and past the above URL, into the box on the left hand side that reads: Search by topic or URL. Click Search. Once the search results are returned (it should be obvious it is my blog), click "Add".

Now every time you sign into your gmail account, web clips will scroll across the top of your inbox. There are arrows where you can scroll through the web clips and sponsored links that appear in your inbox. From there, you can follow updates I post to my blog.

So, what then, does being a "follower" of this blog mean?

Basically nothing, except for providing me with a slight ego-boost. Although, since my internet connections here tend to be so slow, information on my "followers" does not properly upload. So while I am aware that I currently have 18 followers, I have no idea who you are.

Thank you anonymous supporters.

January 26, 2010

Sweet Victory.

Andrei and I have finally outfitted our bed with a properly functioning mosquito net.

The bednet we purchased was delivered to Tanzania by Population Services International through the President’s Malaria Initiative. As in President Bush.

PMI is a huge five-year push by the U.S. Government to reduce the burden of malaria and help relieve poverty on the African continent. The goal of this $1.2 billion program is to reduce malaria-related deaths by 50 percent in 15 countries with a high burden of malaria by expanding coverage of four highly effective malaria prevention and treatment measures. One of these prevention measures includes the use of an insecticide-treated mosquito net.

The irony is not lost on us – we have purchased a mosquito net, in Tanzania, largely subsidized through our own US taxpayer monies.

Scientists claim that using a non-insecticide treated bednet is as “reckless” as not using a bednet at all. We can testify to this on a personal level, given several days delay in treating our bednet with insecticide. While a non-treated net provides a physical barrier between your sleeping space and malaria-carrying mosquitoes that come out between dusk and dawn, its comparative weakness stems from eventual tears in the net and inevitable openings in how the net aligns with your mattress or bed frame. By comparison, an insecticide-treated bednet works by poisoning and subsequently killing a mosquito upon landing on the net. Each morning, we now derive a devilish pleasure in counting the number of mosquito corpses that died upon impact whilst we slept peacefully throughout the night.

January 25, 2010

Gettings Around.

Today I write with extremely happy news, although to be sure this is may be news that makes my mother’s heart palpitate, I now have my very own bicycle! I am smitten with this new purchase, not because my newly acquired secondhand bicycle is actually anything to get excited over (as compared to my cherished Surly cross-check tucked carefully away in our door-to-door storage box whose exact location remains a complete mystery) but because having a bicycle at my disposal alleviates one of the most challenging aspects of everyday life in Dar es Salaam. While the options are several, it is nightmarish to rely on public transport to get around the city.

The cheapest option is the dala-dala, a mini bus designed to seat anywhere between 15-25 passengers, depending on the make and model of the vehicle. The turnboy, in Dar slang Mgiga debe, is responsible for soliciting passengers, collecting money and issuing tickets. This nickname, meaning literally “he who forces things into a tin can,” is well earned as a typical dala-dala in rush hour traffic carries upwards of 50 people, involving acrobatic twists and contortions of the passengers to accommodate even further passengers. The name dala-dala derives rather simply from a loosely pronounced “dollar-dollar” because the cost of a ride originally was equivalent to one US dollar. Given rapid inflation rates of the local currency, the Tanzanian Shilling, this is no longer the case. Today January 23, 2010, one US dollar is equivalent to 1,347, it was 1,323 when I arrived into Tanzania on October 28, 2009. The price of a dala-dala ride now roughly equates to a little over 18 cents. While cheap, this transport option is less than pleasant. Sometimes my eyes tear up with the intense smell of body odor around me. When idling in traffic, sweat drips from parts of my body I previously thought impossible, including the nape of my neck and the backs of my knees. And then of course there is a fear of people doing you the favor of lessening your load by riffling through your pockets and belongings when crammed into such a tiny space.

Next up transport option is the bajaj. These three-wheeled, motorized vehicles are known as tuk-tuks in most places around the world. Here in Tanzania they have taken on the name bajaj after the Bajaj Auto Manufacturing company. Bajajs have flooded the market to fill demand for a transport option at a median price point between the dala-dala and a private taxi. While efficient and often fun, safe is not a word that comes to mind to describe these vehicles. The typical bajaj driver is a 15 year old boy who much like his teenage peers throughout the world has not developed a mature sense of risk aversion. In their mind, faster is better.

Exclusive reliance on private taxi transport would certainly crush my very modest budget for the year. At 250 Tsh per dala-dala ride the bicycle would pay for itself in a mere 320 rides to and from work. By comparison, for the price of the bicycle I could fetch a whopping 16 rides to work via private taxi at a consertatively estimated rate of 5,000 Tsh each way. One of the most frustrating aspects of securing private taxi transport is the lack of a fixed price – everything must be negotiated. Effective negotiations are enhanced by strong Swahili skills, and patience, including the ability to walk away in search of another taxi driver willing to take you to your desired destination at the price you know to be fair. In the minds of the taxi cab drivers a white face equals money.

A walking city, this is not, given perilous levels of dust, heat, and exhaust fumes combined with erratic driving behaviors and a general lack of sidewalks. But luckily, my route to work is lined 99% of the way with one of the few paved sidewalks Dar es Salaam has to offer. To date, Andrei and I remain carless, which is something we begrudgingly may be forced to reconsider at some point in the future. In the mean time, the search for a bicycle for Andrei begins.

January 15, 2010

Local Produce Market.

Man relaxing.

Send in the clouds.

Since our return to Tanzania, there has been rain. Lots of rain. Some say this is the season for “small” rains. That notion stirs up a sense of dread about the season for “big” rains. Nevertheless, the good news is that the rain provides slight relief from the otherwise stifling heat. The unfortunate news is that the rain also brings insects. Ferocious mosquitoes. I am going on 9 nights in a row of being shaken awake in a fit of itchiness. Despite attempts to the contrary, Andrei and I have not yet managed to get our bed outfitted with a proper mosquito net. My morning moods reflect my frustration with this challenged reality.

Beyond mosquitos, there is a certain window of time after the rain when an undulating cloud of flying insects appears. This is a site to behold, if only a picture truly was worth a 1000 words. These insects dissipate as quickly as they appear, and leave behind a frenzy of activity. Little kids in our neighborhood scurry around the streets collecting the grounded insects into a black plastic satchel. These provide the makings of a delectable feast, a welcome change from the monotonous line up of daily staples consumed otherwise. Interestingly, I hear they taste like butter when fried to crunchy perfection.

Variety is the spice of life.

As most of you are well aware, food is very important to me. I love to cook, and even more so, I love to eat. I actively follow several cooking blogs and I relish when new seasonal cooking magazines debut throughout the year. I even read cookbooks for fun, Andrei enjoys a great laugh at my expense every time I carry a cookbook with me to bed for some “light” (no pub intended) bedtime reading.

My philosophy and approach to cooking is driven by a “make use of whats available” mantra. Rare is the case when I make up my mind about what I will cook prior to surveying the contents of my fridge and cupboards to see what is lingering around and could inspire my next creation. Local produce markets provide the exciting opportunity to discover food items that complement what I happen to have on hand. Given limited options within reach any cooking process begs creativity. I managed to turn a day old pineapple into pineapple fried rice with cashew nuts. A spoonful of peanut butter became the foundation of a Chinese stir fry with a peanut sauce finish. My roommate’s introduction of fresh herbs into the house inspired a tabbouleh tossed with fresh peas and a lemon-dijon-olive oil dressing.

I am now an official member of the “lunch club” at CARE in Tanzania, where I pay a little over $25USD per month for a heaping portion of warm food served each day at lunchtime. On day number 1, I eagerly devoured my lunch. With excitement and anticipation, I asked the CARE Country Director, “is lunch always this good?” He replied with a sarcastic tinge, “yes, ALWAYS”. Day number 2 revealed the sarcastic undertone to his comment. As a member of the lunch club, I can expect to eat pretty much the same meal everyday with little to no variation in taste and flavor.

The unvaried nature of the typical Tanzanian diet starkly contrasts with my meager attempts to insert variety and creative expression into the dishes I prepare. Day in, day out people consume meals of a strikingly similar constitution. Starch is the central feature of any plate. The main starch staples served on a rotating basis include ugali (a stiff porridge made from cornmeal that is rolled into a ball and used for dipping into beans and hot sauce), wali (rice – sometimes transformed into pilau, a heavily spiced rice dish that takes on a deep brown color), and ndizi (cooked green bananas in a thick flavorful sauce). The starch is offset by a very modest portion of vegetables (mboga mboga) and a protein (typically fish, beef or goat). Despite the number of feature ingredients I describe above, most Tanzanian dishes I have sampled during my short time here bear the exact same taste regardless of the selected ingredient combination.


In case any of you out there are interested in adding some spice to your life and cooking repertoire, I share links to some of the cooking blogs and recipe sites I follow regularly.

A vegetarian cooking blog produced by Heidi Swansan with a strong focus on whole grains and healthy ingredients:

A well rounded collection of family recipes ranging in their level of inventiveness:

A site very amenable to searching by those ingredients lingering around your kitchen and choosing from a vast range of recipes suggested:

January 8, 2010

Happy New Year!

2010, has a nice ring doesn't it?! i have returned to Tanzania with a renewed sense of commitment to actively blog about my time here. ringing in the new year often provides pause to reflect on the accomplishments (or disappointments as the case may be) of the year past and set intentions for the coming year. it would be nice to think that i was somehow inspired by the possibility of the turn of a decade, however, truth be told, this sense of renewed commitment stems largely from the stern reprimands i received during my recent trip back home to the U.S. from some friends and family members about my blogging indolence. to any dedicated followers i have out there -- thanks for your patience and feedback. here goes nothing...

the purpose of my recent trip back home to the U.S. was to "kidnap" my husband and bring him back to Dar es Salaam with me. this decision was not wholly against his will, however as we packed most of our earthly belongings and favorite things into a storage unit for the foreseeable future and parted with those items for which there was no room, he was quick to remind all that he was "giving up" in this move, including a moldy loofah and nail brush and a dinosaur-like television weighing approximately 120 pounds. despite the sacrifices, there was a touch of romanticism to the idea of flying cross Atlantic to whisk my new husband off to our new home in a foreign land. hopefully in the end, what we gain from this experience will weigh favorably against what we have given up to spend the next year together in Tanzania.

i already feel andrei's presence makes our Tanzanian house feel like "home". there is new found positive energy in the house with the addition of two plants and three new roommates. while the plants are certainly a welcome sign of life, the addition of these new roommates provides an added layer of inspiration for my time here. the smell of coffee brewing in the morning and the sound of crackling bacon and eggs in the skillet serves as a nice reminder that sometimes even the simplest of life's pleasures are worth savoring. i am encouraged by the excitement of those roommates new to Tanzania exploring the possibilities of how they will shape their time here and in turn shape themselves through a new set of experiences. i am inspired by the continued excitement of those roommates who have spent a longer time here in Tanzania recognizing all that they have yet to learn about their surroundings and seeking ways to continue exploring their surroundings.

cheers to fresh beginnings as we start the new year. more to come later.