Sunday, July 18, 2010

Expat Growing Pains

So adapting to any new situation can have its movements of transition and I have had a few of those getting used to ex-pat life here in Tanzania. Whereas previously I have lived in hotels, now I have an apartment. Where I previously took taxis, now I have a car. And where I previously could always depend on the staff or one of the societal misfits at the hotel bar to talk to me, I now have to try to make “friends.” These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of trying to do all of these things, plus get this project off the ground.  Hence the lack of blogging.  I will do my best to remedy that.

The car has been a particular transition moment. Those of you who know me know that I am a notoriously terrible driver. Seriously bad. And traffic laws here are mere suggestions. (For example, as far as I can tell, red lights do not apply on weekends. People behind you will lean on their horns if you stop at one.) That coupled with the fact that I have to drive on the opposite side of the road here – with all manner of children, bikes, carts, animals, etc, running all over the place – means that I drive fairly slowly – at a pace that I consider reasonable but that most of my fellow motorists apparently consider actual stasis. In addition, the town is littered with huge nasty speed bumps. But while there is sufficient enough left over pavement to build a speed bump, there does not appear to have been enough funding to paint said speed bumps. As a result, there are times when you hit them going mach 1 (particularly if you are driving at night along Carjack Beach). All four tires of my Rav4 airborne probably looks cool from the outside, but from the driver’s seat it is a bit nerve wrecking.

Yes, I have a Rav4. It is considerably newer than my bucket of bolts back in DC (but the unpaved streets and speed bumps have been taking a toll). And it is white. This led to a movement of sheer personal hilarity when I came out of the expat grocery store on a Saturday morning, lugging a 12 L bottle of water and a week’s food, only to find a sea of white Rav4s and Range Rovers. Since it is a rental and I am not one to ever mentally log where I park, I had to wander a bit before tracking it down. I stopped on the way home to order a Tinga Tinga spare tire cover. Maybe a bit tacky, but at least I can find my ride…

Other than that, Dar is about traffic. Rush hour traffic here is as bad as anywhere in New York. It takes me 45-90 minutes to get the 5 miles from my office to the apartment in the evenings. All sorts of interesting things are going on around you though. People are selling fruits and vegetables, carvings, etc. There was a new one yesterday though. I was stuck in dead stop traffic next to a gas tanker. Two enterprising young men with custom wrenches ran up and opened the valves on the underside of the truck, filling plastic bags with contraband gas. When the bags were full, they closed up the valves, climbed down a drainage ditch and back up the other side, and then sold the gas at the taxi park. Then they sprinted back across to fill the bags again at the tanker still stuck in traffic. (This amazed me so much that I took a picture - which drove one of the gas stealers into a rage. Was he made that I took a picture of him engaged in a criminal act? No – just that I wouldn’t give him 1000 TSH for the privilege. I shook my head, he told God to curse my progeny, and then traffic started moving…)

To combat the traffic crisis, I joined the gym next to the office. That way I can just look out at the traffic and, it is still backed up to the turn off, just go spend another 20 on the treadmill. (At this rate I am going to be *cut* when I get out of here.) But because my workout strategy is built completely on traffic avoidance, I don’t go to the gym where all the other expats go. I am in fact the only white female I have ever seen in there, and I am usually unique in both of those respects. But the gym is okay, it has working elliptical machines and treadmills, plus weights and a couple classes. I was particularly excited about the 30 minute “intensive core workout” class. I am such a slacker about doing my abs, but with a class, I am sure that I would be better. Then I met the instructor. This guy apparently learned to speak English watching Full Metal Jacket. And as the only whitey, there was no way that I was going to make America look bad. So there I was, tank top and running shorts, pouring sweat, while these beautiful South Asia women, in their long flowing “gym burka,” effortlessly cranked out another set. They looked like elegant jellyfish on the mats. I looked like a farm animal.

Other than that, things have just been moving along.  Been out in the field mostly, doing pilot testing and training, taking the occasional break to shell some corn...  There was a bit of a break in the action last week when I spent three days in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, working with their Central Statistical Agency.  I like Addis.  It has a bit more hustle and flow than sleepy little Dar, good traditional food and some excellent pizza, nice silverwork, and a fleet of blue Ladas that serve as the city's taxi fleet (a leftover from their flirtation with communism).  If it weren't for the truly amazing food poisoning that I got from the Hilton Hotel's room service, it would have all and all be a great interlude.

I am back off into the hinterlands today for another week in the field.  Sorry there isn't anything in the way of pictures this time...


Anonymous said...

Kristen, you look great. It will be nice not to be on a plane so often but Dar??. Couldn't they have placed you in Nabimia where it is safer? gb in csh

Andrew Dunkle said...

I can relate to the pains of adjusting to a new environment. I lived in Taiwan for two years where the traffic could best be described as 'controlled chaos.' Driving during my first month was a little hectic, but soon enough I was zipping and weaving with the best of them. Just wait until you have to drive back home. The cops don't respond well to, "But in Taiwan I can.."

I've include this post in our weekly roundup of inspiring travel blogs and posts. Check it out here:

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading your next post.

Andrew Dunkle