You would think after two years there would be little TZ could throw my way and still phase me. But this past week was rough. Really rough. I think mainly due to the perfect storm of anything possible of going wrong, did go wrong.
After an emotional last week of saying goodbyes to my villagers and friends around the Mbeya region, it was time for me to move across the country to Mwanza. If you look at a map, the route looks like it’d be an almost direct trip north. But there’s no road. So you basically have to go east- almost the whole width of TZ- and then start the trip upwards. This makes a full two days by bus.
Typical TZ Travel
In usual circumstances, travel via TZ buses is exhausting. Rough roads, cramped buses, vendors selling everything under the sun and my skin color viewed as a walking ATM machine. Really, by now I’ve got this under control. Easy, peasy. I travel with just my backpack and a tote bag- perfect for quick, sleuth-like maneuvering through crowded, noisy bus stands. My iPod is always fully-charged allowing for ‘zone-out’ time and occasional napping. I even have these awesome question cards from America for when I have travel buddies to talk to. I got this travel thing down to a science!
But this was different. I was moving my whole life x-country by way of a TZ bus. There’s no sugar coating it. It was miserable. I had given away and sold very cheaply most of my house to villagers. This left the bare essentials of seven big, heavy bags of clothes, work-related books, fun books, American kitchen gadgets- that I would not part with if my life depended on it- and few other odds and ends.
Well, long story short, I don’t remember a time when I’ve ever been on such a short fuse. I was almost, maybe, kinda starting fights with those annoying men viewing me as the ATM and wanting to ‘help’ for a price. Not my proudest moment.
The second day’s bus arrived at my stand 2 hours late and then had engine issues all along the way…making it well after midnight by the time I arrived in Mwanza. BUT, finally, light was shining from the end of the tunnel! Two nice, polite TZ men from the company I would be working with picked me up from the stand. And since it was so late, they’d decided to take me to a hotel instead of my new, empty home!
Ah, the hotel. It was not just any hotel. This place was upscale NICE even by American standards! And it made me realize I can no longer function in the NICE world. Within minutes I screwed up all the settings of the flat screen tv remote. Having not eaten supper, I was starving and ordered room service. After the best hot shower EVER, I heard a noise…and kept hearing a noise…I couldn’t figure out what it was but eventually it stopped. A bit later, I realized my room has a doorbell and that had been my food! It was gone forever. But didn’t care too much as I was practically already asleep on the most comfortable pillows EVER.
The next morning- after another hot shower- I head to find the complementary breakfast. Usually in TZ, this means bread, fake butter, tea and maybe an egg and/or fruit. So when I came across a dining room with TWO buffet lines full of different dishes, I couldn’t believe THIS was the free breakfast! I asked a few different people and still sat expecting to be thrown out. Perhaps the most mshamba (redneck) moment was going through the hot buffet line, I got a boiled egg- a common staple around the village. Then a few steps farther, I realized it wasn’t a boiled egg…it was raw for the omelet station! A bit embarrassing to put back but at least I realized before I cracked it!
Well, my new home was a quick reminder that I’m still a PCV. It is also a good example of what a Tanzanian values in a home compared to an American. In many countries similar to TZ, the word ‘privacy’ either doesn’t exist in their language or is looked upon negatively, like loneliness or forced isolation. Tanzanian households tend to include large numbers of people so someone is always around you. Or you are always out working and socializing, not in the home. On the contrary, American homes usually allow for privacy and space. It’s our time to rejuvenate and prepare for the next day.
Now granted I may need a weirdly large amount personal space and quite time by American standards, but this is especially important here when I need time away from being watched and studied by everyone around me. And- having grown up on a farm- I especially need to be able to relax outside. I loved my house in the village because I had this great brick enclosed courtyard with views of trees and mountains!
Anyway, taking all this into account, you can imagine why I personally was disappointed to find my new home was a two-room apartment with no kitchen or outdoor space and attached to a store in a busy neighborhood. But because of all this, I get the perks that Tanzanians view more important: security and added value. Because the store is run by the landlord’s wife, I get the benefit of continuous security by someone I trust. And because it is all connected, the utilities are included in the rent which is paid by a third-party. This is a huge bonus on a volunteer’s salary.
I can definitely see the benefits of my new home and have already enjoyed being in the vicinity of a really good fresh produce market. I’m also a 30min walk from my office and the downtown area which is great exercise and keeps me from dealing with public transportation. The company I work for bought me a great gas stove. With my home leave just a month away, I’m looking forward to shopping for organizers I can bring back to create my kitchen. Best of all, the landlord and his family are super nice and have given me the green light to paint. So I know with some sprucing up I can make it a nice home for the next year.