Greetings from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
I will resist the temptation to write long discourses on Swahili vocabulary and grammar -- been there, done in a blog I wrote when we lived here between 1998 and 2002. However, a quick lesson on how to greet someone may be in order as I update you on the news from our first two weeks back here with the kids.
The first word that you need to know is “habari" (hah-bar-ee), which translates roughly as "news". It is the first question someone will ask to inquire about what "news" you may have about themselves (Habari yako?), their children (Habari za watoto?), their cows, the place where they are from, their house,...pretty much anything.
Rule # 2:
If someone asks you “Habari….?”, the answer is usually "-zuri" or "good news". Habari yako? Nzuri. Habari za watoto? Wazuri? Habari za kazi? Nzuri. This is the case no matter how bad the actual situation may be. In fact, they may be sad, the children may be sick or the cow may even be dying or have already died, but they tend to answer the same regardless.
So with that brief introduction, here is our news from Tanzania.....
Habari za safari? / How is your trip?
Nzuri! After a short and unexpected visit with our friend, Stu, at the Istanbul airport, we arrived safely in Dar es.Salaam at 3 am, got our visas and luggage and caught a lift to a guesthouse.
Unfortunately, some microbe either followed me from Turkey (“But I didn’t eat the salmon mousse......"), or greeted me upon arrival here, which allowed me to reacquaint myself with the intimate details of Tanzanian plumbing during the next 36 hours. No one else got sick, at least.
Habari za hali ya hewa? / How is the weather?
Nzuri! Well, Nzuri kidogo (a little bit good). It's hot here. Africa hot. 30 C and 70% + humidity and pounding sun all day, making you feel smothered all the time. We quickly become lethargic and find ourselves slouching between pockets of air conditioning, huddling under ceiling fans and holding cold drinks to our foreheads to remember what not being picking hot feels like.
Of course, having lived here, we knew darn well it would be a hot time of the year to visit, but I’m surprised how we feel so incapacitated some days.
Habari za jiji? / How is the city?
When we lived here, we always joked that “Dar is a fine place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit here”. Although it was a city of 5 million +, there are not a lot of touristic sites to visit, and the things that we liked to do tended to be spread out all over the city. Of course, during our 12 year absence the city has only spread out and filled in further, and it has taken a while to find our bearings again.
The major change, however, has been the massive increase in traffic since 2002. The city’s infrastructure was always a bit creaky: potholes on main roads, secondary roads that needed a 4x4 to crawl down, huge pools of water fed by open sewers and leaking pipes when it rained….but now the traffic (“fulani”) has become a constant hassle and preoccupation as private cars, taxis, daladala (taxi buses), bajaji’s (motorcycle taxis or “tuk-tuks”), Chinese motorcycles, bicycles, handcarts and pedestrians all compete for road / sidewalk / alleyway space.
A trip across town that used to take us 30 minutes now can last over 3 hours, and our friends complain that the longest part of travelling to Kampala or Nairobi is the drive to the airport. The city government is building a rapid bus transit line through one of the major arteries in town, but of course the construction is contributing to further tie ups in the meantime (say, that sounds like Ottawa…..).
Habari za rafiki zenu? / How are your friends?
A key reason for coming to Tanzania, aside from showing the kids a few places that we used to haunt, was to see friends. And on that front, we’ve been quite successful. So far, we’ve met up with:
- our former colleague, Makuhi, his wife Kwezi and their kids;
- Jean, a Maryknoll Sister friend of ours who has done some amazing work during her 47 years in Tanzania; and
- our former World Renew Uganda colleagues, Jim and Josephine who now work with the Tanzania program.
We even connected with another vagabond family from Ottawa for a few days hanging out on a beach south of town.
Tomorrow, we are taking a bus down to Iringa, a regional city about 8 hours from here that I used to visit every month. There we will visit some other friends who worked with our partner organizations as well as two good friends from our church in Ottawa who now live there, and another family who is visiting from Geneva. So, our blessing of friends continues.
Habari za kazi? / How is the work?
When we decided that we were going to be in Tanzania, we’ve offered to do some volunteer coaching and training with World Renew and its partners. They were very receptive and they have lined up four short projects for us while we’re here.
We started the first one by visiting ACHAMA, a volunteer-run organization that works with former sex-workers and youth-at-risk in three neighbourhoods of Dar es Salaam. ACHAMA provides HIV/AIDS education and vocational training so that they can find alternative and safer livelihoods. Their committee members gave us a short overview of their work, and we met a few of the participants in a sewing class.
But now, things are slowing down for the Christmas and New Year's break, so we'll focus on preparing for a workshop with ACHAMA, a strategic planning exercise for the World Renew Tanzania program, and a field visit to Mwanza where we'll work with staff from another partner in January.
Habari za watoto? / How are the children?
When we were first just finding our way in Istanbul back in September, Zoe suggested that we really should have eased into travelling by visiting a Western European city first. “That way, it wouldn’t have been such a big change for us”, she sighed.
Oh my, I thought. Just wait until you get to Tanzania.
Of course, after a few weeks, we did learn our way around Turkey and the kids started to have firm opinions on the best Turkish food, mosques, beaches, football teams, etc.
This time, the kids largely have taken this transition in stride, albeit with some understandable complaints (see above). Between the heat, the traffic, the presence of security personnel everywhere, and the constant sensory overload of noise, bright light, colour, and people, diesel smoke, and dust....it is a hard place for anyone to get used to. Life here is really difficult for most people, and I wonder how much we can expect our kids (and us, frankly) to adjust to in a short time.
But after two weeks, already a few places are starting to look familiar, our Swahili has come back to as good as it ever was, and we’ve resigned ourselves that God made our bodies to sweat.
In the meantime, we’re doing our best to negotiate the challenges, find some fun-ner things to do when we can,, and point out the beauty all around us.
If you can see through the stench of the open sewer, there are flame trees and marvellous plants everywhere. If you can listen through the noise of traffic, you’ll hear lots of joking and laughing as people commiserate and just keep plugging on despite everything. If you can concentrate on the one part of your body where there is a slight breeze, you can remember what it feels like to be cool just long enough until you find the next ceiling fan or a cold soda to hold against your forehead.
Habari zetu? / How are we? -- Nzuri, tu.