Thursday, September 3, 2009

Photo Edition: Home Life

This post is special because it features lots of photographs! Now that I've discovered a quick and easy way to upload them you guys can expect a lot more of them :~)

This is the front of my house.

Another view of my house. Can you see Sia preparing the evening meal inside the gate?

On the inside looking out.

The majority of compounds/houses in Tanzania are surrounded by gates or walls and lots of families (including mine) hire security guards. Our gate is puny compared to some of the ones I've seen here. Lots of them feature broken glass or spikes on top to discourage climbing over. The gates are there to ward off thieves but from what I've heard thieves usually stick to pick pocketing and mugging. I've never heard of a home invasion but I guess they figure better safe than sorry.

This is my front door. The flip flops are there because we don't wear shoes inside the house. Alot of the roads in Dar are still dirt which means shoes get pretty dusty and tend to bring home sand. So we usually take them off at the front door, slide into our slippers, and then carry the shoes inside to the shoe area.
Also, did you peep the bars over the windows? They are a popular feature of TZ architecture. Its another security feature and most windows are fitted with them. Even if you break the glass in the window you still can't get inside. When you're building your house you go to a fundi (artisan/ craftsman) and choose a style and size and have them custom made. (In TZ you buy a plot of land and build a house slowly by hiring specialist for each part. It's not very common to buy existing houses like in the U.S. True, you have to shell out the cost of the plot plus building the entire house, but in the long run you own the house flat out, there's no mortgage, you can pass the house down for generations, and its custom built to your specifications.)

This is Sia, our maid. She's also one of the best friends I've made here in Dar. We chat about everything from child brides, to our own weddings, to our biggest dreams for the future and our pet peeves. Sia just turned 20 last week so it's really fun to have someone my own age around the house to talk to. The only thing is Sia has a long list of chores she must get done everyday and she doesn't get any days off so we can't go to the movies or pal around the city like I would like to. Since I moved in in July I've only seen Sia leave the house once for a quick trip to the barbershop.

Sia and I learn a lot from each other. Since she doesn't speak English talking to her improves my Swahili. She always gives me helpful tidbits on TZ etiquette and social customs. I tell Sia all about America and city life. Sia left her village in the north (near the foot of Mt.Kilimanjaro) to work for our family in city only a few months ago. When a TZ villager meets an American city girl it makes for interesting convos like these:

Me: Do you have electricity in your village?
Sia: Of course. Its just a village. It didn't travel back in time.

Sia: You look like a man today.
Me: Why?
Sia. Because you're wearing a shirt and a belt. Why don't you wear a skirt?
Me: *laughter*
Sia: But you look very nice though. Attractive. Hurry you'll be late for work. (She pushes me out the door with a hug).

Me: Today I saw someone pulling goats out of the trunk of the bus!
Sia: And?
Me: I was surprised! Animals can ride the bus?
Sia: Of course. The man had to go somewhere so the goats had to go too! He can't leave them at home!

Sia: I don't like going to the beach because I'm scared of water.
Me: Why are you scared?
Sia: The ocean is just so big! Where did all that water come from?
Me: It's just...there.
Sia: Where does it end?
Me: If you find the end of an ocean you'll reach another continent.
Sia: (Eyes wide) Really? Oh my goodness!

Me: (whistling)
Sia: Don't whistle. It's for boys. If I didn't have brothers I could whistle but I have a lot so if my mom hears me whistling she hits me with a mwiko (a flat wooden utensil used for cooking. resembles a wooden spoon).

Sia prepares most of our meals from absolute scratch. It usually takes her about two hours to cook. Here, she is harvesting the meat of coconuts. Later she pour hot water over the shredded coconut and stir it together, squeezing the submerged shreds. Next, she pours the whole mixture through a strainer and discards the actual coconut. The remaining while liquid will be used to boil our rice.

Harvesting the coconut meat is a long and tiring process. First she slams the coconut on the ground to crack them open. Then using a special seat called mbuzi (which also means goat) she manually scraped the inside of the coconut halves until the shell is clean. It usually takes 2-3 coconuts to boil enough rice for dinner. If you look closely under her hip you can see the scraper that removes the meat from the coconut shell.

Here's a better shot of the mbuzi (without a person sitting on top). Sia sits on the decorated part with the scraper at her right. She places a bowl under the scraper to catch the fruit and goes to work. When she's done the seat folds up for easy storage.

Here's a glimpse of Sia working her magic. Here, she's using the modern gas stove, but we do have a traditional charcoal stove which she sometimes cooks with outside. She says the charcoal stove is better for cooking ugali.

So, that's a glimpse into life around my house! I'm really excited to be able to share pictures now and I'm open to suggestions so if there's anything you wanna see lemme know and I'll do my best to post pics of it!


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Making Progress

Here I am 72 days, 10 hours, and 38 minutes in and I'm finally getting settled in. I mean, REALLY settled in. Showing up at work every weekday morning has become a comfortable routine, I always remember to jiggle the toilet flush string, and I can tuck my mosquito net in under 30 seconds.

I used to spend my evenings alone in my room reading or playing computer games, but now I lean lazily on the kitchen counter chatting in Swahili with Sia (our maid) as she prepares the evening meal, or play games with my young "sister" and her friends.

I've reduced the nighttime awakenings to once per night, usually an hour before my alarm. Now that I'm sleeping through the 5 am muslim prayers and the roosters, I'm almost sleeping through the whole night.

The gekkos still scatter when I pull back the curtains but I'm cool with that as long as they make a beeline to hide behind the dresser. I've realized that we have a common goal-- avoiding each other.

I've learned to time my bathing with the on/off schedule of the water heater so that 9 times out of 10 my water is hot.

I'm no longer ashamed of my American accent and have begun speaking Swahili around the office even though all of my co-workers know English.

Of course, all of these are legitimate measurements of progress but my favorite is the change in my reaction to what i like to call TZ's "biodiversity". (This is an umbrella category including but not limited to the chickens/roosters/guinea fowl walking the streets, stray dogs, homeless cats that beg for food, monkeys that steal from clotheslines, mongooses that hang out at the trash dump, and bush babies that scream and chuckle in the night.)

Case Study: Flying Cockroaches
Just in case you weren't sure, you're looking at the underbelly of several dead, 3 in. long, FLYING cockroaches. Did I mention that these bad boys fly?

The first I time I saw one of these I screamed and then shivered as I watched it scurry under my bed never to be seen again. Later that night I lay awake in bed listening out for the sound of wings.

Flying Roaches: 1, Krista: 0

The second time I saw one, I stood on a chair with a shoe trying to kill it for 45 minutes before enlisting the help of the security guard who killed it in about 12.5 seconds.

Flying Roaches: 2, Krista: still 0

The third time I faced one I was called in as back up when the study abroad student in the bedroom next door spotted it chilling on her mosquito net. It took a team effort but we were able to knock it to the floor and squish it.

Flying Roaches: 2, Krista: 1

In the most recent incident, I was lying on my bed reading a book when I heard a strange buzzing sound. I looked up and saw a translucent, brownish flutter tracing circles on the ceiling. Fifteen seconds later it was keeled over on is back looking rather like the picture above, and I was standing over it holding the smoking flip flop. No assistance necessary.

Flying Roaches: 2, Krista: 2

If that's not progress I don't know what is!