Monday, October 5, 2009

Three month reflections

So, the little ticker in the right hand column has notified me that I am approx. 28% done with this adventure. I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this. I'm stuck somewhere between being glad that I'm that much closer to going home and feeling panicky about how much I still need to see and do in the approx. 72% I have left. I've made a lot friends, broadened my perspective, learned a lot about Tanzania, poverty and disadvantaged populations and life in general. I think I've grown more in the last three months than I ever thought possible. I figured out a lot of things that had been confusing me for a long time and thought of a lot more things that I need to figure out. I've replaced a lot of my old addictions with news ones and but still get pleasure out of a few of the old standbys. I've lost a little weight (okay, a lot of weight) and I've stopped cutting my hair, so the 'fro is on the grow. I'm definitely not the same person that I was when I left. I just turned in my 3 month report to the Princeton in Africa office last week so I thought I'd share a few excerpts:

1. How have you been spending your free time? What kinds of opportunities are available for socializing in your city/town?

There’s a lot to see and do in the city. You can sample Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Ethiopian and traditional Tanzanian food for fair prices at restaurants throughout the city. There’s also jet-skiing, surfing, snorkeling and fishing in the Indian Ocean. Some of the beaches even offer campsites in case you want to camp out. There are large markets where you can get everything from souvenirs, to fruits and vegetables, to cosmetics. Museums and cultural centers offer information on Tanzania’s history and 125+ ethnic groups. There are several gyms in the city and a yacht club downtown in addition to many bars and nightclubs. Cafes are popular and there are a handful of bookstores (although books are relatively expensive). There are also several Western malls and shopping centers and movie theaters and there’s even an Apple store. There are also tons of language courses and volunteer opportunities. Zanzibar is also about an hour-long flight or 2-3 hour ferry ride away.

1. What about your experience thus far has been the most…


The most pleasant aspect of this experience has been how easy it is to make friends. The local people are very friendly and most of them like foreigners. As long as you are vigilant it can be pretty fun to hang out with local people. It’s a good way to get to see more of the city than just the tourists haunts and you can learn a lot about local culture and share your own culture. I have several close friends that I met while here in Dar.


I’m finding myself worrying a lot more about my health. Dar is a pretty crowded city, with low standards of cleanliness and non-existent food and drug regulations. Stomach bugs are pretty easy to catch and tuberculosis, swine flu, malaria, and a number of other tropical diseases (including blindness induced by fly-bite and bugs that burrow under your skin) are present. I’m combating this by washing my hands a lot more often (including after taking public transport), taking Vitamin C, and being super vigilant about the places I eat and the quality of the food I consume.

Petty corruption is also pretty frustrating. Although I haven’t had any direct experience with it, it’s pretty bothersome to know that if I need to be treated at a public hospital or I lose my passport I will probably have to bribe someone to receive service. Also, because bribery is effective many people don’t follow traffic regulations, which results in a huge number of traffic accidents and makes most modes of travel (including walking) a lot more dangerous than in the U.S.

1. What are the Top 3 things you miss the most from the US?

The number one thing I miss about the U.S. is the stable, functional infrastructure- meaning good medical care, excellent roads, lack of corruption, social services, rules and regulations such as building codes, zoning laws, FDA, etc. These are things that I never though about or appreciated until I didn’t have them. A lot of Americans complain about these things and I agree that they could use improvement but you come to appreciate them when you live a country where many of these things are non-existent or very inefficient.

The second thing I miss about the U.S. is the general cleanliness. Again, this is another thing you can’t really appreciate until it’s not there.

As for number three I say it’s a tie between fast and reliable internet and all the foods that are unavailable here (including but not limited to cheese, Papa John’s, spaghetti, lasagna, and tacos.)

2. What are the Top 3 things about life in Africa that beat out the US?

1. I love that I can get natural, delicious, juicy fruits for extremely cheap prices as compared to the U.S. where a lot of fruits are imported, genetically engineered, or sprayed with pesticides and then sold for ridiculous prices.

2. I also like that it is so easy to support the local economy. In America you might buy something in the supermarket and then you have no idea what really happens to your money. If you shop in a market here you know that your money is going home to feed a farmer’s family.

3. The Indian Ocean!

Of course a few "best-of" questions snatched from the PiAf three month report can't really sum up everything I've thought, felt, and experienced in the last three months but for the sake of short, reader friendly posting it'll have to do. 'Til next time...

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