The First Quarter

A fourth of my year in Tanzania has passed. Three months. I never felt like a small-town girl til I lived in the big city. But Dar es Salaam is big in a small way. Goats clop along busy city streets, chickens ride the buses tucked under the arms of tired women, children roll tires with sticks along dirt paths. Dar es Salaam means “haven of peace” in Arabic. In all its chaos, this city has soothed my soul. Life happens in the open here. Business is conducted, tea and naps taken, songs sung, deals made, promises kept and broken, clothes dried, motorbikes fixed, and all manner of things sold and traded illuminated by the sun or splashed with rain, a city of doll-houses with open sides. Tanzania is a place of markets, vendors, and open-air stalls. Men walk between long lines of cars in stand-still traffic offering flowers, cell phone credit, water, fruit, school books, soccer balls, seemingly random assortments of household goods. At the daladala bus stops people peruse newspapers laid out on tables, crowd around sheets laid on the ground covered with used sneakers or pants as their sellers stand hawkish and shrewd, announcing prices in rhythmic song: “Shillingi elfu moja, moja-ay, moja-ay.”

Me, Alia and Ulugbek

For my first month in Tanzania I lived quite far from the city center in an area called Gonga la Mboto. Every morning I commuted more than two hours to work at the microfinance institution Tujijenge Tanzania, Ltd. near the Makumbusho Village Museum, and even farther on days I went to the University of Dar es Salaam for class. The house in Gonga la Mboto was inside a small compound with a dispensary and canteen. I stayed with Alia, Ulugbek, Victor and Geofrey. Alia and Ulugbek are master’s students from Lund University in Sweden, both spending their field semester here to do research for their program in Development Studies. They’d been in Dar for about two months when I arrived. Victor and Geofrey are Tanzanian friends of ours.

Junior, Glory, Victor and I with "Juma," my bike.

After a month, Alia and I moved into Geofrey’s family’s house much closer to town. The small house is in the shade of a tree with intricate roots that rest in a tangled web above the ground before disappearing below. Geofrey’s father, Christantus, keeps a large table where he cuts boards to make beds and cabinets in front of the house. A spigot leaks water onto the ground nearby, making a spitting sound when it’s turned on high. The family is large. There are Geofrey grandfather, parents, older sister Flora, little brothers Michael, Victor and Junior, and little sister Glory, as well as Bahati, the house “dada” (sister), Alia and myself.

For Thanksgiving I went to Lusaka, Zambia. I was in Dar for Christmas, and for New Year’s we went to Zanzibar.

Christmas in Dar es Salaam with friends
New Years group on Zanzibar

Since Christmas I’ve been staying in an apartment with Anand and Lydia, the two other Rotary Scholars in Dar, and Molly, a researcher from UCSF who is working with Muhumbili University. I’ll be here for another week before I move back to my homestay.

Here is my standard schedule:

On Mondays I work at Tujijenge from 8 am until 5 pm, then I got to the Rotary meetings of the Mzizima Rotary Club of Dar es Salaam from 5.30-7. Tuesday I have three 3-hour classes (Research Methodology, State and Civil Society in Tanzania, and Gender Issues in Development). Wednesday I have Development of Political Thought from 9-12, then I go to work at Tujijenge from 1-6 or so. Thursday I have Issues in Development from 9-12, then work again. Fridays I’m back at Tujijenge for a full day, and then go to the University of Dar es Salaam Rotaract club meeting.

These brief and superficial sketches serve only to outline what should be carefully drawn and shaded, crafted by a writer more skilled than myself. If I had the time I could spend hours conjuring words to describe my long commutes that first month, Alia’s inimitable smile, Ulugbek’s movies and our long talks as I recovered from malaria, the night we all went to a rooftop party in Kariakoo, how my little brothers make me laugh and Glory gives hugs with such small arms, and the morning I tried to make chapati with Maria, my host mom. I would write of the dozens of interviews I’ve done with Kiva clients and Rita, the sweet and soulful mama who is the Kiva coordinator at Tujijenge and my protector. I’d describe my classmates and teachers, the beautiful yet faded campus of the university where Nyerere’s students and citizens conceived of a nation of self-reliance and unity. I want to do all this, and yet these are books that will remain, for now, unwritten.

Lydia, Anand and I- Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars!

In these three months I have met people I hope will remain lifelong friends. I’ve come to think of this place as home. I will continue to write when I can, but when you don’t hear from me, know that I am in good hands.

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