Thursday, August 1, 2013

Flushed Away

It’s hard for me to decide what to write about in my first blog post in Tanzania.  I guess I should
start off with I MADE IT!!!  After several hours (I lost count of how many, but I do know that I had been awake for about 23 when I boarded the plane in Amsterdam) I landed in Dar es Salaam,
paid for my visa (it’s a good thing I got some extra money from the ATM in Minneapolis before I left the states because, apparently, a $50 bill from before the year 2000 is too old to work,) picked up my bags, and met Salim, the taxi driver who showed me the ATM to get Tanzanian Shillings and took me to an…interesting… hotel called Sharon House and helped me check in, check out in the
morning, buy my bus ticket, and find my seat.
I have only been in Dodoma for about 4 days, but have already experienced so much that several blog posts will likely be in order.  I will start, however, with the story of my journey. 
It’s funny the things you pick up on when you travel, and how your perspectives change along the way.  I was given an assignment by my friend Rachel Carter before I left.  Rachel is going to Panama and you can check out her blog by clicking on “YASC Blogs” at the top of this page.
You see, when we were at orientation in New York, Rachel and I would meet up at the bathroom.  It was TOTALLY unplanned every time, but it seemed like we would always see each other there.  It began to feel like we had some sort of special bathroom connection.  Since bathrooms seemed to be our thing, Rachel told me that I had to make a post about bathrooms, which I agreed would make a fantastic post. 
I set out on this bathroom mission with what began as playful innocence.  It was such a novel thing.  What it turned into however was a certain realization.  I began to see the differences in cultures apparent in how even the little things, like bathrooms. 

I began with the bathroom in the hotel room in Billings, Montana.  This is where I stayed with my dad the night before I flew out.  Here, I noticed what I have often seen in American hotel rooms.  There was a separate room for the bathtub and toilet, with the sink area outside the door, but divided from the rest of the room.  This set-up allows for more than one person to get ready at the same time, whether for the day or for bed, in privacy. 
The differences between this hotel bathroom and the one in
Sharon House are glaring.  In Sharon
House, there is no tub, only a shower floor. The shower head wasn’t even attached to the wall and there was no shower
curtain.  The entire room was the size of
a large shower stall, but held the shower area, toilet, and sink.  They provided shower shoes, though you could
see that they had been used several times before.  Even the package for the provided toothbrush
was opened on one end.  I wore my own
shoes whenever I was in the bathroom, as well as in the shower, to provide a
layer between me and the grimy floor. 

It would be easy to say that the US hotel was cleaner than the one in Tanzania, but it is important to remember that this was one hotel, and not one that normally caters to American tourists.  There was a much nicer hotel we passed on the way, but the cost of that room was considerably more.  I was able to stay in this hotel one night for roughly $15.  It was a room designed for one, so privacy was not a priority. The room as a whole was small, but still slightly half the size of most of the homes in Tanzania (certainly larger than the space I saw the man sleeping in across the street,) and cost more than half of what an average monthly income for Tanzanian households was in 2001. It put some things into perspective.


Billings, Montana

The bathrooms I encountered in the airports I visited were very similar to each other.  Each had 4-5 stalls and 2 sinks.  The colors were various shades of blue.  They were designed to allow several people to move through quickly.  The only difference in design that I saw was with the stalls in the bathroom in Amsterdam.  Clearly, privacy and security were a priority here.  The doors on each stall went from the floor to the ceiling, as did the walls.  The only way to tell if someone was inside was a small window in the door that turned from green to red when the door was locked. 
Minneapolis, Minnesota
The other design difference in Amsterdam was ingenious!  The doors on the stalls opened outward.  This made it SO much easier for me, my carry-on bag, and my backpack to enter the stall and close the door.  This is a design element that airports in the United States could learn from!
Amsterdam, Netherlands

The last pictures are from the bathroom in my new “house.”  I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

The biggest thing I learned from the different bathrooms is that really, bathrooms are a place people don't take much time thinking about.  Sure, they are important parts of our lives, but the designs are basically the same no matter where you go.  People do with them what they can, and as long as they function the way they are supposed to, why change what works?



1 comment:

  1. Love this! Thanks for sharing! It's the things we don't think about that sometimes matter the most. Love you!