Saturday, January 18, 2014

The New Normal

I have been in Tanzania for almost 6 months now.  In fact, my birthday at the end of the month will mark exactly 6 months in Dodoma!  I have noticed that in this time, some things that I thought were strange are starting to feel normal.  Things I never thought I’d get used to seem pretty ordinary now.  Here are a few examples so that you know what I mean

My water filter is the tan cylinder in the corner, next to the sink. 

Boiling water:

The water in Dodoma isn’t safe to drink right out of the tap.  This means that all the water I drink (and I drink a lot, especially when it’s hot out) has to either be purchased or boiled.  After I boil my water, I filter it to remove any sediment.  I like to always have a pot of boiled water ready to go in my filter so I will never run out.  At first, this seemed like a hassle and I missed my treated water.  Now, I don’t think twice about it.  It seems strange that I will ever go back to the old way!

You can see my water heater on the wall above the shower.

Cold water:

Shortly after I moved into my house in Wyoming, the water heater broke on a Sunday afternoon.  I had to take my dishes over to the church to wash them and bring all my shower things with me so I could take a warm shower.  The water heater was replaced the next day, with a tank that allowed a hot shower to be taken at the same time dishes could be done with hot water.  That all seems so silly now!  The only hot water I can get in my house is in the bathroom, and I have to turn on my water heater about a half hour before I want it to start.  The only way to get hot water for dishes is to boil it myself.  You know what?  Life still goes on!

Paying in cash:

The only time I ever use my debit card is once a month, to take out enough cash out of the ATM for the month.  Almost nowhere in Dodoma accepts plastic.  Even major purchases are done in cash.  Remember my safari in October?  All paid for with a stack of paper money.


Lots of 0’s:

Tanzanian Shillings come in coins and notes.  There are 50, 100, and 200 shilling coins as well as 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 notes.  The exchange rate for US Dollars ($) to Tanzanian Shillings(-/) is about 1:1,610.  This means that when I bought a box of granola bars for 3,500 -/ it would have cost me about $2.17 back home.  Something that would cost about $37 at home would cost 60,000 -/ here.  I never thought I’d be a millionaire until I came to Tanzania! 


Mosquito net:

It will be so strange when I go home to not crawl under my mosquito net and tuck the sides in before I go to bed.  I can tell you that it is really nice to be under it and hear the mosquitos buzzing OUTSIDE it while I fall asleep!


I walk everywhere in town, except on market days.  It may take me a half an hour to get somewhere in town, but that’s totally not a problem.


Home before dark:

It is not safe to be out at night.  No, this isn’t because of wild animals as one friend asked me.  If I am out with friends and we are at a restaurant until after dark, we get a taxi home, even if it is just down the street.  We don’t leave the compound after dark unless we are in a car.  Here, it’s just common sense.  

No, that think in the corner by the window isn't a microwave...

Cooking in a tiny oven:

My oven is the size of my microwave at home, and I don’t have a microwave here.  On top of the oven are two burners, one of which barely keeps things warm.  I’m not complaining.  I have found ways of making single dish meals.  My favorite one is a pasta dish complete with sauce.  The oven space has just enough room for a loaf of bread, so if I make more than one, I have to be creative about staggering the baking and mixing.  It’s a fun sort of challenge!


Baking my own bread:

I like to bake, but at home baking my own bread seemed like a pointless adventure.  I have come to appreciate it in a whole new way.  First of all, I’ve discovered that it isn’t as hard and time consuming as I first thought.  Sure, it takes a couple of hours from beginning to bread, but there are maybe 20 minutes of actual work involved.  Homemade bread tastes better that anything I can buy, even at home and it’s a process I’ve come to enjoy.


No fast food:

This is something that took me a while to get over.  Sure at times I wish someone would deliver a pizza to my front door or I could stop for a beef and potato burrito after school, but when I have a couple of large dishes made each week, leftovers are just as easy.

This weevil was found and photographed by Jenny Beckwith, a friend of mine.

This dude was hanging out in my shower.

These are found ALL OVER the place!

He just came out of a little swim in the pool, and is probably about 3 inches from head to sting!

The flies, oh the flies!


I have come to realize that there are really no bugs in Wyoming.  I’m pretty sure I find a new kind every day, or at least every week.  Especially now that the rains have started, bugs are everywhere. 


Standing out because of my skin:

It’s a strange feeling to be both targeted and privileged because of the color of my skin and the country from which my passport was issued.   Because I’m white, it is assumed that I have money.  This means that in a culture where prices for most things are relative, I am occasionally quoted a much higher price.  Once in the market, a friend and fellow American wished to purchase a mango, which is in season.  The vendor told her one mango would cost 3,000 shillings (about $1.86.) We walked away without a mango and visited our fruit seller friends near the shops we usually visit on market days.  They sold her the mango for the fair price of 500 shillings (roughly 30 cents.)  On the other hand, there are stories of whites going into businesses and getting bumped to the front of a very long line to be helped next.  I have also been offered chairs in businesses ahead of Tanzanian women.    

Power outages:

While I haven’t had a major one in Dodoma for a while, power outages are a normal thing.  Most of the time when they happen during the day or in the morning, don’t even notice them.  I hear about them from friends. 


Dairy products on a shelf:

One of the strangest things I remember from my first couple of weeks in Dodoma was buying dairy products.  Milk is stored in sealed containers on the shelves in supermarkets.  It doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it is opened.  The margarine everyone buys is also stored on the shelf, even after it is opened.  Blue Band is the least expensive and I’m sure the most unnatural margarine I have ever come across.


I teach in skirts.  I wear skirts to church.  I wear skirts when I am out in town.  I only have a couple of pairs of pants, which are reserved for weekends.  This is completely opposite of life as it was before. 


No Walmart:

I actually miss Walmart often.  If I want to buy cereal and bananas, I have to go to at least two different places.  The same is true for plates and shampoo.  I can’t get a hot meal and a package of Band-Aids in the same place. 


Crazy traffic:

Not only does traffic drive on the wrong side of the road, there also appear to be no traffic laws, other than wearing your seat belt in the front of the car.  Lanes are often suggestions.  I have even been in a car that was directed by police to drive on a sidewalk that was not blocked to pedestrians in order to avoid road construction.  Headlights are either used at full blast at night, or not at all.  Motorcycles weave in and out of traffic.  The “right of way” is given to whoever takes it.  I am happy to be a passenger instead of a driver!



  1. This is so fascinating Heidi!!!! You sound like you're doing awesome.

  2. Thank you for referencing me in this blog, Heidi. I kind of feel famous now. ;) Seriously, it was pretty awesome to read how you're adjusting. I expect homemade bread regularly now. :) I was surprised that you miss Wal-Mart. I've always thought of you as one of us that wouldn't mind no Wal-Mart. It sounds like you're doing awesome, like I knew you would.

  3. Your experiences from mosquitoes and bugs, your water heater breaking down just days after you moved in, and a lot more seem to be quite an adventure for you. However, despite the problems you encountered, it’s great to see you enjoying your life in there and I hope it continues to be that way.

    Levi @