Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What do you mean I'm in Africa?

Sick all day and power out most of the day --- good time as any for this blog post that has been brewing in my mind since my trip last weekend.

Saturday morning, I went on the ferry to Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania composed of small islands and two large ones. I was at the port quite early, decided to stay on the sun deck to ward off nausea and amused myself watching people hurrying to board the boat with their various packages. Twenty minutes after we started moving, I looked around, surrounded by alien waters and it finally sank in. It's not the Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, or even the Celebes. It wasn't even the Andaman. I was in Africa!!! Crazy stupid how things like these, these realizations, come about. All the travel plans and immunizations I got, I'm surrounded by Africans everyday, have 50-90% Tanzanian students, I'm struggling to read and understand Swahili, and dealing with things I'm not used to --- yet it never really clicked until that minute how far I am from all I know. From my nearest and dearest.

I miss Vietnam. I really do. I keep being told (by my Vietnam friends, of course) that I should get my a** back there. And maybe I should. Could. It might make things easier and simpler. But you know what? I'm going on a wildlife safari next month, go back to Zanzibar and see more of it. I'm starting Swahili classes next month and I'm playing capoeira. At work, I've temporarily taken on the job of organizing and possibly ordering more resources, interested in other projects that BC does and looking into a post different from teaching. It's going to take time, but Tanzania will be my home for at least the next two years.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Things to Take to Africa

Before coming here, I did some research about things I needed to bring to Africa. Most of the lists I found were for the safari or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. They were helpful but thing is, I'm here to live and work for at least a year, not just to travel. So if you, dear reader, intend to visit or move to Tanzania, here's my list of things to bring OR consider bringing. Most of the things I've listed are available here but if you have space for them, just bring them with you because for a developing country, shopping for certain things in Tanzania can be pretty expensive.
  1. toiletries - You're like, "What? Don't they have toiletries there" Yes, of course, they do. People brush their teeth, shampoo their hair and use soap in Africa. I'm just saying, if you're particular about the brands of things you use, some of them might not be available here. Also, a lot of the things here are imported and the biggest tube of toothpaste that cost $1 in Vietnam and $2 in the Philippines, costs $4-5. While that doesn't sound like it'll break the bank, sunscreen, moisturizer and other similar products cost a pretty penny. A bottle of Coppertone can cost around $30. Tampons can also be hard to come by, so bring plenty if you haven't switched to menstrual cups yet.
  2. insect repellant - Again, yes, they're available here, but you might have more choices wherever you are, especially if you want one with natural ingredients.
  3. extra pairs of contact lens and contact lens solution - To date, contact lens are still very hard to find here or they're very expensive if you do find them, so if you intend to stay here for a while, bring enough to last you the rest of your stay. Of course, you can always ask other people to bring you some when they visit, but it would still be good to have extra pairs in case you lose one.  
  4. plug adapter + extension cord with outlet strip - Check if your current plugs match the ones here. Tanzania uses Type D and G, but most places just have the latter. If you're staying in a nice hotel, you might not have to worry because their power sockets accept most plugs. In any case, bring at least one plug adapter and a power strip with at least 3 sockets. I bought a power surge protector here, plugged in my adapter and outlet strip and I can charge my electronics which mostly have Type A plugs, only my netbook has a Type C plug. Oh yeah, it's 230V here so you may want to bring a power adaptor if you have electronics that run on 110V. 
  5. power surge protector - There are frequent power cuts throughout the year, sometimes three times in a day. You would want to protect your electronics with a quality surge protector. Paired with a power strip, you'll be all set. Yes, I said I bought one here, but I don't really trust its quality. I might have to get my friend (Yoohoo Richie) to bring me a better one from the UK.
  6. blanket/pillow case - I got this from someone, and I have to say it's quite nice to have a bit of home when you're settling in a new place. I probably could've brought more clothes or something else but while those are easy enough to buy, my blanket and pillow case from home helped my room have an instant homey feel.
  7. SIM ready phone - Do I really need to explain this?
  8. solar charger - With the power cuts, you might want one. What better way to make use of the year round sunny weather (if you're going to the south)?
  9. pocket/purse-sized flashlight and head lamp - Good for power cuts and also for walking around at night. Most of the time, the roads aren't paved and streets aren't well-lighted either. I have a mini rechargeable flashlight that I love to bits. While all of my purchases are great, this the one I've used the most often since I moved here.
  10. Steri-pen - This is something I've been itching to purchase. This can come very handy when travelling to rural areas where drinkable water is scarce. Of course, one can buy bottled water in cities, but I feel guilty with all the plastic bottles.
  11. a penknife or better yet, a Swiss Army knife
  12. e-reader - If you're a bookworm like me, you better have one because a couple of paperbacks won't last you very long. Books are available in the cities but again, they can be quite expensive and you won't be able to bring them with you when you leave. Here's the part where I thank my awesome sister and her fantabulous other half for getting me a Kindle as an early birthday present. Thanks!!!
  13. duct tape / sellotape / sticky tack --- You'll find a use for them. I "mended" the vanity table chair that's in my room with sticky tack.  
  14. at least one pair of sturdy and comfortable walking shoes/outdoor sandals and dress/work shoes --- Again, you can buy them here but bring what you can for the sake of choice, price and quality. Unless, of course, if you have tons of money (to buy shoes that break apart quickly or to pay for cabs to take you everywhere) or don't intend to walk around. Remember what I said about unpaved roads? People at work have been moaning and groaning about the need for shoes because the ones they have are falling apart and they can't find what they want/need here.
Of course, there are a lot of other things you should take with you if you're moving or travelling, but that would depend on your needs and personal preferences. Nevertheless, I hope this list will be of some help if you're coming my way any time soon.

Last piece of advice which would be good for travelling anywhere -- Expect everything to be different, and when they're not, the familiar will be a pleasant surprise that will make you feel at home.

Lunar New Year in Dar

A week ago, we went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant where we started talking about the lunar new year. My flatmate, Tiffany, says that dumplings are usually made together as a family. We ended up deciding to hold a dumpling party at our place.

Went for supplies late afternoon so I now know where the Chinese grocery store is. They had lots of food stuff but it was interesting to see the other items they sell. Amidst various personal care products, there was a box of basketballs, a ping pong set was sitting on a shelf with the calculators, my favorite and happy find of the day were the mantou or unfilled steamed buns. Tiffany said we can make some ourselves but in the meantime, I got myself a few buns to munch on.

Anyway, after the mini shopping trip, we went back to the house and started the dumpling preps. Sam (Tiffany's friend) commandeered the dough preparation while the rest of us took care of the fillings. An hour later, guests started arriving and Sam proceeded to showing us how to make dumplings. You can actually make dumplings look any way you like as long as you pinch the sides shut and make sure that there isn't any air left inside --- otherwise, when you cook it, it will explode and kill someone, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself --- geez! The ones I made were quite ugly but I definitely made sure to pinch the sides and close them firmly. My friend from work, Esté, came with her boyfriend and right away they urged me to start drinking. What is it with wine and cooking? Made me miss the weekend gatherings at the Reggae Mansion. Anyway, I digress, back to dumplings. We made a lot of dumplings, but we barely made a dent on the fillings. As I write, there are a few containers filled with vegetarian and meat fillings in our fridge, waiting for dough or they may be used for other dishes.

How to make dumplings by Tiffany and Sam
In the end, there was no way of telling which were the meat dumplings from the vegetarian ones so I ended up not eating them at all. With the amount of alcohol I was consuming (considering I haven't been really drinking since I left Vietnam in December) eating something meaty would've probably made me throw up the nachos and guacamole that I was munching on. I still think it was a success though. We quite enjoyed making the dumplings and I think 25-30 people showed up. Those who rarely eat Chinese food learned what dumplings were. There was a fair amount of alcohol and Marie from downstairs brought her hookah. As for me, I helped prepare food and managed to function socially in a party for about 5 hours before my antisocial tendencies kicked in and made me retire to my room and Skype the rest of the night away.

Happy Lunar New Year everyone. What will the Year of the Snake bring?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Here's to my first month in Africa. Yo!

Wednesdays have always been pretty significant in my life. I was born on a Wednesday, you see, and I think that's what started it. Or maybe that's why I always take note of events that happen on that day. This week, Wednesday February 6th marked my one month in Dar. It's strange to think I've been here a month. I keep getting asked how it's been and I always feel like I'm scrambling to put it into words, short enough that my listener doesn't get bored and long enough for me to communicate my thoughts. Thinking about it and trying to put it into words is hard, because to be honest (and I usually try to be), I don't really know what to say about my first month here. I feel that people expect too much --- that I'll either be raving about it or be going crazy and trying to leave as soon as I can. Best that I can say is that I'm settling in, getting my bearings and trying to find my rhythm. I don't hate it but I don't love it yet.

view from my balcony
I like my apartment. It's behind the US Embassy so it's easy to find, a good location because it's only about 15 minutes away from work but also near the peninsula where most events in the evening or weekends happen. The area is relatively safe and people who have lived here for a while have no complaints. Plus, the askari or security guards in my building are sweet. I'm  even learning bits of Swahili from them. The last and best reason of all is that I think I lucked out in finding my flatmates. I know it won't be perfect and there'll be bumps down the road, but they're a nice bunch and I'm positive that my Dar experience will be better because of them.

first BC Away Day name tag
Five weeks at work has passed by so quickly, we're almost halfway through the term. Next week I'm going to start with assessments and it's going to suck telling some of them that they're falling behind. My students are really awesome and even the weakest ones try so hard that I don't mind spending more time assisting them. Best of all, I love how they act towards each other, no more slapping each other around, and they hardly ever raise their voices --- it's actually hard to monitor speaking activities. :)
British Council Tanzania, relatively speaking, is a small company, so it was pretty nice to spend Away Day (company outing) with people from all departments. We spent the whole day at Kunduchi Beach. We had a lot of activities where they made sure we worked with people outside our departments. I really enjoyed having the time to get to know them a little and finding out interesting bits about what they do. I wouldn't mind getting involved in other projects and I'm going to make that my goal this month --- to see what I else I can do for BC, aside from teaching. I'm also looking at some professional development courses so my mind doesn't rot. Gotta give myself a good kick on the butt.

I think I've rambled on enough for today. I've got more exciting things to report next week and some odds and ends that I want to share about living in Africa. Time to shower and get ready for the dumpling party we're having in our apartment to celebrate Chinese New Year / Tet. Yum.

Later dudes and dudettes.
Kunduchi Beach