Hello Friends and Family,

Hope you’re all in the pink of health, or a glowing brown, black, gold, or whatever colour most becomes your complexion!

Here’s the 4th issue of Dar Samachar – a bittersweet chronicle. So if you are looking for a fun read you could turn away right now!

I am writing this from my new apartment on India Street, City Centre, Dar es Salaam. CUSO and HakiElimu had to pay an entire year’s rent in advance to finalize the deal. Yes that’s how it works here.

Around me are buildings, buildings and more buildings, some under construction, quite a few with « character.» Many look like gracious, old buildings in certain parts of Bombay, and no wonder, coz they have been built by Indians or Indo-Tanzanians, as the Canadians would call them! I hear Gujarati all the time, a language that I understand well but cannot speak beyond a few words and sentences. I also hear Hindi at times, which is music to my ears, and Swahili has a pleasant sound too.

This is a swanky pad with large, glass windows, blue-tinted and meshed, and in two of the rooms one wall is practically all glass doors! I fell in love with the flat because it is so well lit and airy. The floors and doors are nice; the kitchen walls are tiled, as are the two washrooms. I am very lucky to have such a nice place.

My immediate neighbours are mostly devout Muslims – educated, well off and English speaking – the women are veiled in black or white when they go out, though their faces are exposed. They are wives/mothers/ daughters/mothers-in-law.

At first the askaris (doormen) and fundis (carpenters) who hang around the building which is new and hence some of the flats are still being finished, found me very curious with my western, and occasionally Indian clothes, and short hair (I have had a drastic cut!) and stared and gaped and one even leered, but now they are used to me. I have been loudly proclaiming my married status (!) and draping myself in the two chunnis (long Indian scarves) I have brought with me.

I used to walk with eyes downcast coz I got worked up about all the staring all over the place (public space here is male dominated and there are many un or under employed men hanging around plus most of the shopkeepers, etc are male) but have now regained my composure. I do answer their greetings, particularly if they call me dada (sister). Only the poor African men greet me, never well off African men, or any sort of women, nor the Indians, and definitely not the wazungus (whites). The women do smile at me sometimes and at times I strike up conversations with them in shops or restaurants.

I have never lived right in the commercial, hustling bustling heart of a city, with a ferry terminal a stone’s throw away and a clock tower that seems to hurry time! There are innumerable internet cafes nearby and many computer stores. Other shops sell hardware, lamps, electric and electronic goods, kitchenware, cell phones, travel services, furniture, clothes, groceries, everything really. There are also many restaurants selling mostly Indian or Indian influenced food. I get authentic dosas and other South Indian food at a « pure vegetarian » place and chaat (spicy snacks) and mithai (sweets) at another place and drink divine coconut water (my favourite drink along with watermelon juice) for 20 cents from roadside vendors and then scoop up the tender, melting, white flesh and eat it up greedily!

It’s interesting living in such an “urban” neighbourhood; it will be for two years anyhow, though I long for trees, water too. After all I have been living in lake-filled Canada, and river and canal crossed Ottawa! I am dealing with the absence of growing things right now by buying green plastic chairs and dustbins and have been eyeing some green fabric for curtains! I hope to get houseplants later. As for water, there is the sea. The stroll-able beaches are about half an hour away but well worth the daladala (local mini van) ride.

I can see two different mosques from the two balconies, which are active by day and night (yes siree!) and I also see a church tower from a window. There are muted bell peals on Sunday mornings. A frequent sound in the evenings is car alarms going off and right now I hear strains of Bollywood music.

The area where the ferry dock and church are is called Mchafukoge (you kind of bite down on the m in Kiswahili and pronounce the next alphabet more clearly.) About a 12 minute walk from here is Kisutu street with many Hindu temples. And a 10 minute walk from my office in a wealthy, Indian-Tanzanian dominated neighbourhood called Upanga, is a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple complete with small white stupas and colourful, fluttering prayer flags.

So mungu (God) is readily to be found here, and people are obviously religious, there are Kiswahili sermons on the radio (I was told) but despite that I felt I had descended into a kind of hell, when I first got here from Arusha, after my Swahili course!

The first problem was the landlord. He had coolly pocketed the one-year rent advance and given away the flat I had originally seen to someone else. There was another flat just opposite but it was completely bare, lacking a wall cupboard, kitchen sink and platform, etc, which we had paid for in the flat which was no longer ours! So began a cat and mouse game with the landlord, which I found very stressful, with him wanting me to move in at the earliest, and me and CUSO/Haki holding out for him to complete work on the flat.

Finally not on August 1, but August 11, the flat was ready, and the landlord even changed the front door lock at his expense! Haki helped me hire a truck and a few pieces of furniture from a former CUSO cooperant were loaded up in it while the Haki car had my luggage from my hotel and we embarked on the move. But India Street is one way (symbolic?) and neither the Haki driver, nor I, nor the truck driver knew the area well (I knew just one way to get here, the way which was illegal) and so we drove around in circles!

At one point I forced everyone to get out of the vehicles and look at a map, to no avail! Meanwhile the truck driver ran out of gas and refuelled and we finally managed to enter India street from the right side but there was no parking to be found!

The Haki driver paid a couple of car owners to repark their cars and the truck backed up into the vacated spots, climbing right onto the pavement. I went up to the flat and instructed the driver to stay down with the furniture. But now the truck driver and the men doing the moving declared a strike, as they had lost time, so the price of the move had to be renegotiated.

Finally the thing was done. Everyone went away smiling (I tipped the folks who had moved furniture) Obviously they found what to me was undesirable chaos quite normal! I however collapsed on the newly acquired sofa (I had skipped lunch) and it took me some time to get up again!

I was stressed for a week for so as the dealings with the landlord, my taking up the temporary Manager position at the Information Access Unit at HakiElimu, the move, trying to set up house, all came together. And there’s culture shock.

My bank card was endlessly delayed and I have no local credit card and no one deals in credit anyhow (!) My bank is not conveniently located and I have to go to this one place to get money out. There was a learning curve on other counts, for e.g. I had to learn about the luku system – where you buy your electricity in pre-paid units.

Again not a problem as such but I went to one place and then was sent to the head office where I was given a bill I could not understand, and so on and so forth! Also shops open here from 9-4.30 on weekdays or then 9-12 on Saturdays (Sundays they stay closed) and my work finishes at 4.30 (if I am lucky). Which meant I had only Saturday mornings to set up the place.

The staff at the Arusha office are very nice and try to help, but they have not systematized useful information in a handy reference manual, for example. They could put together lists of comparatively reliable house agents, good medical centres/doctors/ schools, explain things like this one-year rent advance and the luku system, instead they rely on the local NGO and cooperants who are already here, to deliver everything, which is impractical.

I was helped unstintingly by a cooperant (bless her soul!), who told me that they had had a very stressful time too, in the beginning. This was despite the fact that she is originally from Dar, her mother lives here, her husband is Kenyan, and both are fluent in Swahili.

My NGO too was helpful but there were still many gaps. What CUSO needs to do is negotiate at least one week off after the cooperant has found a house, so the person can go out and buy the basics, and settle down, before resuming work. I believe there will be a chance to give all this feedback to CUSO.

I have now been setting up house for 3-4 Saturday mornings and the flat feels almost like a miracle with its gas connection, kitchen equipment, clothes line built by a fundi (carpenter) who works in the building, who also made a shower rod for the washroom, a water filter which leaked initially and the tap broke (!) but which has since been replaced, a mosquito net which hangs from a hook in the ceiling installed by the same fundi, etc.

There is no Canadian Tire here (!) and everything has to be made from scratch and people want to work 9-5, on weekdays, but I have managed to persuade this man to work in the evenings and weekends and the same goes for the once a week maid. (Incidentally the fundi’s wife had a c-section and he disappeared for about 10 days!)

The first piece of toast, the first cup of tea, the first garlic I sliced here (fragrant as a rose!), the first candles I lit when the lights went out, the first time I slept under the mosquito net, which, given its flowing lines, renders the bed romantic (all it needs now is Marc-Antoine!) have been remarkable. As have been the first bottles of filtered water (I was buying water rather expensively before that) which caused me to gag on the made in Switzerland chemicals (!) the first white rice meal with the glutinous mess of grains as the stove from the CUSO cooperant does not simmer food when commanded to do so, have all brought the focus firmly to the basics of survival.

So intense was this focus that I could not, in those early days camping out on India street, imagine a life before, or a life after, so when a colleague asked me: do you miss Canada? I stared at her and almost said – pardon? Canada, huh?

I miss all my friends, of course, and dear Marc-Antoine, but I feel valued at my workplace and believe I can learn a lot and contribute, though of course there are challenges there as well.

The Minister of Education and Culture “attacked” HakiElimu recently, because we released a report that pointed out the shortcomings of the governments’ primary education development plan implementation. Ironically, the report is a compilation and analysis of reports put out by the government itself! The media has really blown up the Minister’s words and our answer, and that of a NGO network called FemAct, that we belong to. It has denounced the Minister as undemocratic. With an election looming, the party is probably quite displeased with him!

Among allies here I count Mary, my single mom housemaid, Abdallah, the fundi with magic fingers, my colleague Elisabeth, my Swahili teacher, Rose, who lives in Dar when she is not teaching in Arusha, the aforementioned CUSO couple, and other emerging acquaintances who will perhaps become friends. The people here are basically helpful and gentle.

I am ending with words of wisdom from Pema Chodron, a Shambhala Buddhist nun and teacher: “Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’re always in he middle of the universe and the circle is always around you. Everyone who’s walked up to you has entered that sacred space, and it’s not an accident. Whatever comes into the space is there to teach you…

“… you can manipulate your world until you are blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warm hearted companions on the path.”

Amen!