the spices here are amazing!

If you only read my last post I must say that we actually are enjoying our stay with the family despite our initial clashes with the kukus. After we found our United States purchased, Taiwan made foam earplugs we had an entirely new outlook on the situation. Although, I had to fight moments (or hours) of feeling like we need to be doing more, getting a house ready, and learning more about this new place instead of just sitting around. The reality is that even though people here seem busy most of the day the pace of life is still much slower. It takes longer to cook, clean, even to go out. It is such a part of my culture and personality to be “doing things” constantly. It has also been a bit challenging to keep a busy almost 2-year old occupied and NOT breaking, pillaging, or otherwise looting the house where we are guests. I have been amazed at how many games you can play with some cups and washing basin. A slower pace is something I will have to adjust to over time. We have learned the hard way after hours spent trying to accomplish one simple task like getting milk or getting a cell phone that actually works you cannot let the little things get to you. Everything just takes longer and patience is a virtue I need more of, lots more.
We learned a ton just hanging out with the family, observing, cooking, washing clothes, and going out around town with them. Almost every day new extended family members or friends would come by. One day one of their older daughters who no longer lives at home stopped by with her twin 6 month old sons and I was loving holding those sweet babies!

Anni loves the twins too!!

I also have a new name: Mama Anni as most women are called Mama of their first born child. It took some time getting used to it but now I answer to Mama Anni right away. We also had a ton of laughs about our miscommunications and cultural differences. One of my favorite differences is the disagreement over the ideal temperature of beverages. Baba O (the father of the house) asked us why we would want to drink cold water. We laughed and tried to explain that when it is 90 degrees we crazy Americans prefer cold beverages. He just could not understand why on earth anyone would drink anything cold. He was absolutely appalled when we told him about iced tea as he explained that if he is served chai that is not scalding hot he sends it away. They all drink hot chai all day no matter how hot it is and they laugh at us with our need for cold water and soda.
Over the last week I spent most of my days with T (their youngest daughter in high school who speaks some English) and Mama F (the matriarch of the house who speaks no English). I think in one week I spent more hours in the “kitchen,” which is a small room separate from the house, than I spent in my own kitchen all last year. One morning I spent almost two hours just peeling like 10 entire bulbs of garlic with a knife that may have never been sharpened. Despite the fact that I normally do not desire to be cooking that long I did learn so much and was crazily writing down the Kiswahili words for the ingredients, the many spices, and tools. I also just enjoyed being with the women and sharing in their time together. Here is a brief list of my new skill set: how to get the bugs out of rice, how to start the fire burner, how to peel and chop just about every vegetable around, how to grind spices by hand, how to wash rock salt, how to make butter, how to make chapattis (flat bread) from scratch, and how to scrub dishes clean using just a coconut husk. Everything is labor intensive: No microwaves here folks. In addition I saw many things I do not think I will repeat in our home like using fish that had been sitting outside for 2 days in the stew for our dinner. It was actually harder for me to eat the days I cooked with the women as I knew just how much oil was in the food and just how long the meat had been sitting outside in the heat before serving it (about 8 hours one day). Don’t judge me, I am a boneless, skinless, want-to-deny-it-was-ever-alive prepackaged girl, in other words I have been a veg gal since arriving here. So far I only have gotten quasi- sick once from some questionable milk in my chai. Other than those minor but not so fun digestive issues (I will spare you the details) we have been fine. I am very thankful as I learned a ton about how to cook and prepare food here. One night as I was frying the chapattis T was asking me questions about American movies and other things when Mama asked her to tell me “when you cook, no more talking” because I was charring the chapattis (in my defense they tasted fine to me). I guess even cross culturally I talk too much. Once Mama discovered my affinity for spicy food she taught me to make homemade hot sauce or as they call it pili-pili. It is fabulous and I had it at lunch and dinner every day on anything and everything, it will definitely be a staple once we move into our place. Annikah got in on the cooking as well and she made the women laugh with her mad chapattis rolling skills (I have a video I will post later). She managed to keep away from the army of knives lying around and many open flames at toddler level and I surprised myself at how quickly I became less paranoid. She also learned how to sweep and loved moving dirt around for at least a half an hour each day. In my brief observations it is really the women who hold everything together here, they work so hard all day preparing food, washing, taking care of the home and children, cleaning and even the youngest girls are involved. Everything happened in the outdoor kitchen; they talk, give the babies a bath, cook, and just spend hours together each day. In one way I see that it creates solidarity and a sense of stability and closeness among the women and in another way I am tempted to stand up and burn my bra in protest. Maybe it is just because the spheres for what is acceptable for men and women are separate and clearly defined, more than I am used to, that a part of my cultural lens sees much of it as unfair. It will take a while for me to unpack these issues but for now I will head back to the sweaty kitchen and cook up some food for the man folk.

Each day we would get up around 6 or 7am (we of course we actually awoke to our kukus rafikis much earlier but would finally drag ourselves out of bed around 6) and usually I would go for a run before breakfast. One day I tried to run around 9am and did not even make it 20 minutes so I realized the necessity of running early in the morning. The heat is just unreal here and this is the coolest part of the year! It is about 85 degrees with 80-90% humidity every day. Running in a long skirt on sand is also quite a challenge but I am determined to work my way up to a full hour in the next few months. I have been running various routes around their house but my favorite is the beach. Many people, mostly men, run along the water and one morning just as I was thinking “I hate this long skirt sticking to my sweaty legs” I saw a woman run by in full head covering and long skirt and decided I have it pretty easy!
One morning as I was leaving to run Mama told me I must not wear the skirt I had on. I thought maybe it was because it was just a kanga wrap and because of my abundant height it does not go all the way to my ankles and may have been considered immodest. I changed into another kanga that was a bit longer and Mama-approved. I thought nothing of it until a few nights later when I was doing dishes with T after dinner and I asked her what the writing on my kanga meant (all the kangas have a Kswahili phrase on them). My kanga that I selected based solely on the pretty purple, white, and black print says “I know you, my enemy and I am boiling medicine for you.” Suddenly it was all making sense as to why Mama did not want my white butt running around the neighborhood inciting a major smack down, Oh vey for cultural opps!! At least T’s kanga said “my enemy should not talk about me.” We had a good laugh and now jokingly call each other enemy as we say good night, good morning, cook together, etc. She is such a sweet and beautiful young woman and she is so awesome with Annikah. Every day when she come home from school she yells through our window “mama Anni?” to see if we are here and gives Anni high fives at least 10 times a day. I told her when we get our place she will be invited for chai and she is very excited to stop by.
So back to the insanely hot weather….It is a blessing that there is a cool ocean breeze and at night the temperature goes down to at least 75 degrees (I know, break out the flannel). Most days we usually just sit around and wait to see what the family is up to. Some days this is cooking, going to the market, or school. We asked if we can accompany them places just to learn about the culture. Jason got to visit a local school and hospital. We also walked to the beach a few times and saw kids swimming and fisherman hauling in their boats. Most days something totally unexpected just seems to come up. The funniest example to us was one of the first days when we were just sitting around chillin’ with the kukus and Baba O came out and announced that Jason was to come with him to a wedding of a neighbor. Jason jumped at the chance and was gone only about an hour. I wanted details when he returned; he never even saw the bride who must have been in another house with only women. He did see the groom taking vows which Baba translated to mean “I will not beat my wife and if I divorce her I will do it quickly without taking anything from her.” Not exactly our idea of romantic fairy tale, eh?
Another day I accompanied Mama on one of her outings. I had no idea where or what we were doing when she called for me but I was happy to get out for a while. Turned out we were going to the market to look for fabric to make a dress and head covering for her. I followed her from dukani to dukani understanding only fragments of the conversations but I am pretty sure most of them involved phrases like “Mama, what is up with the white girl with you?” To which she laughed and responded in Kiswahili something about me wanting to learn about the culture. Most of my experiences have depended on my outlook and attitude at that moment. It can either be really frustrating to know people and talking about me when I cannot understand or it can be a chance to try out and perfect my few phrases and greetings. I must be honest in saying I have had both reactions in the past week. We have enjoyed staying with the family but are also eager to get out and begin real life here. Baba O said he will invite us back for one of meals after Ramadan and we also said we would invite them for chai soon, but we promised only HOT tea of course!In other news we have a house!! We found a house to rent and the funniest part is that it has four rooms and two bathrooms- bigger than our Chi-town digs (read here YOU must come visit!). We are renting it for year and have put down a deposit but we received some good advice to not pay the rest until the painting, lights, and windows are fixed. It is so crazy that we have a house, here in Tanzania! Our first house! I will post pictures soon.

the beach!!

making chapattis

Anni & the Mama of the house

Chapattis dough
no bugs in my rice!

Even the kukus ride the vespas!

Annikah loves Mandazi!!

*we have had an INSANE time getting access to the Internet, a five day epic journey so far that I will post about soon but for now I am using a friend’s computer. We hope to have better access soon. Thanx to everyone who has sent emails, we love you all & miss everyone!

  1. Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe how much you are learning. I couldn’t take the heat without a Nestea Plunge! Do you need me to send cooking utensils? We always would bring those as gifts when we went to Africa. Love to see Anni smiling so much!

  2. Anonymous says:

    So good to read about what has been going on with you while you are in the dark! I miss you a ton 🙂 You all look like you are doing well. I can’t wait to come try some of your chapatis!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Roxanne! You guys are so inspiring. I also can’t wait to try some of your chapatis and pili pili. And good luck running in the skirt. You helped me get my butt in gear and I’m running the Chicago marathon this year. I’m foregoing the skirt though.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great stories!Keep ’em up! Sorry the internet getting is so treacherous. Glad to see that Anni is helping with the womanly duties. She’ll make a proper African wife someday. 😉