Africa, Destinations

A day in Arusha

January 19, 2009 • By

Since you are all anxiously awaiting the coming of the Lord, I thought I could skip a day writing. I had a 2 hour meltdown at the computer and decided downloading photos in Africa is just not possible. I made it back from safari and the Ngorongoro crater. Tanzania is a beautiful country full of wildlife, scenery and the most sincere and down to earth people. I don’t quite understand their sense of time or their lack of get up and go but those who work earn way below their means and those who don’t live off the land and don’t know what they are missing. I’m struck by how Americans and Europeans think they can solve poverty here in Africa. For the most part, you can’t even identify where the people are living. The 120 tribes here in Tanzania are peaceful and most keep to one area (Mt Kili, Lake Victoria etc) but others move from place to place so it would be difficult to enforce education, health and wellness. They don’t have electricity. They don’t have water and they manage fine. Today, I ventured to the grocery store to refill my basics. No less than three minutes from leaving my hotel, I was accosted my a street seller. I informed him right away I would not be buying his junk and he responded quickly saying it was Sunday and very slow so he would just walk with me. (I guess suckers only come out Monday- Saturday). I’m still not moving fast or I would have left him in the dust but I decided to make light of the situation and have a chat with him. He thinks all tourists are rich and will want to buy his crappy paintings. The conversation we had follows: I can afford to buy that painting yes but I am not going to buy junk. You need a better product to sell… Something unique to Tanzania or interesting to Africa. I pointed out things I liked along the way. Also, I was stern telling him not to follow people because it instantly turns people angry (primarily me). In his poorly spoken English, I learned: he bought that crap artwork from someone else in order to try to sell at double the price. This is his only job. He has 2 children with some woman and 1 with his wife of a year. (Men have custody of the kids and are responsible for support). Originally from Dodoma (country capitol) his parents are still living there and he is expected to send money home like all Tanzanian sons. I tried figuring out how many years he attended school and I got many different dates for various things but I worked out he went to school until 1980 and he is my age (I saw country card). That means he likely has the education of a first grader. He understands there aren’t jobs but he didn’t quite get working or business. After asking a few questions about street selling, I found out the police give fines to those who try to lay out their merchandise. To own a “store front,” you must get permission from the government and pay cash for the space. Those people who sell fruit in the markets (farmed by tribes in key locations) make the most money. His wife doesn’t work because she cares for the children and most days he does not sell anything. At $5 a painting, he would probably be in good shape if he sold 2 a week. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of him on the streets of Arusha. It was a long 45 minutes but I got far more out of it than he did. He has a serious foot injury from when he was 10, which means any physical work is difficult for him. We compared our scars. It is also the reason he gave for just getting married. His wife who he met at church is considered old for marriage at the ripe age of 28. I don’t understand how defective he could have been if he fathered 2 children already. Men and women here concern themselves very much with the ability to produce children. Anyway, we arrived at the Shop Rite. I tipped him 5000 shilling or $4 and I told him to make sure his son went to school. I know it will never happen but what I did is what many aide organizations do too. I made myself feel better by giving him that money knowing his kid will never go to school. I hope he can at least feed the kids for the week. Back to my original mission….the grocery store. I had grand illusions that I would find baby and facial wipes to replenish my depleting American supply and I was in desperate need for nail polish remover. (It was a rough safari). The Shop Rite is massive. If I had to describe it, I guess I would say it’s like an abandoned warehouse. I mean there were several birds flying in the rafters. Stocked with fruits and vegetables and plenty of beverages -an entire aisle of wine- what I found is that it lacks food. The shelves are empty. It’s pretty hysterical. I walked down the convenience aisle and found canned beans, minced meats and tuna fish–nothing else. The cereal aisle had toys in it and the toiletry aisle had a few rolls of toilet paper and a whole lot of hardware and tools. I decided it was more about finding what I will never need rather than finding things that could supplement my American amenities. Then, I had an idea. Babies…..I darted over to the baby aisle which had shampoo and conditioner for African women and a few jars of vaseline and food for babies. Ok so much for that. I had to rethink my strategy and improvise. I bought baby shampoo, napkins (definitely can serve as kleenex), some revlon conditioner and nail polish remover and even nail polish. I was pretty psyched. Last on my list, I needed a needle and thread. I found the thread but there were needles of all different sizes and none that looked remotely familiar. I settled on a set of 4. To make matters worse, the Shop Rite closes at noon on Sunday and the guards were hot on my trail to finish. Good thing I’m eating out while in Arusha. Before signing off, I want you to know I’m not likely to be a domestic woman anytime soon. I took that needle and thread and tried for several hours to sew my hat and shirt and after a temper tantrum, threading and re-threading and many jabs that drew blood I gave up. I’ll happily donate my needle and thread and nail polish to my housekeeping ladies who incidentally gave me the kiss kiss welcome back.