You say “Mambo”, I say “Poa?”

Greetings from Dar es Salaam!

Operation “Spend as Little Time in DC as Humanly Possible this Summer” has proven to be a success. After kicking off the season with Team “I Love Lake” in Deep Creek over Memorial Day, I spent most of June celebrating significant life events with wonderful friends and family in Boston, Lake George, New Orleans, and New York. For the next three weeks, I’m hanging out in Tanzania for work. Upon my return, I head almost immediately to San Francisco to visit a friend, followed by kayaking with FD2 in Oregon, and a short hop up to Connecticut for a friend’s wedding. I’m hoping to squeeze in a fall sailing trip to Lake George and possible return to Tanzania, but changing the pace and leaving the sweltering swamp has been fantastic.

It has been four years since I last ventured across the pond for work, and it has been five years since I was last in Africa. I mostly blame graduate school and that unfortunate run-in with the smiley for the delay in overseas travel. Now that I have 2.5 years of grad school under my belt and have embraced a meat-free lifestyle, I’m hoping to keep up the traveling trend past summer.

The advantage of waiting five years to return to Africa is that I am in a completely different place–both mentally and professionally. Three weeks on my own in “real Africa” (I am repeatedly informed that my last work sojourn to Capetown was “fake Africa”) was not something I was ready to do at age 25, though I would never have admitted it at the time. Though, in retrospect, eating sheep brain, then attempting to visit a health clinic on my own in the middle of the night was a big hint that I had no idea what I was doing.

This go around, I am here to support the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT, the behemoth logistics and supply chain activity that JSI has managed for decades. The simple version: this project, together with SCMS, are responsible for procuring the family planning, malaria, and HIV products (health commodities) that are funded by the US Government. Our Tanzania office is home to an impressive group of movers and shakers, who are using mobile health and other forward-thinking strategies to strengthen the supply chains in Tanzania and the critical data about these commodities that passes from the government level all the way down to the community level. The Tanzania office has also made a commitment to knowledge management (KM), realizing that in order for this important work to continue, we have to make sure that people know about what we are doing! The impressive knowledge management advisor, who the team brought on in the past year, is headed out on maternity leave shortly, and I, along with another KM specialist, are tasked with filling her very big shoes.

While I am learning the ropes here in Tanzania, I am also trying to pick up a bit of Swahili . I received some coaching on my first day in the office, and have been trying my hand at it around the hotel today, during the national holiday, Eid. I am slowly getting the hang of it, though I am incredibly grateful that many of these initial greetings have standardized or expected responses (hence the title of this blog.) As I learn to navigate here, I am grateful to be able to be a bit of a parrot in my early attempts at speaking a new language. My goal is to have a few responses come more naturally by the time I leave.

The being alone a lot part is taking some getting used to, as is the fact that I’m not really able to (or comfortable) getting myself around on my own yet. I have been enjoying meals at the hotel, wandering around the grounds, and taking in the spectacular views of the Indian Ocean. When they said I would be staying on the ocean, they were not kidding. It is incredible. I’m hopeful in the days to come, I can convince some of my colleagues to help socialize me and show me parts of Tanzania that are less touristy.

For now, CHAKULA!! (Food).  I can definitely remember that one.