Building Houses with Hannah

I have nearly hit the week mark on my travels. I am used to traveling and spending a lot of quality time alone–I am an only child, and an only grandchild, after all! However with the Eid holiday falling this week, shortly after I arrived, I was really starting to crave some interaction with other humans! I am usually very content to have a meal alone and spend time alone, but I also find social interactions with complete strangers comes very naturally to me. I generally don’t mind going off to explore a new city on my own and enjoy the process of getting lost and stumbling on neighborhood gems.  However, here, I have felt a bit shy about approaching people, striking up a conversation, or asking to tag along to meals or social gatherings. Because I have been repeatedly cautioned about safety and wandering about alone, particularly as a woman, I am also very uneasy about trying to explore parts of the city that I have heard about on my own.

As such, I am tremendously grateful to my colleagues who have invited me to their homes or out with friends to socialize me a bit and to introduce me to parts of Dar es Salaam that break up the touristy experience of living in a hotel. My colleague, Irene, (whose role I am covering while she is away on maternity leave) has taken me under wing and included me in her lunch plans every day this week. My colleagues, Lea and Marasi, invited me to their home with their two-year old daughter, Hannah, for a delicious homemade lunch on Eid. (Hannah and I built a lego house together and talked about shopping and chips….hence the blog title.) And my colleague Huila invited me out last evening to what became a dinner for 20-30 people at a delicious Italian restaurant in Oyster Bay to celebrate his friend’s birthday. The birthday boy had just been married the week before, so I had an opportunity to meet many of the wedding guests who were in town from all over the world, and heard fantastic stories about the 1000-plus(!) person send-off. And I thought our weddings in the states were crazy…Needless to say, I am getting spoiled on delicious fish, vegetables, seafood curries, and other Indian-inspired meals while enjoying the company of my wonderful colleagues.

My colleagues are also doing a fantastic job of helping me learn a bit of Swahili, which I wrote a bit about in my last post. I have set a goal of learning a new word or phrase each day–preferably something that I have to use repeatedly, so I remember it. Languages have never been my strong suit. In the last few days, I have learned maji (water–an essential, since we have to drink everything from bottles); kahawa (coffee–the juice that jump starts my brain); & sili nyamba (I don’t eat meat–an essential for the vegetarian traveler). I’ve also learned how to add an –ie to the end of some common words: billie, juicie, & chipsie (the bill or tab, juice–pronounced joo-ee-cee–and chips or french fries as we call them in the States) to actually get someone to bring you those things.

– Relish, a coffeehouse meets yoga studio meets bookstore. Aka, my Tanzanian mecca.

It always amazes me the similarities I find among JSI people worldwide; I feel the same way frequently when I meet other Brunonians out in the world. There is a quality, a personality trait, I can’t quite put my finger on it–that I find in my fellow colleagues and former classmates. I am reminded how fortunate I am to have studied and work with such smart, passionate, fascinating, and driven people. JSI, for me, is a grown-up extension of my Brown experience, and as long as I have opportunities to travel like this, to get outside of my comfort zone, and see the work from new perspectives, I cannot see how I could ever leave this company.

When I am at the JSI Tanzania office, I know that I am among JSI colleagues; the people are simply wonderful. But the work style is so different. It has occurred to me on this trip that I could do my DC job entirely from my desk, and admittedly, I often do. Although the office itself is across the river from the district, the DC office culture does absorb a bit of the professional tendencies for which DC is often ridiculed. People frequently take their lunches at their desks, our “work” consists of a lot of time spent in front of a computer, and there is nearly always someone at the office well before and long after our official hours of operation. In Tanzania, to do your job effectively, you must talk to people. You must have your ear to the ground because someone is always returning from somewhere in the field with a new story to tell. Opportunities to go see the actual work happening are plentiful. And everyone stops for lunch every day, and leaves by 5pm most days and 1:30 on the dot on Fridays.  As I am rapidly trying to pick up Swahili, learn about the on-the-ground work of these projects, remember everyone’s names and responsibilities, I am also adjusting to a totally different work culture. It is a culture whereby people work to live, rather than living to work; everyone seems to take pride in what they do, but they also place tremendous value in their lives. It’s an impressive and refreshing change.

A view of CoCo Beach. (I have been a bit reluctant to take photos to show just how drastically different things are here than in the US, but I’m going to try to get better about that in the days to come. For now, my photos are reminders of familiar places and gorgeous scenery as I continue to get my bearings.)