Greetings from Africa
I have been trying to get my bearings here in Dar. And not having easy access to internet has been a bit of a hindrance. I’m not sure where to start. I’ve been here a week now and it feels … well it feels like a week. I definitely feel like I have a weeks worth of mosquito bites on my body. But hopefully that will change with my newly installed mosquito net.
So I got here with some knowledge of the location thanks to my friends Robyn and Wren who had spent some time in the country. I am living in the city of Dar es Salaam with my friend and co-worker Kat. It’s a large city on the coast of Tanzania (bordering the Indian Ocean). The city itself is very cool and full of history. There are about 2 million people living here. It has a huge expat population. So there are places you can go that are mostly white. We do not live in these places. We live in a very local neighborhood. We are the only white people that I have seen in our neighborhood. I like it a lot. Whenever we walk down the street people stare and say “Mzungu” or “Mambo” or “Hello Sister”. It’s funny. The streets around our neighborhood are full of commerce. There are fruit and vegetable stands everywhere. Also broken furniture stands. And used electronics. And tons of clothing. Even a few butcher shops with huge chunks of rotting meat hanging in the windows. Pretty much anything you could possibly want. Nothing is marked, so you have to barter a little. We have a little fruit/veggie stand at the corner of our street that we get food from a couple times a week. We have no fridge, so we have to use whatever we buy as soon as we get it. Otherwise, the fruitflies take over the entire kitchen where they party with the house flies and the mosquitoes…
The thing that strikes me here is the garbage. It’s really amazing how unaware we are of how much garbage we produce. But where I am living now, they do not have landfills. Whatever garbage you produce, they burn. I am really struggling with this for a few reasons. First, we have to drink bottled water. There really is no other choice. We could boil all our water, but we have no refrigerator. So we have this mass of plastic that is just going to get burned with the garbage. I suppose that if nothing else, it is good for me to be aware. Hopefully I will bring that understanding back to the US when I come home.
To get around we mostly take cabs and these little cars called Bajaj’s. Bajaj’s are like tiny little 3-wheeled jeep wranglers with insane drivers behind the wheel. I’m not really sure how safe they are. There is traffic everywhere and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of rules to driving. Basically, wherever you can shove your car or Bajaj in the mass of traffic, you do it. Even if it means turning into a bunch of oncoming traffic or driving on the sand on the side of the road or sidewalks (Only Bajaj’s do this). One night Kat and I were out to dinner with a bunch of people she knows (mostly Americans). When we went to go home, we just flagged down a Bajaj. Everybody was like “um, are you guys going to be ok in that?” Between the neighborhood we live in and the mode of transportation we choose, I’m pretty sure they all think we are insane.
I have met some good people. The people that Kat has introduced me to are mostly Americans and Europeans that have come here to either volunteer or start-up companies. The two people that I have spoken to the most are a guy named Jamie from a start-up called EGG-tech and this guy Mbwana who is a native Tanzanian that worked for Microsoft for a long time and is now moving to San Fran. Mbwana has been to Alaska a bunch of times and loves it there. I am pretty sure that I have met one of the only Tanzanians to ever go to Alaska. It was pretty funny sharing stories with him. Jamie’s company is doing something similar to what my company (dissigno) is doing. They are doing a battery subscription service to help the rural Tanzanians stop using kerosene. It’s an interesting business model and all the people involved are MIT and Harvard graduates. Nerd city…
Work is interesting so far. I was able to get out to one village that we are distributing lights in. The village was called Charambe and it is right outside Dar. It is very poor. It was like being in Haiti again though in that the children followed us everywhere and kept asking for their photos to be taken. They were pretty cute. The population was predominantly Muslim (which is actually the same throughout Dar). To get there, Kat and I took a bus – called a Dala Dala. The bus costs about $0.25 and is always overcrowded. There is so much traffic that you are almost always stopped. And it’s hot. But on the plus side, they play really good African music …. Really super loud. Which I suppose would get old fast if you were on the bus for more than the 1.5 hours that Kat and I were.
Besides that, I haven’t traveled much yet for work. But I will be starting next week. I am going to go to an area of the country called Kigoma and do some site assessments for solar installations there with the Rural Energy Authority (part of the ministry of energy). After that, I will travel to a village called Karagwe which is north by Lake Victoria. I am pretty excited to get out and see the country.
Besides being a big city with lots of buildings and malls and people, Dar is actually a beautiful coastal city. My second day here, Kat took me to this island called Bongoyo Island. It is about a mile long and absolutely incredible. We walked around all day and found some great crabs and starfish and even eels (in the tide pool where the restraint chucks their fish guts). It’s a really short boat ride from the peninsula so it’s a great day trip when you just want to chill out.
That’s about it. All in all, I really am happy to be here. I love the area and am really excited about the work we are doing. The people here are so nice. And I am learning a ton every day.