‘Oh, this is amazing!’ I said to my sister Jess as I took a sip of my chocolate milkshake with real Flake bits in it. In honour of her visit, we were visiting the new (only?) cafe in town, at the big fancy hotel. She turned to me and said, ‘There are some really sad things about your life here.’
I was confused. How could my chocolate milkshake be bad? But she was talking about the level of ecstasy it brought out in me. She saw that as indicative of the monotony of life in Tanzania, and particularly the limitations in food choices.
Yet at the same time, she told me how much she was enjoying what we were eating at home. The bread has no preservatives; the fruit is sweeter that you’d find in Australia; the veggies stronger in flavour; we know what’s in the yoghurt because I’ve made it with my own two hands. It’s like ‘clean eating’ by necessity. And this is one of the things I love about Tanzania. Breakfast for me is tropical fruit salad with homemade yoghurt, and homemade butter on toasted multi-grain bread that I’ve made myself. It’s the Brunswick dream! It’s also exhausting, making everything from scratch with limited resources. Jess enjoys it as a holiday, but, she confided, in two weeks’ time she’ll be going out for brunch again.
Take away or eating out are just not part of our life here. It’s partly expense but it’s also that eating out often doesn’t end up being that pleasurable. Even the stuff that’s pretending to be western, well, just isn’t. You ordered steak? Let me bring you a random cut of meat, pounded within an inch of its life and then cooked dry. You want attentive customer service? Let me stand on top of you so you can’t have a conversation with your dinner partner. We had actually gone to the cafe for cake, which they’d advertised. Black Forest cake, cheesecake, chocolate cake — these are unheard of luxuries in Dodoma. And, as it turns out, a mere pipe dream. From the six-page menu, only milkshakes were available. So we had milkshakes.
Something that seems so small in Australia is bliss here, a complete luxury. But likewise there are things about our life that are inaccessible in my sister’s life in Melbourne. So I try not to compare. I enjoy this moment, with its homemade foods and amazing milkshake, because I know I won’t be having them in the same way when I’m eating gourmet food in cheap Melbourne cafes or Dumpling King in Adelaide.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.