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Miscellaneous learnings

Arthur and I have been working on a new project, launching soon, called Tanzania Snapshots. It’s a video library of us talking about some hot topics to do with Tanzania. It’s kind of scary for us because it feels like setting ourselves up as experts about Tanzania when we are far from it. On one hand, we know so much more about Tanzania than we knew 18 months ago; on the other, what we know is still so superficial and limited in context. The idea of the video library is to give you an opportunity to learn alongside us.

In the spirit of that, here are 5 miscellaneous things I’ve learned while we’ve been here that haven’t fitted into other blog posts!

Lesson 1: You have a ‘challenge’ not a ‘problem’

One of the first things we were taught in language learning was that unless something goes catastrophically wrong — we’re talking death in the family — in Tanzania, you never have ‘a problem’. Everything is hamna shida, ‘no problem’.

So how do you talk about the times when something goes wrong? Ah, well, that is a ‘challenge’. Didn’t raise enough money to pay for the plane ticket when you’re meant to be leaving in an hour? That’s not a problem, it’s a challenge to be met. It’s 5 minutes before your event is about to start and you don’t have a guest of honour (very culturally important)? “We can overcome this challenge!”

Lesson 2: A half-finished home is not a sign of poverty

All over the Dodoma landscape are the skeletons of houses. They’re generally cement and bricks, sometimes with only half a wall built, but you can see it’s going to be a house. These are not ruins but it often appears that nothing is happening on them. That’s because Tanzanians don’t generally buy houses, they build them. They also don’t generally get mortgages or save up all their money and then buy. They do things gradually, bit by bit. Bricks first, then window furnishings and doors, then maybe electricity or plumbing. Often they’ll go room by room to finish things. We went to one home with decorative cornices in the living room and the bathroom beautifully tiled, yet the other half of the house was dust-covered concrete with tarps for walls. This was the home of a middle class family who are on the way up. It’s a long-term project that they’re undertaking as they have the time and cash-flow.

Lesson 3: The first rule of home maintenance is sweeping

No matter what your home looks like or what state of repair it’s in, you must sweep around it. Every day. Most homes are surrounded by dust, but you’ll see it’s clear from thorns, stones and leaf litter. It’s not the house or the amount of junk in the yard that a Tanzanian looks at first: what they look for is a swept yard. If you have a gardener, this is one of their main jobs, along with watering things. (Forget about pruning and planting!) We are horribly uncontextualised in this regard as our yard is full of pods fallen from the flame trees above. We leave them for our goats to eat but even so I’m told we should sweep them into a pile!

Lesson 4: Your kitchen needs hot pots, not gadgets

My kitchen is set up for efficiency. If you’ve got a big event, you do all the food preparation first, and then you do the cooking in one hit so the food’s hot and ready on time. That works if things happen on time, but with Tanzanian time, they often don’t. You need a good system of keeping food hot for an indefinite period of time. So an essential in a Tanzanian kitchen is a set of hot pots. Actually, multiple ones. I wasn’t really sure what they were before I started living here, but they’re basically like reverse eskies that you serve food out of. You cook the food first then put it in a hot pot to keep warm. And they can be absolutely massive, like, enough rice to feed 50 people. Because most food is cooked on a stove (there are no ovens really) it doesn’t sweat and can keep pretty well in these. My blender, handmixer and fridge are not so much extravagences as indicative of a completely different system of cooking.

Lesson 5: It’s totally possible to resurrect shoes

At the second hand market in town, there are whole stalls dedicated to second hand shoes. Unlike at the Salvo’s or Savers in Australia where the shoe section is a bit gross, these look really nice. They gleam like new even if they’re a bit creased, and they have solid soles. Like most of the stock at the second-hand market, they’re the leftovers from op-shops in the west, but I think they’re often re-soled here. We have also taken our shoes to be repaired multiple times — glued, sewed, whatever. (We thought our birks would last longer than a year, but we underestimated how hard the Dodoma dust would be on them.) I feel like I saw shoe repair places in Australia (maybe with locksmiths?) but I never made use of them. I wouldn’t even know where to start. But here it’s a normal thing and costs less than $2 per shoe.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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