The good, the bad, and the ugly list-making habit

In Mama Dar, a book of short stories about Dar es Salaam, one writer recalls her first few weeks here as being not positive, not negative – just experiencing a numbness as she tries to figure out how things work. Another friend who’s just arrived says the same: trying to answer the question of whether she likes it here or not just doesn’t work.

I had the same feeling – I still do. Living here is still just a mish-mash of the wonderful and intriguing, the infuriating and depressing. My answer ends up involving listing a few examples of the good and bad stuff. Maybe for wherever one lives, whatever one does, it’s like that. But being somewhere new, I guess, makes you a bit more receptive to the everyday experience. The unfamiliarity makes for deeper impressions.

So – now that I’ve accepted that I’m never going to break my list-making habit – here it is, in no particular order. Now stop asking us if we like it here.

Things that make me grumpy

  • Sweating in strange places
  • Insects in my food
  • Being asked the same questions
  • People not answering my question
  • Being too tall to fit in most beds
  • The same repetitive music
  • Rubbish and sewage on the streets
  • The same expat faces everywhere you go
  • Wondering if I shouldn’t have just eaten that
  • Worrying about malaria
  • Worrying about being robbed
  • Too many road accidents
  • Squat toilets in posh places (Ministry of Education!)
  • Fitting in nowhere and being anonymous nowhere


Things that make me happy

  • Travel through new territory
  • Brilliant colours
  • Genuine smiles
  • The children
  • Markets and their people
  • Fertile land, green plants, nature
  • The light!
  • Their creative business ideas
  • Conquering small fears
  • Hand-washing rituals before and after eating
  • Running on the beach
  • Endless inspiration
  • Brief periods of a perfect temperature
  • Learning amusing Kiswahili words (keepilefti = roundabout, etc.)
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