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.)