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In the Pearl of Africa

In the Pearl of Africa

Back to Kampala: to the hills, the trees, the rust-red earth and the steady flow of motorcycle taxis that keep this city moving. It’s good to be back, and reassuring to find the same sense of ease as two years ago. It’s urban Africa for beginners – unthreatening, unoppressive, walkable. Or #laidbackinthepearlofafrica, as one of the mobile providers puts in in their latest ad campaign.

Reassuring in a way, too, to be semi-prepared for the usual mild irritations: the Rihanna songs blaring from the building next door, the way too large ants in my kitchen, the reliably unreliable electrics and phone connections.

Some stuff has changed. Continue reading

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I for Inventive

WATER (1)The P3 class needed a bit more structure, so we started working on a photographic alphabet. This has had the advantage of the kids realising that what they see and try to capture isn’t necessarily what others see in the photo (I for ‘insect’ was a difficult one – bugs aren’t great at being visible; and ‘inside’ wasn’t so obvious either). Continue reading

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Eating weevils

Ant, Roach and Rat: meet Weevil, our new housemate. He’ll mostly be hanging out in the cereal and the bag of flour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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. Continue reading

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Insect Wars, stage three: Acceptance

I have new kinds of ants now, not just the tiny tiny black ones. But having gone through Anger and Denial, I’m coming to accept them as part of my family. I don’t even get that upset when they get into my tupperwares. I’ve decided that if people these days are eating insects for lunch, a few ant corpses won’t kill me.

The new phase of calm might have something to do with the Giant Cockroach I found hanging out in my bed the other evening, who has helpfully put the ant population into perspective. After somehow shooing him off the bed I managed to fatally wound him with insect repellent, and off he limped down the hall, while I took the instructions on the can (“spray in all directions”) to heart, to make sure none of his friends were lurking around. Then I spent the night wondering if cockroach-eggs would be hatching all over the apartment, and how long it would take for insect-killing fumes to suffocate a sleeping human. Continue reading

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The wrong shoes

It could have been much worse, of course – could have been my camera and not my pencil that I dropped in the sewage. Still, I felt pretty stupid for adding to the already existing mounds of waste that clog up every artery of this neighbourhood. And then even worse when one of the villagers showing me round ignored my pleas to abandon the pencil and instead slithered down the bank to fish it out from among the shit and plastic and stagnant, opaque water.

This is Tandale, a poor neighbourhood on the outer edges of Dar, where waste is not collected often enough, if at all; where housing is “unplanned”; and where the only clean water is that which is sold – for a high price – by private traders. Continue reading

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Insect Wars, contd.

I always lose in the battles against my ants, but I’m hoping the more I learn about them the better equipped I’ll be to beat them, one day.

Most recently I found swarms of the little bastards near the kitchen sink and finally realised what they were getting so excited about: an unopened packet of sugar I’d left out.  Salt, spices and teabags are of little interest, but a sniff of sweetness and they go into an ecstatic frenzy.  My fridge is getting a bit crammed now with pasta, bread, crackers etc., and I’ve actually developed a taste for chilled cereal – but having discovered these guys are so small they even get inside the fridge, I may have to move on to frozen cornflakes. Or an ice-cream diet. Continue reading

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Me versus the mini-ants

George, my landlord, finally brought the rat poison the other day, and with a wicked giggle hurled bits of it into the roof space while I held open the hatch and shut my eyes. While I wait for the rats to perish, however, wadudu wangu wamefurahi sana – my insects are very happy.

Since my apartment flooded last week – burst pipe in the muslim toilet-hose, damn those religions and their extra-hygienic bathroom habits – the tiny-ant population has spread to my bedroom. This puts them well in the lead in the endless battle of Me versus Ants. They were already doing well: finding them crawling in my muesli (Ants win); putting the whole thing in the freezer – ha! (I win); reluctantly deciding that a bowl of defrosted ant corpses is probably not worth the overpriced 8000 shillings I’d paid for my European cereal (they win). Now that I’m sharing my bed with them I’m trying the advice of a friend: baking soda as a protective barrier.  Supposedly it stops them coming in, though I’m hoping it doesn’t attract something else in the meantime – my bathroom cockroach might like a sniff. Continue reading

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Content/confused

“Watch out for the seven-month dip”, warned my Canadian colleague, a seasoned expat who’s lived in French Guiana and Malawi before coming to Tanzania a few years ago. It’s just enough time, he says, to have got over the shock of the new, but not long enough to have made real friends (though I disagree with that) or to have achieved enough at work to make you see the value of sticking around.

We’d been told something similar during training back in Europe: things go great for the first few weeks or months, until the novelty wears off – expect it to go something like this, they said: Continue reading

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Introductions

More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun. … Air travel tears us violently out of snow and cold and hurls us that very same day into the blaze of the tropics. Suddenly, still rubbing our eyes, we find ourselves in a humid inferno. We immediately start to sweat. If we’ve come from Europe in the wintertime, we discard overcoats, peel off our sweaters. It’s the first gesture of initiation we, the people of the North, perform upon arrival in Africa.

The opening passages of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s account of his travels around Africa keep stirring around my mind as I’m getting ready to leave behind the cold North. People keep saying I’m brave to be heading off on my own, far from family and friends. But my main concerns are a bit more physical than that: how is my winter-proof, pale body going to deal with the heat? How will my poor skin and respiratory system deal with all the mosquito repellent I’ll be spraying around in desperation? How much is my whiteness going to stand out? How am I ever going to adjust my usual speed-walking pace – that even European friends can’t keep up with – to a contented African amble?

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