Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Road to Arusha, Part Deux

First, apologies for not updating the blog sooner. I’ve been incredibly busy in Africa, trying to settle in [which I think I am a lot more settled in, now, than I was before.]

Anyway, where we left off in the road to Arusha was Nairobi. Jana and I finally met in Nairobi, and we left the next morning to take a small bus to Arusha. I had braced for this bus trip, as many people had warned me that it 1) dusty, 2) bumpy, and 3) hot. However, it really wasn’t that bad, and I got to see a lot more of the natural beauty of Kenya and Tanzania. The trip was approximately six hour long, because Kenyan roads are horrible.

Here's a picture of the shuttle that we rode to Nairobi.  Not too bad, actually.

Along the way, I saw Masai villages and many Masai people, who are the indigenous people of Tanzania and Kenya. I think their culture is incredibly interesting, and I’ve enjoyed meeting many Masai villagers in Arusha. I love how other Tanzanians/Kenyans interact with the Masai; it is not strange but very common to see Masai in their native garb walking down the street in Arusha. In America, we expect people of other ethnicities to assimilate into the “American culture”, and lose their own cultural identity, which I am starting to believe is terrible. You would never see a Native American walking down the streets of Miami in native garb; or if they did, I think people would privately ridicule them. Tanzanians are a lot of things, but they seem to be much more culturally accepting than Americans.

Here's a picture of some Masai and others along the road.

Masai Spears - Don't leave home without one.

Kenyan/Tanzanian Border

Hills/Small Mountains along the Way

A small mountain in the distance, and a Masai along the road.

The picture on my laptop background

Finally, we made it to Arusha, where Jana and I then finally went to the ICTR, where we met Suzanne, who helped me get the ICTR internship in the first place. Suzanne then took us to her home, where we crashed for about the first four days of our trip. Suzanne’s house was wonderful, and we stayed in the guest house. Suzanne lives near downtown Arusha along with her adopted son, Amari, who is Masai.

Furthermore, the food at Suzanne’s house was amazing; and I’ve never eaten better since being in Africa. My favorite was Damaria’s [Suzanne’s cook’s] Carrot-Ginger Soup, and also by her pea soup. Furthermore, for the first time in my life, I have started drinking her coffee occasionally, as fresh Tanzanian coffee is actually quite good.

Jana and my guest house at Suzanne's place

Suzanne's Home

While we are on the subject of house assistants, it is a way of life for people to have house help in Africa. Most UN lawyers have a cook, someone to clean clothes/house, as well an escari [the Masai guard who is the house’s security]. For our apartment where I live now, we have a house assistant [Miriam] who cleans the apartment and washes all of our clothes, twice a week for 60,000 Tanzanian’s shillings a month [approximately $40 US per month]. Additionally, our apartment complex has three escari at anytime.

While on the subject of apartments, I selected a three-bedroom apartment located on Fire Road for $650 U.S. dollars per month. I saw many apartments/houses [some of which I refer to as “death houses”, because these houses seemed to be in far away/dangerous to access], but my apartment is by far the safest, closest to the ICTR and downtown. I have three roommates: Angela from Columbia Law, Anit from Harvard Law, and Heather from Vanderbilt Law. I sleep on the couch [with a much cheaper rent!]/ share the master bedroom with Anit. While I sometimes feel inferior to these students from higher-ranked law schools, I definitely make sure to represent the “U” as much as possible to their chagrin.

In Arusha, there really aren’t addresses to apartments, so my apartment is specifically called Yellow House on Fire Road. If you want to mail someone in Arusha, they need to have a P.O. box.

In terms of the monetary conversion rate, 1400-1500 Tanzanian shillings [tsh] equals one dollar. This makes things incredibly cheap in Tanzanian. For example, a very NICE meal out will cost you approximately 5,000tsh – 10,000tsh [the most I’ve paid for a meal], which is $3.50 - $7 U.S dollars. Furthermore, we Yellow Housers, take cabs frequently, which cost anywhere from 1,000 – 5,000tsh depending on distance. If you want to take a Dalla Dalla here, which are these fast little bus-like vans, they cost 300 tsh, which is literally pennies. I got a haircut for 6000 tsh, which I think $4 should be the American cost for buzz cuts.

If there was one phrase you could only learn in Tanzania, I would advise that you learn “Hapana asante” which means “no thank you”. In downtown Arusha, there are several street vendors who run up to you, Mzungu [which literally means “one who is lost” – somewhat a “white” slur] to sell you artwork, jewelry, bad safaris, Tanzanite, and on one occasion, someone tried to sell me a prostitute [I said no, Beth]. And I’m not talking about being harassed to buy stuff in back alleys, these street vendors come up to you in the center of town [Arusha clock tower], where you must go to buy groceries or get to work. In the first week, I tried to be polite to the vendors, but I learned that you cannot stop while they try to sell you something. The vendors are not dangerous, but they are trying to make a living and will sell money at Mzungu [expensive] prices to do it.

Other good phrases to know are “Jambo Mambo”, which means “Hello, how are you?”, as well as “Pole”, which means “sorry”. I found it funny that the Lion King basically ripped off a lot of Swahili phrases for the characters in the movie. “Rafiki” = “friend”, “Simba” = “Lion”, “Mufasa” = “father”, and “Hakuna matata” really does mean “no worries”. Thanks Mom and Dad for letting me watch this movie 1,000 times as a kid, my Swahili is much better. Haha. Now, if only the Little Mermaid could teach people how to swim.

In regards to safety, in Africa, you have to take your security very seriously. Arusha is no Nairobi [crazy], but people do get robbed in Arusha. One female intern at our program has already been robbed, and I hope this doesn’t sound sexist or racist, but white women in Africa are far more likely to be robbed than others.

Here are the safety precautions that I have taken: 1) I never travel alone – even in daylight. Basically, Anit, Angela, Heather, and I go everywhere together. 2) I’ve removed my ATM card / credit card from my wallet, and I have them locked up; and I only carry up to 40,000 – 50,000 tsh on me at anytime. Most of the time, people who do get robbed here are alone, and the robbers don’t necessarily want to kill you; they just want your money. So, basically I’ll just hand my wallet over if someone wants to rob me. 3) Finally, you have to be alert at all times, and learn where not to go to. There’s a bridge by Suzanne’s house where interns have notoriously been robbed, and we all avoid that area like the plague.

I don’t really want to talk too much about my work at the ICTR, because I prefer to lean on the side of confidentiality, but I think the internship is incredible. My bosses, Nus [British] and Sophie [French] are also wonderful people, and have been really easy to work for. I also have met and I really like the judges that I am working for.

So, what’s happening from here? I’ve decided that I’m going to take two major trips over the summer. My roommates and I are going to the Serengeti for four nights of camping through a reputable tour company approximately two weeks or so from now [we haven’t decided on the exact dates]. Then, on July 22nd, Anit, Brook, myself, and other interns are going to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro over six days through the Machame route, which is going to be very scenic. I will definitely have some great pictures from these trips.

By the way, I have a Tanzanian cell phone number. We haven’t been able to do this through Skype thus far, but if you figure out a way how to call me cheap, its +255 0685250333. Supposedly incoming calls are free to me, it just costs me money to call others. Everything is prepaid here.

Regardless, I hope everyone is doing well back in America. I do miss America, and I can’t wait to come back in August to DC, and then Miami. I’ll try to update more frequently as I have things to write.


  1. I find it interesting that one of the first words you learn in another language is "Sorry."

    William, don't forget my picture of you in the market place!

  2. Thanks for the update Willy Mount. Your 2 planned excursions actually sound awesome. Glad you're having fun and stay safe! -- Andrew "Bampa" Hodes