Monday, September 26, 2011


We are far removed from the "anything at anytime" availablility of goods in the developed world.  There is no such thing as 7-Eleven or WalMart, or even anything close.  Town is a 40 minute walk away.  There are little hole in the wall food shops, and I have only found a couple of restaurants I would venture to eat in.  Also, since the town water pump has been broken for a few weeks I am reluctant to go to even those, since the water shortage has probably left them washing food and hands a little less carefully. 

On the good side, we have a plethora of fresh vegetables at amazingly cheap prices, compared to what we are used to, even with the "mzungo premium" we sometimes pay.  There is a central market in town situated under old UN tents that is open daily.  There are also some open air shops where our dirt road meets the main road, about a 20 minute walk away.  The best prices are at the Saturday market, when all kinds of sellers bring their goods (fruits, vegetables, meat, used clothes, and kangas (the African material used for clothes and a lot of other things) and lay them out on blankets for display.  It covers a whole hillside.  Luckily this is only a 5 minute walk from us, so we can load up on a lot of things and not have to carry them far.  There is some bargaining involved but it is easier once you know the going price range.  We pay about 40 cents per kg of potatoes (about 1/2 pound), 12 cents for an avocado or cucumber, and 30 cents for a small pineapple.

Saturday market near Afriline
We eat meat rarely and only at restaurants, since we have no refrigerator.  Even there, you would not eat a lot since the goat and beef meat is very tough and takes a long time to chew.  The chickens here have so little meat on them it is almost not worth the trouble.  I pass a lot of goats on the way home from school, and they are extremely skinny.  The one time I went to Rwanda the animals looked a lot plumper, and the chicken I had in Kigali was like a dream.  The farmers occasionally bring live chickens to school to sell to the teachers and charge about $3 for them.  One of my teachers offered to come to my house and slaughter one for me, but I refused, since I would have no idea what to do with it and not sure I want to learn.  I am sure my diet is deficient in protein so I am trying to eat a few eggs every week.  They can be found in town for about 15 cents apiece and I try to eat them within a couple of days since they are not refrigerated.  I know corn and beans make a complete protein.  There are plenty of beans around, although they are a little hard on the digestion in any quantity,  but so far I have only seen maize flour, not the fresh stuff.  I am not sure when the season is, but I remember seeing dried corn stalks when we came here in July.  I did make vegetarian chili a couple of times and would have loved some cornbread to go with it, but haven't seen corn meal either, even if we had an oven to make it in.  Cooking is confined to our 2 burner electric hotplate, which we didn't get till we had been here about 6 weeks.  Before that we only had a small camp stove we had to use outside due to the fumes from the petroleum.  I much prefer the hotplate, though it is not of any use when the electricity goes out.  This was rare when we first got here, but lately it has happened several times a week.  It is nice to have some bread and peanut butter handy for those occasions.
Neighbor Elie from England checks her cell phone while making banana fries in our "kitchen."

The "supermarket" in town is like a mini Walmart compressed into a room about 20 by 40 feet. Food is on a few shelves and the rest of the room is taken up by sundries and hardware.  They do not sell fresh food here, just packaged things like juice, cookies, powdered milk, oil, mustard, coffee, and spices.  The owner is from Oman, so a lot of the imports are from Arab countries.  She also sells bread from the bakery in town for about 80 cents a small loaf, but it always tastes stale even when you buy it the same day it was made.  They apparently only make white bread here.  I bought some whole grain rolls at a restaurant in Mwanza, but that was the only time I have seen it.  I am pretty sure they don't fortify it with vitamins as they do in the USA, but it is filling.  Rice and white flour are available but expensive compared to other things, about $1 per kilogram.

The family that owns the supermarket also owns the best restaurant in town, Paradise.  She contracts with a local woman to supervise all the cooking, but approves all the recipes.  They do not have a menu but serve a buffet daily which usually consists of rice, fried bananas, beef stew, tomato sauce, and cabbage salad for about $2.  Sometimes they have chicken which is very well prepared but you feel like you are just chewing skin on bone, no meat.  The other restaurant we go to is mainly an outdoor bar, named Garden Pause.  They have little cabanas roofed with some kind of thatch where people mostly drink beer, but you can get rice and meat stew, brochettes, and chips mayai, a Tanzanian omelette made with french fries and eggs.  One problem is that the restaurants here only serve food after 1 p.m., a little late for me since breakfast is usually just a piece of plain bread and coffee.  I rarely would go there at night because I could not walk home in the dark.  No street lights here and a little scary, although there does not seem to be a big crime problem here.  There are picky pickys that go at night but I am a little leery of getting on a motorcycle at night with someone I don't know, although I have done it and not had a problem so far. 

The meals I make most often are usually a combination of vegetables.  Avocados are cheap so we make a lot of guacamole with onions and tomatoes.  I like salad with boiled potatoes, cucumber, onion, tomato, olive oil and vinegar.  Greens are not recommended by the Embassy because of bacteria but Breana makes a good cabbage salad.  She likes to cook and has made good banana curry, rice pilaf, and chappatis.  Ellie, our new English neighbor, came over and made spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and banana fries.  Another time I made sweet potato fries but still cringe at the amount of oil used.  For years I have not added salt to food, but I got a little freaked out after I passed out at school from dehydration, and have been pretty liberal with it since.  We are so used to a processed diet in the USA, which contains tons of salt.  My present diet consists of almost all fresh food.  Even the peanut butter is local and lightly processed.  The only canned things I buy are coffee and powdered milk.

Hoping to get to Kigali soon for some protein.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Bree gives Rob a haircut
LIfe goes on here at Afriline.  The town pump went out, so we were without water for five days then it went on for about an hour a day every few days.  A lot of times that hour happened when we were at school, so we were unable to get water.  Even when we kept the bucket under the tap and left it on, hoping to catch some when it went on intermittently, there was no water.  District officials met and there was no money in the budget for a new pump, but they figured something out and sent to the capital for a new pump at least a week ago.  Still waiting.  I did get an hour and a half of running water today and was able to wash sheets, clothes, clean the bathroom, etc.  During a previous good but brief water episode last week Breana mopped the floors (having a kitty without a litter box and no water is no fun) and I was able to take a shower and wash my hair, which I hadn't been able to do for several weeks.

Poa gets a de-fleaing shampoo
...and comfort after

Meanwhile, we have had graduation at Breana's school in Murguanza and a going away party for four teachers at my school who are either transferring to a new school or going back to university.  These celebrations always last at least four hours.  The students are very creative in providing entertainment, but seem to especially enjoy rapping, dancing, and singing.  They also did some entertaining skits, which were mostly in Swahili but I was able to get the gist of them from the acting.

Teachers and students rock out at going away party for teachers leaving

Yesterday was Saturday.  I went to the internet cafe to see if they had enough power to add to my blog but I could not even open my home page, so don't know when my blogs for this month will get posted.  Probably not till I get to Kigali on midterm break.  I also took one of the teachers who is leaving Monday to go back to school to lunch.  It was sprinkling on my way there but raining pretty good during the half hour walk back.  It kept raining most of the evening.  We are getting into the rainy season and I am a little worried about getting back and forth to school in the rain, since it is over an hour walk away.  All the vehicles seem to disappear when it rains.  Our power was out all day but finally came back on at about 6:30.  Breana went to Rob's and used his stove to make some peanut butter cookies.  He is leaving in about two weeks, and we will surely miss him, his stove, and his hot shower! (when there is water)

My flight home is scheduled for Tuesday, since they did not schedule far enough out when I bought my round trip ticket last spring.  American Airlines does not operate in Africa, and I was unable to reach their contact numbers in Egypt and Capetown, so I ended up having to call them in the USA on my cellphone.  I also called OAT to book a safari trip for December, since I am now unable to even bring up their website, my internet connection is so bad.  Their prices are actually competitive with the quotes I got from travel agents in Mwanza.  I know OAT will give me a good experience, where I was kind of doubtful about 2 nights camping by myself with a guide in Serengeti for $1500.  My last trip to the game parks was 35 years ago.  I have been in Africa for three months and the only "big game" I have seen is two monkeys on the roadside.  I feel my time in Africa will not be complete without seeing a lion and a giraffe in the wild.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Today was graduation for Form 4 at Ngara Secondary School, where I teach.  I don't quite understand how they graduate 3 weeks before they take the final examinations, but it was explained to me that they are celebrating being in school for four years.  Not all of them will pass the test, so at least they get to enjoy the party.

Some of the 150 Form 4 students waiting to graduate

Teachers waiting for the ceremony:  Academic headmaster, two swahili teachers, assistant headmaster, headmaster, and chairman of language department (my boss)

I got there about 8:30 a.m. and took a lot of pictures of the graduates, my teachers, preparation of the meal, etc.  About an hour in I was outside of the assembly hall talking to one of the science teachers, answering his questions about why one side of the heart is bigger than the other.  It was warm but not hot.  I started feeling a little nausea, then grayed vision, then the next thing I knew I was lying of the ground looking up at him.  I didn't think to ask him, but I think I was only unconscious for a few seconds.  He and a student helped me inside and I felt better after sitting down and drinking some water.  Classic symptoms of dehydration.  Rob keeps telling me not to try to conserve the water when it is out, and I think I will at least have to apply this to drinking water.

Meanwhile, the "show" was in progress.  Students had signed up to perform singing, rap, kickboxing demonstrations, acrobatics, dancing, and a fashion show.  Two of the teachers acted as MC's and kept things moving.  There were intermittent speeches from staff and guests.  Bree and I were both asked to speak to the graduates and gave them brief congratulations and best wishes.

I left around 1 p.m. because I was still feeling a bit woozy.  Bree left at 2:45 because the show was still going on and no sign of lunch in sight.  It has been scheduled for 1 so the students could take a break and come back for the disco from 4 to 7.

Swahili teacher Juliana cries as she peels onions for graduation dinner

Students peel and mash garlic


Students preparing plantains for frying

When Bree got home, I showed her how to do the malaria test, which I did to make sure there was nothing more serious going on with me.  It is kind of like a blood glucose test, and many "lay" people are squeamish about the needle stick.  My test was negative, which was a relief.  A lot of drinking water and napping, and hopefully I will be recovered tomorrow.