I would love just to write a quick post about one of my rafikis, Florida. My first day on the Pediatric Oncology Unit she greeted me with open arms. She is also a nurse at Muhimbili. She’s shared her lunch with me countless times at work
Ugali, fish, and cabbage
and she has taught me so many Swahili words. Labor Day weekend she invited me to her home. She lives in Kigamboni which you have to take a ferry from Dar to get there. She met me at Muhimbili where we took various buses to finally get to the ferry. It was so amazing to actually see how local people use transportation in Tanzania daily. She lives over an hour from the city but with traffic that can double even triple the commuting time. Public transportation costs about 600 Tanzanian shillings; however, if you were to use a taxi to take you to the island it could be around 25,000 Tanzanian shillings. I had been to Kigamboni before to go to Kipapayo beach in a taxi. But my experience was a lot different this time. I truly got to experience African culture.
When we were in the waiting area to get on the ferry there was honestly probably 700 people. Imagine being in a big enclosed room with no room to move because there isn’t any extra space to move. I had bodies up against me on all sides. I had never been so claustrophobic in my life. There was no AC (which is typical in Dar) but it just made me feel very anxious. Moreover, there were beggars just lying on the ground all around. It was very heartbreaking. A lot of them didn’t have limbs and couldn’t walk. With everyone crammed together you have to be very careful because you can very easily get things stolen. I had my backpack wrapped around the front of me and I was carrying my phone and money in my bra. Once the ferry arrived everyone pushed one another so they could get a good spot on the ferry and not have to stand. It looked like a stampede of ants dispersing everywhere. For such a little lady Florida sure can go fast. I’m like twice the size of her but she is so determined and fierce. Luckily we were able to get a seat on the ferry.
Once we arrived on land we went to the local market and got some onions, tomatoes, and rice. She had already gotten fresh fish before we met up. She wanted us to have lunch before we went to the beach since it’s cheaper to make food at home compared to buying it at the beach. When I asked her how much it was at the beach she said 10,000. Which is about $5 US dollars for food. From the market we had to take another bus to her village. That was about 30 minutes. It was a pleasant walk from her bus stop to her home and all of her neighbors were so kind and friendly.
It’s always so different when people see you here. You literally feel like either you’re a celebrity or you look really funny. Everyone just stares. The children who are brave will come up to you while others may cry because they’ve never seen a mzungu before. Florida had a very comfortable place to live in. Her home was made out of concrete compared to her neighbors who had homes made out of dirt. She didn’t have any electricity or running water. She has two sons, one is 15 and the other is 9, and when they’re back in town from boarding school they stay at her parents. They don’t like staying at her home because they can’t play their video games there since there’s no electricity and they don’t like how dark it gets at night. However, she bought her home a few years ago and she’s saving up for electricity. She said it’s about a million dollars which is around $500 US dollars. She made food for me and it was so eye opening watching her make it. She had a little stove she used that was on the ground.
This was her stove and the big circular device on the ground was how she went about picking up the pan and taking it off the stove. The big blue container on the right is what she had her clean water in. It wasn’t clean to drink but she cooked and bathed with it.
You have to mix the rice in here and take out any dirt that does not belong
The fish that she cooked over the stove
We ate rice, fresh fish she got that day, tomatoes, and onions. I told her I would eat like a Tanzanian. They eat with their hands. It was very good! And she made it so fast so we could go to the beach. After we ate we got on another dala dala and then on a piky piky which means motorcycle. They’re a big type of transportation in Tanzania. I was TERRIFIED. I asked her if there was anything else we could use but she said no. I have seen SO many horrific accidents in the ED at Muhimbili that involved motorcycle accidents. I kept having flashbacks of all of those patients. I was in a dress too! So I put the helmet on, plopped my other leg on the opposite side, and grabbed onto the guy in front of me. Just burying my head against his back with tears filling my eyes. I was so scared because there aren’t speed limit laws. However, he didn’t go too fast. I told him to go pole pole which means slow but it’s still fast compared to America. The motorcycles took us to the beach!
We went to South Beach which is a public beach; meaning that I was the only white person there. I purposefully didn’t bring my bathing suit because it brings a lot of unwanted attention. I brought shorts to put on underneath my dress and I was just going to tie my dress with a knot at my hips and go in the water like that. However, Florida insisted I put her bathing suit on. I kept saying it was okay and I wanted to go like this but she insisted I just wear my bra. I had a lace bralette on underneath my dress. She just took the dress off and said go like that. In her mind it was completely normal! A lot of people at the beach will go in their bras rather than a proper bathing suit and the guys will wear their skin tight underwear.
I was m o r t i f i e d.
I put my hair down immediately and got in the water as fast as I could so I was covered. It was so funny to me how natural she thought it was and how I practicality felt indecent on the beach even though a bra is practically the same thing as a bathing suit. We swam and swam in the ocean and it was so much fun.
Florida doesn’t know how to swim and I promised her I would teach her. She was doing really well for being a beginner! I was really proud of her. In addition, I’ve finally learned what to say to the guys here! If you tell them hapana which means no, I have a boyfriend, they don’t care. However, if you tell them you have an mchumba (fiancé) or that you’re married they’ll say congratulations and typically leave you alone. So any guy that would come up I would say that. I just kept having to say it over and and over again and eventually they’d swim away. We stayed in the water until the sun went down and Florida asked if I was okay with spending the night with her. My initial gut feeling was that it would be safe and I just thought, when would you ever get to have an authentic experience like this again? So I agreed.
We ended up taking two more piky piky’s and we actually went to her parents home. I got to meet her two sisters and her nephews and nieces, her parents, her son, her grandmother, her mom’s sisters, and family friends. It was absolutely amazing. They welcomed me to dinner and made me a plate. It was rice with potatoes on top. It’s so nice to see how close families are here. Even if you’re not family here you’re still family. I can’t tell you the number of times people call me sister or dada (when means sister in Swahili). People will refer to boys as kakas (which means brother). Countless times at the hospital I’ve seen nurses and doctors call patients mama (mom) or baba (dad). Even on the dala dala people will get up to let an elderly person sit and will say, Mama, and help them to the seat. I asked why they do this and it’s because they have the same respect for one another like a sister, brother, mother, or father. It’s quite lovely and really makes you feel safe for some reason. Tanzanian people are truly loving.
After I got to bond with her family we then took a dala dala to her home which was 30 minutes away. I had never been out that late on a dala dala. It was almost 9 at night. We got dropped off near a market and she insisted on buying me panties and a tooth brush for the night. It was so thoughtful and sweet. After buying it we then took a piky piky to her home. It was pitch black in her home and almost 10 at night. We used our phones for flashlights. She said we need to take a shower since we had salt water on us so she warmed up a bucket of water for me on the stove. She didn’t have a shower but in the bathroom there was a toilet in the ground. I poured the water on myself over the toilet hole in the ground. She let me use a kanga to dry off with and let me use one of her pajamas top.
This experience was so funny and different. I literally slept beside this woman with her pajama top on and the panties she got me. She said a night time prayer in Swahili and prayed how Catholics do. Even though I couldn’t understand everything she was saying it truly touched me. After that she said how even though she didn’t have electricity we could use her phone as a radio. She turned on her little flip phone to the local radio station and put it between us. It was Swahili singing and there was some static. H
owever, she began snoring within 10 minutes and I just laid there w i d e awake. I kept thinking, I’m in the middle of a village right now sleeping next to a lady I’ve known for a week in Africa. Life is too funny. When would that ever happen in America? I was in and out of sleep all throughout the night. We got up at 5:30am on Labor Day so we could head to the hospital. When we brushed our teeth we brushed them outside on her front porch. She also just threw her trash and spoiled food out her front porch. It was a very different way of living and was very eye opening to see. We then took the local transportation to Muhimbili. SO many people use public transportation to commute. It was mind blowing to me! Hundreds of people waiting in line to get on the ferry. There weren’t even enough seats so, so many people just stood by the cars on the ground level.
Yesterday Florida and I went to Bongoyo! I promised her I would teach her how to swim more. It’s very sad how a lot of the native people in Dar have hardly been to the really nice places of Dar because it’s too expensive. I’ve been to Bongoyo once and it’s such a nice little island but she has never been and she’s lived here her whole life for 40 years! It costs 46,000 (almost $25) for me since I’m not a local and 26,000 ($15) for her. I told her it would be my treat for the day since she treated me last week! It was honestly so much fun! I couldn’t get in the water and swim because of my armpit but it was still very relaxing and fun. I loved just walking the shoreline listening to the seashells role down the sand as the waves came and went. While we were on the boat ride to get to the ferry we met a gentleman who was Portuguese. He was also 22 like me and was there working. He’s doing an internship for his masters program. He’s majoring in economics for undeveloped countries. Which is something that really intrigues me! He spent the whole day with us and it was honestly so much fun!
Honestly one of the best meals I have ever had. Florida ate the brain and eyes for me though, haha.
Such a communal meal. An American, Portugal, and Tanzanian all at one table who hardly know one another. Great conversation.
Mzuri sana Florida!
Him and Florida talked about football and he helped practice with her swimming since I couldn’t. We had a delicious lunch on the island. Florida taught me how the brain and eyes are one of the best parts of the fish. I trusted her opinion but couldn’t make myself try it. After the beach we got ice cream which was the perfect ending to my last full Saturday in Dar.
It’s just so amazing how God places so many amazing people in your life right when you need them. Florida made my experience in Oncology amazing and I am so blessed to be able to call her a friend. She’s such a strong and sweet woman.