African Adventure – a day in Moshi-town

June 17, 2010

Africa

It was 6 a.m. on day 3, and it was hard to believe that I was wide awake. I’m not much of a morning person – which is probably the understatement of the century. 😉

I decided to take a shower, and thankfully, someone had turned on the hot water heater early enough that it wasn’t a cold one. In Tanzania, they have switches on the walls, just like light switches, for the water heaters (if you’re lucky enough to own one). It’s a great idea for energy conservation.

My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. She was dating a local, so she spent a lot of time off-site. I sauntered into the general area for breakfast and had juice, a boiled egg, some fruit, and porridge. Eventually, the other volunteers joined me, and we began a brief orientation. We hit the CCS bus to go into town for a mini-tour. “Here’s the bank.” “There’s a restaurant that won’t give you diarrhea for 5 days.” “Here’s a craft market with some local souvenirs. “ And so on…

As we drove towards the marketplace, we saw dozens of women with all sorts of things perched on their heads; never skipping a beat as they walked through the crowds. Now, how many of you can do this?!

When we drove by the main marketplace, I was mesmerized by all the bright colors. There were heaping carts of produce sitting next to piles of trash and mounds of used clothing for sale.

In Tanzania, the high cost of new manufactured clothing has no place in the marketplace. People either wear used clothing from abroad (yes, I actually saw someone with a “Dunder Mifflin” shirt on), or they have their clothes hand-made from local fabrics.

Africa is home to some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world. The colors are bold and vivid, and the patterns (think batik) are gorgeous. Rather than purchasing already-made clothing, Tanzanians often buy & sell fabrics, then have the local street tailors sew them into traditional skirts, dresses, and suits. In fact, certain streets in Moshi-town are completely lined with sewing machines; the tailors busy at work at their foot pedals. Since electricity is unreliable, sewing machines are manual. It reminds me of the ol’ Singer my grandma had in her house for years.

At the end of our city tour, we asked the driver to let us explore a few of the local area fabric stores. I knew before I came to Tanzania that the culture is conservative (women wear skirts 90% of the time and must always cover their shoulders and knees). Several of the female volunteers had already decided that we’d pick up some fabric and have clothes made.

Picture a group of 5 naïve, Caucasian women walking through a busy African marketplace. We immediately began to hear shouts of “Mzungu! Mzungu!” which literally translates to “White person! White person!” Little did I know that would become my second name over the next few weeks. *lol*

The Tanzanians are fascinated with Mzungus – partially because of our pale skin that is so different from their own, and partially because they believe Mzungus have unlimited wealth (which of course, is not the case!)

What does this mean for 5 women walking into a fabric store for the first time? We were about to get taken. *lol*

The store we entered tried to sell us a couple of yards of Batik fabric for 50,000 Tanzanian shillings (this equates to around $35 USD). We laughed. They dropped it to 25,000. We started leaving and someone from our group said – no more than 15k. Done. I bought two pieces. We learned later we should have paid no more than 10K, but it’s worth the investment in the local economy. Plus, it provided a great opportunity to practice our fledgling negotiating skills.

One of the only places you don’t negotiate in Tanzania is the small food supermarkets. We stopped at one on our way home. I found it funny how many British biscuits and chocolates were on-hand. It was Cadbury heaven. (I’m partial to the Cadbury Fruit & Nuts chocolate bars. How about you?)

The supermarket also sold Coke, Sprite & a local fav, Fanta, packaged in old-fashioned glass bottles. Some sodas came in cans shipped from Dubai with foreign characters on the side. We stocked up on snacks and biscuits and headed back to home-base.

Lunch was served and we had time to relax the rest of the day. I met my roommate and watched some wonderful videos of her volunteer placement at a local nursery school. These kids were so amazing that you just wanted to wrap them up and take them home with you. More on that later…

After dinner, I began to prepare for meeting our volunteer placements the next day. I was assigned to work with a women’s empowerment organization in the community called WEECE (the Women’s Education & Economic Centre). I wasn’t sure what capacity I’d be volunteering in since their vocational school was closed for the holidays. Volunteers at the school normally teach young women sewing, computer, & English skills. As I drifted off to sleep, though, I held onto the hope that I’d find a small way to make a difference…

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One Response to “African Adventure – a day in Moshi-town”

  1. Cathy Says:

    you will make a difference! 🙂

    Reply

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