Some more photos from a trip to city centre last Saturday:
Went to City Centre’s Uhuru Street today, where a concentration of textile and fabric wholesalers are located. It’s nothing like the wholesale markets in China, but I got a pretty good spread of fabrics anyway (but you guys know, when do I ever have a tough time buying things?). As always, City Centre fascinates me to no end. I love this picture because it could very well be three separate pictures, all on their own. This guy on the left is something else.
Tell me my fellow thirty-somethings, is it all babies and weddings and more weddings and more babies from here on out? Because that’s what it feels like.
I haven’t shared a recipe in awhile, and recently life’s been too busy to document things like Strawberry Hand Pies. But we can do things like Pesto. First, a short backstory:
A friend here in Dar had her baby a few months ago in the US. I met this sweet thing for the first time a few weeks ago, sitting in an air-conditioned office at the Embassy that I am pretty sure mirrored the polar vortex happening in New York right now. Here, in my frigid office, I met perhaps the most well-traveled eight week old on this planet. This child has been, since her birth in early December, From Austin to Costa Rica, to DC, through Amsterdam, to a new home here in Tanzania. Diploman joked that her parents must have used her ultrasound photo in her passport, but seriously, did they?
We must celebrate babies, just like we must celebrate weddings and birthdays (but not Valentines’ Day, I am pseudo-against Valentines’ Day). I wanted to celebrate my friend and the birth of her first child with a gift. All new parents, especially first time parents, are showered new things for baby so I knew it would take a bit of hunting for me to find a good gift in Tanzania to compare to all the cute Etsy-purchased gifts from home…
I also knew another thing: a return from the US was never easy, certainly not with an eight week old, certainly not after coming home to a house that may or may not have a working water pump and generator issues and gecko poop everywhere after months on maternity leave. I knew that at these times, food was more important than ever.
My mom was one of those ‘show them you love them with food’ type of women, something I will always appreciate. When friends were sick she would make soup, freeze lasagnas, and arrange bento box-style dinners in plastic tupperware–in militant fashion. I was touched beyond belief that years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my dear friends in New York arranged for two small loaves of lemon cake to be Fed Ex’d to my mother in California. THAT is a love, a thoughtful kind of love, that triumphs over all material gifts.
So one night, recalling my mother’s unspoken gift policy, recalling these two small loaves of lemon cake, I made a batch of pesto for my friend to accompany a jar of homemade tomato sauce already in the freezer. I gifted the two to her, in between fawning over her child, telling her it was for all those 3am wake-up calls when perhaps a late night dinner was needed to keep going. It wasn’t much, but it was a gift I was happier to give over cute baby onesies and boppy things. I sensed my pesto had found a loving home—most importantly, a home of three.
Quick Side Note: I had wanted to call this ‘eight week old pesto’ in honor of my friend’s baby, but after reading it over thought it might be interpreted differently. So homemade pesto it is!
Pesto is one of those things though, that because it’s so simple, the use of a few little tricks can elevate the already delicious sauce into something so savory and delicious. The first is the toasting of the pine nuts, a must-do in my book. Next is the crushing of the basil leaves, a quick clap of the leaves in between the palms to release extra oils. Whether this actually makes a difference, I don’t know, but I feel super profesh’. The third and final trick is a slow and long roasting of a garlic clove. I love roasted garlic’s caramelized sweetness, and find that adding roasted garlic in pesto compliments the sourness of the lemon and the salty punch of a parmesan absolutely wonderfully.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend for 2-3 minutes, or until thick and creamy. If you’d like the pesto a little more runny, add a Tablespoon or two of water.
Makes enough for one large batch of pesto, or freeze half for later use.
As the rainy season approaches, I am holding onto thoughts of endless summer days and bright blue skies. Something about this beachy little town of False Bay was just so idyllic on the day we visited back in January. Maybe it was the crystal blue sky, maybe it was the green waters, maybe it was the perfect little puffs of cloud in the air, maybe it was the dozens of beginner surfers out on the water.
Doesn’t this seem like the most easygoing place in the world?
Usually I drive everywhere, even to the grocery store that’s a 10 minute walk away. Until today, I hadn’t taken a bajaj since we first arrived into town almost 9 months ago.
The DiploMan told me today that all the Bajaj’s in town are the same age; they were imported into Dar about two years ago. Before then, absolutely no Bajaj’s existed. Does anyone know if this is indeed true?
I guess, when I think about it, they all look equally used but not terribly old. Even the junkier ones around here aren’t like the old ones we’ve seen in other parts of the world. It’s just that I’m having such a hard time imagining the city’s landscape without them.
My favorite part of learning any language (aside from that “aha!” moment when you figure out how a mess of words fit together into an actual sentence) is in the very beginning, where you don’t know yes from no or stop from go, but regardless you start by learning basic salutations and greetings. There are quite a few unique and funny ways that every culture uses to say ‘hello’, and Tanzania is no exception.
Some of these greetings are teachable. For example, you can drill a Chinese kid named God (true story) to greet his friends with “wussup”, so that he won’t stop saying the word no matter who he meets, but regardless at every utterance of “wussup” you will smile, God will smile, and everyone who hears will smile.
The physical greetings, though, those always throw me for a loop. Do I kiss once, or twice, or three times? Do I look you in the eye when I bow, or at your feet? Do I curtsey, or touch your feet, give you a high-five? Am I allowed to touch you, and if so, where? Am I exempt because I am so obviously a foreigner? Can someone just tell me what to do?!
Here in Tanzania, in addition to a very long roster of verbal greetings one must memorize, there are physical cues one must master when greeting a local. For example, the different forms of handshake that are always welcome, or more often, expected.
There’s the mutual-grabbing-of-the-wrists handshake, although I’ve only seen this a few times. More popular is the three-switch-up-handshake, where start with a soft cupping handshake with your fingers facing down, then switch quickly to a handshake facing up, and then switch facing back down, leading me to think of it as the “secret-clubhouse” handshake. Sometimes this handshake is done slow and leisurely, others more quickly where the second switch is barely even existent. Another common one is the handshake-sans-shake, but rather just two hands that meet in the middle and barely grasp each other, then remain as such for the first 10 seconds of a conversation bobbing up once or twice as if to say casually, “oh yeah, this is a handshake”.
Unlike America’s obsession with a firm handshake, the Tanzanian handshake is usually limp and noodle-y. I’m learning first hand–no pun intended–how to offer my hand, ever-so gently, to each familiar face I meet. I’m learning how not to grasp tightly, as I was conditioned in the States, but rather to barely bend my fingers around that of my counterpart. I’m learning how ten more seconds of holding hands with an almost-stranger is a sign of respect in this culture.
My favorite fruit guy at my market, John, smiles when he sees me. He stands up from a usual napping position to say, “Habari! Jessie, Karibu!” and stretches out his hand with a wide grin. After he takes my hand he doesn’t let go, he proceeds to ask what I want for the day. We continue a conversation–about mangoes, about avocados, about these weird new pears with rough skins that he got in recently–all while this kind man with a huge belly is holding my hand. At first it seemed like forever that this strange man was holding my hand, but I’ve since gotten used to it.
The guy who sells me chicken feed hollers at me, “Mama, Karibu!” from afar. It’s raining out, so he has some sort of old t-shirt or rag over his head which serves the dual purpose of keeping rain away from his eyes as well as provide padding when he hoists the 50kg bag of chicken feed onto his head to carry to my car. Before he grabs my bag of feed, though, he comes over to me and takes my hand. Mama, Habari? he asks. We exchange pleasantries, ‘Habari za kazi?’ How is work? ‘Habari za familia?’ How is your family? We’re still holding hands, slowly shaking up and down.
The guy at the fish market knows my car by now, and it seems like the other guys barely bother to get up as quickly as he does when I approach. ‘Hi, sista!’ He yells. ‘How are you’, he says in accented English, the melodic sing-song way that I’ve recognized the Swahili accent to be. He’s a young guy, who wears a red Arsenal jersey almost every single time I see him, and he initiates a three-switch-up-secret-style handshake.
I think back to my hometown in California, where while growing up I must have seen the same cashier at Safeway over and over, and over again some hundreds of times (and still do, when I visit my parents), yet there is nary a feign of recognition–on either of our parts. Here in Tanzania, these limp and barely-there handshakes, these weird wrist-grappling methods of saying hello, and these learned handshakes that make me think I’m in a special club–they do more than simply say “hi”, and they’re certainly a language all their own.