Home is where the home is

IMG_9898

As my time here in Dar winds down– two more months!— I find myself in a typical state of emotional schizophrenia. Each day goes by with me wavering between great anticipation for what is ahead, and some melancholy sadness for the things I’ll leave behind. Plus enormous piles of to-do-lists. Until ultimately I find myself just blocking out the idea of moving across continents altogether and instead spend my time philosophically musing about the entire concept of home. I’m telling you, this is typical.

So in the vein of procrastination, let’s talk about home here! What does home mean to you?

IMG_1842

Very early on–like, neanderthal early–humans were made to be on the move, right? Who knows if home even made sense then? We (in the neanderthal sense) moved to where food was, where weather was least severe, where water was plentiful. Home was a shelter that shielded us from the elements. Home depended on whether other things around us would kill us.

Later on, after we stopped walking on our knuckles and started walking upright, we built up villages and cities and barricaded ourselves behind city walls and castle moats. But still, our homes were only so permanent. We (in the mid-century peasant sense) found ourselves moving around–to where our enemies weren’t, where there was new land to farm, where the resources were abundant, where our families led us. Entire eras were defined by the movement of humans across sea and land to better and brighter opportunity. Home was easily transplanted, as long as new comforts were available, and freedom and land was offered.

These days, our homes are fairly immovable. For most people, home is one place.  One structure that is, literally, and appropriately, a house. And when we expand on this idea, I suppose we could say home is defined by our many personal comforts: It’s where we can afford to live, it is where our parents raised us, it is where our friends live, it is where we can make the most money, it is where the schools/restaurants/daycares/bakeries that benefit us exist. Home is where it’s the easiest for us, I think?

IMG_0455

But for expats, the idea of home is a bit more difficult, both to identify, and to establish, and to put into words. Which is why, when I came across this article late last week, I practically stood up from my chair with applause.

Beautifully written as well as shockingly accurate, the last two sentences are the most poetic:

No one is ever free from their social or physical environment. And whether or not we are always aware of it, a home is a home because it blurs the line between the self and the surroundings, and challenges the line we try to draw between who we are and where we are.

Any expat can tell you- we talk about home a lot, and not always in the singular form. We talk about where we were from- home. We talk about what we like about our current location- home. We talk about where we lived before this- our previous home. We talk about visiting our families- also, home.

IMG_9764

Like the article says, we end up making distinctions between these homes, but they are all home, nonetheless. We steadfastly recognize that home is different in the West than in the East, for a neanderthal and a millennial. We know that home here is just as much home there. We know that we can make, wherever we are, a home.

So in my last two months here in Dar, I’ll be making the most of this home…with great anticipation of setting off to a new home in Beijing.

In the meantime, more to-do lists…

Holi Trinity

I learned three very important things this weekend:

_MG_2291

1) Some of the most creative and fun-loving people I know live in Dar;

2) Good light is arguably all a photographer needs for a good photo. This Saturday’s extended sunset was perhaps the most beautiful in all the time I’ve been here; and

3) Being an adult is boring. Throwing water balloons and playing dodgeball is way more fun.

_MG_2542

_MG_2536

_MG_2527

_MG_2470

_MG_2583

_MG_2659

_MG_2746

Memory Lane: Cairo

Cairo city view

One member of my book club here in Dar (side note: I’m in a book club! Read Americanah, it’s so excellent.) recently moved to Cairo, and when I read that piece of news in my email this morning I was immediately transported back to my trip to Cairo last spring. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you- I went to Cairo last spring.

As part of our R&R (gov-mandated vacation in the middle of our tour), the Diploman and I traded in our full-fare ticket back to the US for a whirlwind four weeks that I call the ‘Trader’s Route Holiday': Dar to Ethiopia to Cairo to Istanbul to Budapest to Ukraine.

Cairo City View 2

abu simbel entrance

That architecture- amazing, isn’t it? But, I digress. I will share details about the trip some other time, and for now, I just want to talk about the fact that Cairo is an amazing city!

What I remember most about Cairo were: the people (who talked a mile a minute, and were so friendly); the history (pyramids! ancient civilizations! hieroglyphics!); and the energetic frenzy (Sim City-like sounds of a working, living city). This last part especially I clung onto far after I left: the clamoring, banging, bustling city, milling with people, animals, cars, horns, radios, construction. With Cairo, I found this vibrant and positively energetic pace of life very unexpected–which is the best way to find things, right?!

Anyway, this morning, when I saw the email that someone moved to Cairo, I smelled and heard and felt the vibrant frenzy of the city. That’s all. Does that ever happen to you? Where certain locations (or scenarios: sounds, songs, expressions, tastes, visuals) just prick the tip of your sensory factors?

me in cairo

Mama Chapati

IMG_9821

If you have ever traveled through India, you may be familiar with chapati: the doughy, tortilla-like flatbread staple, coated with a light film of oil and toast-fried on a flat skillet. Floury on the outside and tacky and doughy in the middle. The chapati is just one of many elements of South Asian cuisine that has become a staple in Tanzania. Here, it is enjoyed mostly at breakfast time, or as they say in Swahili, when they ‘drink their tea’, or kunywa chai, alongside a grilled plantain, fried egg, or hot dog sausage, and of course a cup of tea with plenty of milk and dollops of sugar (not a contender for the lightest, healthiest breakfast in the world).

IMG_9818

IMG_9819

Along with the oily, flour-y smell of the Chapati, those familiar with the staple usually recall the pat-pat-pat-pat-smack! sounds of the chapati maker, the sound of a tiny ball of unleavened dough thrown between well-greased palms. If purchased on the side of the road, where many of the chapati mamas set up, they are wrapped in old newspaper and thrown in a small plastic bag to go.

mama chapati collage

These photos were from a trip to Morogoro, a few hours’ drive west of Dar es Salaam. The region has this beautiful chain of mountains, and when my sister came to visit, I used her as an excuse to get out and explore the area. Morogoro has a ton of hiking trails, so we picked one suitable for a half-day hike. Midway up the mountain, just outside a small village, was the chapati mama pictured above, churning out chapatis for the residents dropping off children at the primary school down the road. They were tucked, piping hot, into a backpack, saved for consumption at the top of the mountain. Chapati as reward; not bad at all.

IMG_9815

 

from 2014 to 2015

IMG_1116

2014 is behind us, and 2015 has started with fresh vigor. Happy New Year! I’m left with a couple in-between days of down time and a whole lot of feeling reflective…so back to the blog it is.

2014 started in Tanzania, and it will end in Tanzania—very. happily. so. It seems unfair to sum up the travels, experiences, sights, and sounds that I’ve come across this entire year (and especially to sum up those that occurred in the latter six months, where my posting on the blog was irregular, at best), but let’s try anyway, shall we? Consider this post my end-of-year letter that would have, twenty years ago, been mailed right to your door. Mambo from Africa!

IMG_0461

2014 marks the longest I have spent abroad without having gone back to the US. This is less a complaint and more of simply a cool fact, and also propelled by the fact that I know the end date to my expatriatism (which, Microsoft Word does not think expatriatism is a word, according to spellcheck).

2014 bent time and space, creating a weird time warp bubble that is simply every day life in Dar es Salaam. As I write this, I realize that my arrival in May 2013 seems ages ago, and that since my being home, babies that have been born and new jobs attained and relationships started and ended. Lots of new babies that I can’t wait to hug and kiss and smell their babyness (also, not a word)!

2014, though, was very much focused on my corner of the world (to me), and in this time warp bubble, things are all good. I was particularly bad at being in touch with friends this year, but like many things I blame it on the weird Dar space-time continuum. It took awhile to get to know and love my new home, but in the last several months I’ve really come around. What was hard is now easy, what was frustrating is now easily managed. The DiploMan may not be as smitten as I am in this place, but he is happy here, too. He is doing his suit-and-tie thing during the day (although at Embassy Dar, more like khaki-and-button-up), fighting the good fight. As just one of two Americans in his office, he still manages to take significant time off to travel and have fun, and not bring any work home with him or allow bureaucracy and Embassy dynamics skew his view of work and life. I envy him for these seemingly carefree qualities. Having a better grasp on work-life separation is one of my goals for 2015.

IMG_4848

2014 allowed us to call Dar home, and it’s been a good home indeed. Our equatorial setting means year-round weather ranging between the very pleasant 85-95 degrees F, with daylight a fairly constant 6am-6pm. It’s a blessing and a curse, for although I have become an avid ocean creature and my skin dewey in the above-average humidity, I do miss my sweaters and boots and coats and beanies and scarves.

2014 allowed me to experience small-town type living. I miss big-city living, but this small-community certainly has its rewards. In our second year here, we have come to meet some really great, inspiring, and true friends. Some have since left, but we know they are ones we will know forever. Like our first post in Guangzhou, where we met some of our best friends, I know we will continue many friendships long after we leave Dar.

2014 was a good year for work, too. Home, climate, and social life aside, I found good opportunities that allowed me to grow in confidence and abilities. For most of the first year, as I somewhat reported in this blog, I was freelancing and writing copy and articles for various small companies and magazines around the web and world. I got a few big jobs in Dar, editing a local city magazine, as well as writing press kits for a local fashion designer. I also had the very exciting pleasure to hone my photography skills on a variety of projects, including an intensive five-day commercial photo shoot for the first Tanzania-based fast food concept, Bongo Flava. I’ve since eaten at Bongo Flava more than I’d like to admit I eat fast food, but it really is very tasty, so I’m quite proud to have supported that project.

2014 capped off my freelance work with a part time job at the Embassy, as a CLO (for those of you familiar with FS-life) which was rewarding but all-consuming. As my freelance work dropped off and I found less time and energy to blog, I decided that I wanted to get back into media, communications, photography, and writing. I had planned to return to freelancing, but quite fortuitously, I was able to score a contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and work in their communications department, full time. I am thoroughly enjoying this work, as it feels it finally combines many of the skills I have learned in my decade-plus of seemingly scattered work.

IMG_1109

IMG_1751

IMG_1814

IMG_1842

2014 brought me outside my comfort zone, not only in work, but in play. It shuttled me around to places I never imagined I would, like the Serengeti. I climbed volcanoes, trekked through forests, camped amidst wild animals, boated to remote islands, and in general, explored the grandeur that is the country of Tanzania–and beyond. I wish I had the time and the energy to write posts about each and every adventure—which I always intended, but never got around too. Perhaps they’ll stay stored in my memory and I’ll one day share. I actually do intend to.

2014 also invited a slew of friends and family in Dar to experience some of these majesties with me, including visits from my parents and my sister. The recaps and photos from these trips I’ve meant to share for some time, but again, it’s a matter of getting around to it.

And now, what lies ahead?

_MG_0590

2015 will bring the very best of my time in Tanzania, and then will close the chapter. With a departure date set sometime around May, it will be sad, but also a welcomed ending. I like it here in Dar, but I am looking forward to what is next. And frankly, this town is a bit small for me! So soon, we’ll be back in the US for some travels and time off, then spend some months of training in DC. After that, we’re heading back to China!

2015 and beyond is going to be crazy. China wasn’t the plan, but things often aren’t. This time we’ll be in the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, one of the greatest and most important cities in the world, both historically and contemporaneously. I can’t say I’m particularly excited, although I am very eager to live there. The recent bidding process for the DiploMan was a beast. High on our list were cities like Rangoon, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kiev, Bratislava, and Athens. The Diploman was very close in getting some of those (unfortunately, being a second choice isn’t quite the as consoling as one would think) and very distant in others, but the final offer was for Beijing and for that we’re pleased.

IMG_1947

So, on a very satisfied and positive note, I raise my coffee mug to the year 2015. Hopefully it includes a lot more blogging. And a new iPhone, which was gone along with 2014.

Dagaa

_MG_1282 copy

Before I arrived in Dar I imagined a full-immersion of local foods and ingredients. After all, it’s what I look forward to the most when I travel. It was a bit more difficult in Dar, partly due to the saturation of international cuisine in our expat neighborhood, partly due to the lack of a varied Swahili cuisines (centuries of being a trade port has welcomed influences from far and wide), and partly because the local cuisine, when you find it, isn’t always that good.

With that said, in the last year and a half I have been surprised, many times, by the simplicity and flavor of some of the local dishes here (when I find it). I can never get enough of the mangoes at this time of year, or the watermelons in late summer. I love the various spinach-like greens stewed in coconut or peanut, the peppery grilled seafood–always grilled to perfection, the beef and plantain stews, and have even come to enjoy the plain, flavorless maize paste, called ugali, that is just as much a staple starch as it is a vessel to shovel aforementioned stews into one’s mouth.

IMG_9823

I’m also pleasantly surprised by these little guys– called Dagaa. Dagaa is usually sold dried, and are available at most local, open air markets. They can also be procured fresh, slippery and silvery, from the fish markets. The dagaa is a small, sardine- or anchovy-like fish, used to accent dishes (usually, greens) when fresh but more often consumed in dry form, either in cooking or simply as a snack. It’s not for the faint of heart, these little salty fishy chewy snacks that pack a flavorful punch, particularly when they’re in the markets in these massive mountains.