from 2014 to 2015


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!


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.


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.





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?


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.


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.


IMG_1839 Dar can be a very polarizing place to live. Sometimes it’s nothing but love for this amazing country, and other times there’s nothing but sheer frustration for this backwards country. A lot of days, when your tire is flat from running over one too many potholes, and your power is out the half day that you spend waiting for the water delivery to come, and all you want is a jar of kalamata olives so you can make a Greek Salad but NO ONE is selling kalamata olives…well, life is rough, my friends.


But then, every once in awhile, on a perfect weekend afternoon, you will pack your coolers with beer and wine, pick up sandwiches from a local cafe, and head to the Dar Yacht Club. You will hop on a friend’s boat and motor out, away from land and to the vast blue beyond, seemingly away from every day problems and towards something much more blissful. You will use your Google Maps GPS to look for a sand bar that you’ve only seen from above, on the way from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam. You will find aforementioned sandbar, and nickname it, “Sandzibar” (said only in a grand, vibrating baritone voice), then spend a great deal of time debating important matters (where to anchor, whether to re-apply SPF 50 for the 15th time), and hop off to watch the tide recede and slowly uncover an entire island in the middle of the ocean. You will drink said beers and wine, eat said sandwiches. You will be surprised by two kite surfers that have come from the coast of Dar, and be even more surprised when you see that you know them. Gosh, Dar is a small place. They, too, will be surprised that at the end of their journey they have a beer waiting for them. You will talk about everything the way friends do, effortlessly and aimlessly, with topics ranging from ‘the 5 signs of showing love’ to ‘how to be a human bobsled on the dance floor’, all while silently baking under the hot Indian Ocean sun. You will decide that it’s getting too hot, after four short/long hours on the island, and pull up the anchor that was, in the beginning, such an ordeal to anchor. You will head back to shore, but not before taking a long cruise around the bay, stopping to watch the sun set and to take another dip in the ocean. And to polish off that last bottle of white, of course.


So in the end, we must all keep in mind that Dar is really not so bad after all; that for all the insanity in day to day life, there are some major pockets of sanity out here.

Asian Thanksgiving

Each year the full moon that appears on the eighth month of the Chinese calendar calls for great celebrations, heralding the past year’s harvest or praying for the next year’s bounty, and celebrating the full moon in the sky. In the old days, royalty and peasants alike would take a break from their regular routines to celebrate with friends, family, and feasting. Called Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie) in China, Chuseok in Korea, Tsukimi in Japan, and Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam, this year the lunar holiday falls on this date, September 8.

Me, full on erudite in Chinese, circa 1983.

Me, fully erudite in Chinese, circa 1983.

Those who knew me growing up are familiar with my 12-year struggle in the once-a-week Friday night torture session that was more formally known as Silicon Valley Chinese School. (How better to traumatize a high school student than to rob her of her Friday night dances?) But of course, like all things your parents say you will eventually thank them for in the future, of course I now thank them for sending me to Chinese School; for instilling a good sense of Chinese language, both spoken and written, and for the various aspects of culture it cemented within me. It was at Chinese School, in addition to at home, where I learned the romantic folklore surrounding the Mid Autumn Festival, telling of a famous archer who shot down nine out of ten suns in the sky to save the earth from the scorching heat, who was subsequently rewarded with a magical elixir of immortality. The story continues to tell how the love of his life then drank this elixir and was transported to the moon for the rest of eternity–along with a rabbit, although how this rabbit came to be in the moon, my memory fails to recall.

Myself aside, many of the Chinese diaspora who have since emigrated to countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and elsewhere, brought this holiday and its lore to their overseas communities. Unbeknownst to me until this year, the Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures also celebrate this harvest moon, though with different folklores and slightly different rituals.

Hong Kong Holiday

Streets of Hong Kong during the holidays

Chinese culture is something I rarely recall in my life here in Dar, other than the fact that Tanzanians always scream out “China! China! Japan! Japan!” When I pass by them on the streets of City Centre. I actually tried speaking Chinese the other day, only to find myself stumbling over the most basic of words, and leading the Chinese man who asked me where the milk was in the grocery to ask/accuse, “You’re not Chinese….? What are you?” A bit offensive, but unsurprisingly Chinese of him.

I find myself yearning to celebrate holidays so heavily traditional and culturally rich as they have in China. Here in Tanzania, Muslim holidays aside, the year is chock full of non-celebratory bank holidays: Workers’ Day, Independence Day, Nyerere’s Birthday, Boxing Day…you get the point.

A typical Asian potluck--too much food.

A typical Asian potluck–too much food.

This year, myself, a Korean friend, and a Singaporean friend decided that we needed to round up the Asian population in Dar for a feast in celebration of this great festival to the moon. We called it Asian Thanksgiving– because how much more appropriate could you call this Pan-Asian merging of family and friends and supreme feasting?

We had what was likely to be Dar’s all-time best Asian cuisine: An Asiatic mix that included Japanese pork belly, Korean bulgogi and fried chicken, Vietnamese chicken salad, two different kinds of Philippino Adobo and fresh homemade buns, Thai Green Curry and coconut fish stew, and tons of homemade noodles, and rice. Best of all, we had sweet sticky rice and moon cake for dessert. Moon cake, here in Africa…what a treat!

Asian Thanksgiving 2

I was too busy running around the party to remember to take detail shots of the party, but here are a few overview shots of the group. Happy Mid Autumn Festival….or, more appropriately: 中秋節快樂!

My Asian family here in Dar.

My Asian family here in Dar.

Saturday Series / No. 27


01’11’14 >> Every Day Sights

This photo was taken by my trusty iPhone, but I got my hands on a Canon point-and-shoot camera this week, a little belated Christmas present. It’s the brilliant Canon PowerShot S120, which I’m hoping will stay by my side to help capture more captivating every day images like this one.

China Red, China City: A Chinese Market in Dar

I’ve written about China several times since I’ve left the country, first out of awe that I got out alive, second because I keep going back to photos, like the ones below, of everyday life on the streets, and now, third, because I’ve just realized- I miss the place.


I left China last summer pretty darn happy to be done with the place, to spend a year in the states, to move onto Africa and content never to look back again. And I was fine (eating lots of tacos while back home helped) until I got to Africa, when suddenly everything seemed so foreign. And then, I started to miss the foreign things in China that, in retrospect, were so much more familiar than unknown: How to properly flag down a cab like a local. Ordering chicken feet during dim sum. Navigating crowds at 5pm at the Tiyu Xilu metro station (the horrors). Screaming “waiter” at the top of your lungs in a restaurant. Finding the best wet markets in all corners of town. Buying face brightening cleansers, because that’s the only thing there was. Observing the local fashion trends, oh! The fashion! It’s amazing how quickly the unfamiliar becomes familiar, no? I think of these things, and I can’t help by smile. Two years might seem short, but it is certainly enough to forever call a place home in one’s heart.


At the wet market in China

I recently took a visit to a local Chinese Market here in Dar es Salaam, and it brought back a wave of nostalgia. I had been on the lookout for some goods- tofu and hot sauce, to be precise, and was excited when a Korean friend told me about this little market not too far from home.

I’ve come to realize that no matter where you are in this world, there will be a Chinese population that will create a demand for a Chinese market. And with their savvy import and export dealings, they’ll find a way to get things like doban jiang (savory bean paste) or xia mi (little dried shrimp) or wei jing (MSG powder) to almost anywhere in the world. These are the important life lessons I’m learning by living abroad. I don’t know, maybe if you’re living in the middle of the Congo and find this to be absurd, let me know, I’d love to hear it.

sign for the market, here in dar

Big Red sign for the market here in Dar

Surprisingly, it only took me driving up one wrong driveway before I found the market. Tucked away behind a blue gate erected with sheet metal, the market looked more like a construction zone than anything else. The building was a little single-story, u-shaped complex that housed a mini wet market to the left: One meat counter, one vegetable counter (right next to each other, in typical Chinese fashion, of course). And right across the way on the right: a small but well-stocked dry goods market. With a HUGE red banner across the roof that read (in Chinese): “China Red, China City”

The outside (minus the sign) blatantly screamed Africa, but there was no mistaking its identity from the inside. Shelves piled from floor to ceiling of cooking wine, pickled mustard greens, dried plums, instant noodles, plastic bath accessories, spiral bound stationery, and more.


But most striking was that smell. As soon as I stepped foot in the store, I caught that signature Chinese market smell, of soy and sesame and dried fish and plastic wrap and damp packaging, and who-knows-what-else-makes-up the smells of China, which instantly transported me back to Guangzhou.



You know, a lot of people complain about China quite a bit, and I find myself pretty defensive about it these days. You can’t talk smack about a home of mine, after all, and expect to get away with it. They complain about everything- The smells, the pollution, the hygiene, the food, the people, the crowds, the pushing, the yelling, the fighting, the language.

But there’s funky smells, bad pollution, oily food, smelly people, massive crowds, pushy elders, couples who argue, waiters who will fight you, and communication barriers all around the world. Maybe no other place has the perfect convergence of all these things in the way that China does (I’m betting India is close!), but in one form or another, they exist everywhere.


All I’m saying here is that at the end of the day, appreciate where you are, because it’s home to someone, and before you know it, it’ll be home to you, too. The things I miss in China don’t necessarily make me want to go back and spend the rest of my days, but they are certainly enough to make me consider living again in that crazy country one day in the future.

Do you think I’m crazy that the smell of dried fish and dirty packaging makes me nostalgic? I’m curious: What smells make you pine for a previous home?

China Red, China City

Chinese goods market in Dar es Salaam
Ursino Street, just North of Bagamoyo Road (down the street from Addis in Dar)
Complex is fenced off by a blue gate with some Chinese lettering on the front. Guards man the front entrance. Drive through and park anywhere in the back lot.

Garden Power!

From this….


To this….


in just three short months!

And now, so many weeks worth of this….


To illustrate how excited this makes me (and, because I’ve finally decided there aren’t enough pictures of ME on here)…


Will be posting a simple, delicious recipe for coconut-stewed greens later this week. Chock full of healthy fats (from the coconut) and tons of nutrients (from the greens). And also, instructions on how to open a coconut- because despite the fact that you think you can machete-chop a coconut open with a regular kitchen knife…well, you can’t.

update: A post on how to open a coconut, how to make coconut milk, and a recipe for coconut braised greens.