I think I said it last summer: "The first 30 days are the hardest." I don't know why I don't ever listen to myself - I mean, let's be honest, I expect everyone else to listen to me, right?! This past Wednesday marked my 30th day here in Zanzibar and life is finally falling into place. Don't misunderstand me. I am still "showering" with a bucket 80% of the time, the food leaves much to be desired, and every day brings a new obstacle; however, mentally I am stronger than I was before and it is much easier to deal with the daily curve balls. I've come to expect them.
This evening I walked into town after sunset to sit in a cafe and work on my computer a bit. I needed a change of scenery. I knew I should have left a bit earlier, but getting out of the house is never easy. Mwalimu Mariam always insists on feeding me before I venture out. The cold fish and greens weren't calling my name, but I obliged, sat down for a banana, some rice and watermelon and was on my way (late, of course). Stonetown is an old city with windy narrow streets. Unfortunately, the main route around the edge of town is a straight shot that also happens to be a much longer walk and full of hecklers. There has also been an increase in petty crime in that area lately. Given that I had my laptop, I decided to try to navigate my way through town. Bad choice. I got lost, ended up on the main route on the edge of town anyway, tripped a kid to the ground who tried to rob me and arrived at my destination a bit hot and sticky. Such goes life here. This adventure was on the heels of my hair dryer blowing out my surge protector power strip and then my straight iron starting on fire when I plugged it into my converter. Two weeks ago this day probably would have sent me over the edge. Today, it was just another day in the life.
This past Thursday I went to Dar es Salaam (the biggest city on the mainland) to visit the U.S. Embassy and check out the UDSM campus where I will be attending classes last semester. Being at the Embassy was inspiring. I have to admit the lunch I was looking forward to at the cafeteria there was a bit of a letdown, but meeting the officers at the Embassy and hearing more about the work they are doing was inspiring. My trip to the UDSM campus was better. It is a beautiful campus and much bigger than I had anticipated. Overall, I just got a good vibe from the whole experience. Classes are starting February 20 - about a month later than I was expecting, but I think it will be fine. The best part of the weekend occurred after my campus visit. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I went to a shopping mall!! And it had a Wal-Mart, a movie theater, a bookstore and a coffee shop. There was even a fast food restaurant! I know I'm supposed to be soaking up the local culture, taking in moment I spend here in Tanzania. But, to be honest, I needed a small break. My friend Junior actually said he has never seen me look happier than when I was walking out of Wal-Mart. I didn't even buy anything aside from a Kiswahili dictionary, but knowing that I have access to a few small conveniences from home once I move to Dar is definitely a comfort. You can check out the "mall" here (http://kitomai.blogspot.com/2010/12/mlimani-city-mall.html)- it's no Mayfair, but seeing as I never expected to see anything like that here it certainly felt like it! You'll notice in the pictures it even looks like they decorate for Christmas!
The rest of my weekend was just as great. Spent some time with my pal Jenn (another student in my program) and some of my friends from Moshi who are in Dar for a couple of weeks. We stayed in a great hotel for $15/night, went out to the some local bars, ate local food and just got to leave Zanzibar life behind for a while. I returned yesterday and feel refocused on what my goals are here. Life is good.
Thanks to everyone for your notes, comments, emails and FB messages. You all helped make my first month bearable. I miss you all!