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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hey Baby, Come Here Often?


When I first moved to Dar es Salaam I wrote a blog about attending the end-of-year party for Jaden and Rowan’s school. I had only been here for a few weeks and I really didn’t know any people with kids – so I thought that the party would be a perfect opportunity for me to meet new people and organize a few play dates for the kids.

Instead I felt like I was a desperate girl at a bar, trying to get someone to take me home before last call.

It seemed like everyone was so clicky. And there wasn’t a lot of patience for a newbie like me – my desperation clearly laid out for everyone to see.

As a result, I wasn’t particularly successful. I went home with two hard-fought new numbers and eventually invited one of the women – Olga - a lovely Russian lady – over with her son for Sunday brunch and a swim in our pool. Seven members of her family showed up that morning – none of whom spoke English except for Olga.

It was like she arrived on a first date with a U-HAUL.

We haven’t had a play date since then.


Oh what a difference ten months can make.

Now, I attract newbies like flies. They come to me asking for advice and seeking friendship. I’m nice to them. I try to remember how desperate I felt just ten short months ago.

But the truth is - I am sick of making new friends.

I bet you never thought you’d hear me say that – not in a million years. But alas, it is true.

Living in a vibrant ex-pat community in Africa means living in a maddeningly transient place. I was told when I moved here that people who have been here for a long time don’t particularly like making friends with those of us on short term contracts. For them, we are too much investment for too short a ride.

It used to make me mad – since there are so many interesting long-termers here. Now I understand.

Dar es Salaam is like a pick up bar. You go out, you meet someone new over the eggplants at the vegetable market, and you exchange telephone numbers. It is very likely that you will get a call within a few days. And before you know it you are on your first date. Sometimes there is a second date. Quite often it ends there. But there are hardly enough days in the week to go out with all the people you are already dating AND the first timers who pick you up/you pick up.

I’ve never dated so much in my life!


Sunday afternoon I was sitting at the pool at the Sea Cliff and I was approached by a woman with a kid about the same age as Jaden and Rowan.

“How long have you been here?” she asked.

“About two hours,” I replied.

“Me, too,” she said. “We must have been on the same flight.”

“Oh no,” I told her. “You mean how long have I been in Dar? Coming up on a year.”

“Wow,” she said. “That’s such a long time. Me, I’m just moving here with my husband. We’ve just arrived.”

I sat and talked with her for awhile on Sunday and we even exchanged phone numbers. But I kept my fingers crossed that she wouldn’t call.

Guess what?

She called.

She wants a date – a double date - with me and the kids.


I am totally a B-lister here in Dar. I am neither among the most popular people, nor to I get invited to the hottest parties or hang out at the Yacht Club or the Swedish Club, or the one fancy smancy gym we have in town.

But I do have a nice wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Most of the relationships I’m having are very much on the surface. It is hard to develop deep relationships here – there’s not a lot of time – and multiple partners keep you from getting to know people really well.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve managed to make a few good friends who I can imagine knowing for the rest of our lives. As a bonus prize, one of my best friends is moving out here in a few weeks. So you can see, I am well cared-for.

I have always considered a new friend (especially as an adult) a precious thing. I always craved having more friends. I like them. I like it when they like me, too.

So it is ironic that now I am ready to pull the plug on the friendship dating scene.

When the lady from the pool called for a date earlier this evening, I told her I was too busy but she could call back in a week or so.

I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

Is it progress? Craziness? Self-caretaking? I have no idea. I just know I’m ready to remove myself from the dating scene for awhile and get back to the people who I care about and who care about me.

I’m leaving the bar before last call and been announced.

Perhaps I’ll be back tomorrow.

Maybe not.

New friends are a blessing, but old friends are special. Thought you'd enjoy this photo of me with Mom-101 that appeared in the Mamaroneck High School yearbook - wearing the school colors and the most fashionable hairstyles of the mid-1980s.
P.S. I just thought you might like to know that this was also written in the dark on the same night as the previous post!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hot Stuff

The sweat is pouring down my fingers onto the keyboard as I write this blog. The kids are fidgeting in their beds – still asleep but too hot to be comfortable.

February is the hottest month of the year. Tonight is one of the hottest nights of the year.

And 50 minutes ago, at 8:49 P.M. East African Time the electricity went off.

Who made the stupid decision to turn off the electricity on Valentine’s Day?

It is ironic that all through the months and months of no electricity 12 hours a day, six days a week my generator – my beautiful, beloved, all-important, life-saving generator – named Barney in honor of the purple dinosaur - mostly ran as smooth as a pussy cat. (Except for the day when Raymond and Robert decided to clean it by washing it down with a hose and water which caused a fuse to short and subsequently a small fire. But that was way back in November.)

Since December, the electricity is back on. We went from almost nothing, to almost everything. For the past 10 weeks we’ve had practically non-stop, 24-hour a day electricity – with three hours off here, and hour or two there maybe once or twice a week. I almost forgot how bad it was. How bad it could be.

That was before Monday night. Monday night, as I was innocently sitting on the couch watching CNN tell me yet again how badly the US is screwing up the world, the lights went out. And this time Barney didn’t start up. Raymond tried and he tried, but nothing happened. Shit!

I could hear the hum of the generators emanating from the American Embassy houses next door and across the street. But it was their hum, not mine. It is a terribly annoying sound – one that I never really noticed before. Usually Barney drowns it out, and some other nearby neighbor is forced to suffer through the hum (actually rattle) of my generator while he or she sweets away.

It was almost 11 so I decided to go to sleep. But my room was too hot, so I decided to sleep in the living room where up until a few minutes before the air conditioner had been purring away.

I couldn’t decide… was it better to lie in the living room with the windows closed? It was stuffy, but there was still a modicum of cool air in the room. Or should I open the windows and let the hot, humid, fetid air run over me? At least the air would be moving.

Sort of.

I opted for the windows closed and then got naked down to my panties. (I apologize for the mental image. And Julia… I’ve used the word “panties” just for you.) I spread a sheet on the couch; laid on my back; and eventually through sheer will fell asleep.

About five hours later I popped awake, started by the sound of no generators.

I was a sweaty mess with a massive headache. The kids were worse. But the electricity was back on and I ran back to my room, took a cold shower, and climbed into my nice cool bed.

The next day my landlord Mr. Haji (or Mzee Haji – old man Haji – a term of respect that the kids have started using with him) came with three or four fundi who pronounced the machine in need of a major overall. Multiple parts are on order from Dubai. It will be at least another 10 days before my purple giant of a generator roars back to life.

Thank God for computer batteries. At least I can stay distracted while I sweat. Perhaps I have even entertained you with this terribly boring story.

I’m not unaware that I am, after all, living in Africa. And that compared to the way that most people live, I am over-privileged and probably just a spoilt brat for even complaining to you about two nights without electricity. But there is a reason I never joined the Peace Corps. I am just a nice Jewish girl from NY who will not apologize for wanting my basic modern conveniences.

I know a lot of foreigners in Tanzania suffering from “white man’s guilt”. I’m not one of them.

I just want the air conditioner to be running in my house on the hottest night of the year.


P.S. The good news is… if you are reading this it means I’m sitting in an air conditioned room attached to the Internet.

P.P.S Thank you to the people who tried to vote for me for the blog award. It turns out that the voting was over the day after I posted the blog. All I know is that I didn't win. But it was an honor just to be nominated. We are all winners, really ;)

Monday, February 05, 2007

For Your Consideration

Lately I've switched from buying bootleg movie copies on the street to renting them for cheap at Katz Video Rental.

(Yes, I too have been wondering if we have a Jewish filmophile here in Dar. If so, maybe we can get them to open up a series of the Katz businesses I'd really like to see... like Katz Deli, or Katz Bagels. But I digress.)

I switched because as alluring as it is to have my very own video library of popular films, the bootleg copies are just too unreliable. Each time I bought a film I'd run home holding my breath - waiting to see if this copy was indeed in English (rather than Chinese or Russian), and if so, if it was a copy of a legitimate DVD or filmed in a movie theater.

In some ways, the movie theater copies are the best. It is certainly the most authentic movie-going experience, since you have real live audience reactions to the film, coughing neighbors, people getting up to go to the bathroom... But alas, the sound quality is often quite poor.

At Katz, on the other hand, the videos are always in English and usually they are good copies. In the last few weeks I've rented The Departed, Dreamgirls, Babel, Little Miss Sunshine, and Little Children. Turns out that a member of the Academy has been selling their copies to bootleggers. For each of these Oscar contenders I've been watching copies of films provided to members of the Academy for their judging pleasure. The words For Your Consideration pop up every 15 minutes or so. I love it! I'm so on the inside!

And now, it is my turn to offer you something For Your Consideration.

Liz has nominated my blog for the Most Inspiring Blog category for the Share the Love Blog Awards. Click on the link to the left and go vote for me. I have no chance of winning, but my ego won't be able to take it if I come in dead last.

Asante Sana (Thank You)