Karl Wirth arrived at my house on Wednesday morning to conduct a workshop for the two professors who are new to the ACM program this semester. Karl was the director of the ACM Tanzania program ten years ago, while it was still in its infancy. Before and after the day’s sessions, Trudy and I talked to Karl about the difficulties of living in Tanzania. Everything we came up with, however, seems like it has improved greatly since Karl was here. It was like trying to commiserate about your bus ride to school with an old-timer who says, “Well, back in my day we had to walk ten miles to school, uphill- both directions.” Not that Karl ever used that exact phrase and he certainly wouldn’t be considered an old-timer by most (although he does have grey hair, all of which he acquired during his tenure as resident director of this program I imagine), but you get the idea. Some examples:
Banking- I spent 4 hours on Monday going to and from the bank to withdraw some U.S. dollars. While Tanzanian shillings are readily available on campus via ATM machines, some of my business transactions require payment in dollars. The Mlimani City Mall nearby contains branches of nearly every bank in Tanzania- there are at least 4 different banks located there. ACM, however, uses a bank whose closest branch that we knew of was downtown, a 60-90 minute dalla dalla ride away, although we had heard titillating rumors that there might actually be a branch closer by. Suzyo, who works at the most prevalent bank in Tanzania, told me that there was a branch of my (least prevalent?) bank in Shopper’s Plaza. While still a distance from the university, Shopper’s Plaza was closer than going downtown. Paulina, my assistant, picked me up at 10 am on that day to go for a wild bank chase. Dr. Kessy swore up and down that he had seen a Standard Chartered bank in Mwenge. We drove back and forth there, calling Dr. Kessy repeatedly, until we finally figured out that it must have been a different bank that he had noticed. We then drove to Msasani where Paulina thought that she had once seen a branch. Once again, however, we discovered that it must have been a different bank she had encountered there. We finally ended up at Shopper’s Plaza in the lobby of Standard Chartered, where we remained for the next hour while the bank confirmed that I was, indeed, the signatory on the account in question by communicating with the main branch (via bicycle courier- I imagined). Finally, we returned to the university with the money I needed. “ATMs?”, asked Karl, “[Back in my day] we had to exchange U.S. dollars for shillings at the money changers.” He went on to describe carrying a suitcase to the field with the equivalent of $30,000 inside in order to pay for all the expenses incurred there as well as having to fly back to the bank in Dar if he required more.
Power outages- We ended our first week in Tanzania with only 1 full day, Tuesday, in which the power had not gone out at all. “[Back in my day] we only had electricity for 4 hours per day,” Karl reported, “and you could never predict which 4 hours that would include, sometimes it came on between 2 and 6 am.” He added that, if it was out long enough, they would no longer have any running water since the plumbing system relies on an electric pump in which the water is pumped to the roof to create water pressure in the pipes.
Internet- While Paulina had promised that we would have the internet working in the house by Monday, it was Wednesday by the time a technician came by to take a look at the impotent wires that we had coming out of our wall. He left around noon, promising to stop by his office and return as soon as possible. We waited for 2 hours for him to return but eventually went to lunch, leaving Trudy home to let him in. He never came back- reportedly he will now return on Friday. In the meantime, we purchased a phone card which allows us to access the internet via a mobile phone network. “Internet!” exclaimed Karl, “[Back in my day] I used to take a dalla dalla to one of the hotels downtown in order to use the internet.” He also claimed that the dalla dallas were much more terrifying those days- most of them did not have modern safety features such as doors.
Needless to say, we stopped trying to impress Karl with our current travails- I guess everything is relative. It sounds like things have come a long way in the past ten years!