There is an interesting exchange that happens every Monday in our house here in Tanzania. We wake up, have our breakfast, and begin our day. Monday is cleaning/shopping day. Cleaning will happen in the afternoon but shopping happens in the morning before it gets too hot and before the stores close for lunch.
So Sonja makes me a shopping list for the week and it covers everything from produce that I need to get at the market to more processed stuff that I need to get at the stores. She makes a great list and is nice enough to separate the items into where I need to go so I don’t overlook anything. But here’s the thing. I have never, and by never I mean not even once, come home with everything on her list. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I never return home to tell her, “Your list has been fulfilled.”
Every Monday I look at her list and say to myself, “Surely this is the day, today all will be accomplished, it’s not even that complicated of a list, I can bring everything home.” But no sir, that will not be happening. It’s so crazy that I can even go to the store nearby for 3 small things and I won’t come back with them.
Why is this you ask? Because nothing ever goes according to plan.
To give another example from a week or so ago. I needed to go out to a local Christian school to meet with the regional supervisor of the immigration department. He wanted to interview me before they gave me my volunteer visa. This was progress because we were leaving in 2 days to go for a little trip to the coast and at least one immigration checkpoint awaited us and our tourist visa’s have expired. Needless to say this meeting was important.
A couple hours before I have to leave a friend calls asking me to come be a witness when he signs to buy a car. I say, sure no problem, be there in a few. I get there to find he had been waiting over an hour for the guy who was supposed to sell him the car. We both wait around for another hour before I tell him I have to go because I have my immigration appointment. He tells me that he needs to go to the same school for something similar. Turns out the guy who is selling the car needed to go to the doctor and decided not to call or inform my friend who was waiting for him. Nice.
So we used up all our time waiting for Mr. No-Show and now we don’t have time to take public transport which is arguably safer than our current plan which is the 2 of us grown men ride on a 90cc scooter on the deadly and psychotic Moshi-Arusha road. So off we ride, slipping and sliding through the deep mud to finally getting on the pavement. And then we brave the buses, the dalla-dallas, land cruisers, and other motorcycles that normally dominate the road. But not today. We make it all the way to school and are only passed by one car and one dalla. Unbelievable.
We get there safe and sound and thankful. And on time no less only to be told that there is a meeting of all the teachers and staff and we need to wait. So we wait. 45 minutes. When the teachers and staff come out I am told I need to wait some more for the lady who is going to take me back to immigration. (Immigration is on the same block as where I was waiting for Mr. No-Show) So I wait. Another 30 minutes. I get to meet the lady who handles the visas for this place and we head out to her car…and wait…another 30 minutes. Finally we drive to back into Moshi and to immigration and chat with an immigration guy. He tells us that Mr. Regional Supervisor came in once earlier in the day for a paper and ran out and wouldn’t be in again. “What about all of his appointments?” The lady I am with asks in Swahili. The guy just shrugs.
So it’s a wash. No meeting. No visa. An entire ½ day, wasted. Not a single thing was accomplished.
It’s the same thing with the shopping list. Today, Sonja gave me a fairly simple list. But I couldn’t find cilantro anywhere in the market, just like last week there was not a mango in site. Now this week there are mangos everywhere but no cilantro. Ok, no cilantro. The store that normally carries the overpriced butter we buy is out of it and has some Irish cream brand that is even MORE overpriced for a smaller size. No butter today either. Sonja puts bananas on the list. I usually buy the bananas from the ladies on the side of the road because they’re cheaper and it helps the ladies out. But today I only have a 10,000tzs note and I know they won’t have change. So no bananas.
I’m not complaining about any of this mind you. I am just kind of speculating on things we have to deal with everyday. In the States you make a plan, follow through with the plan and no one knows any different. Here, you make a plan and you are guaranteed that it won’t work out. Guaranteed.
Being flexible with change is always something I have been fairly good at but poor Sonja is having to learn it the hard way. She is doing great and never really complains. I think she is learning to roll with it all. There are upsides to it all as well. There may not be any cilantro to be found but they had butternut squash at the market and I was able to bring that home as a fun treat. The plan always changes but sometimes it’s for the better. =)
I am learning there is are differences between traveling and living overseas. Most serious international travelers are smart, clever, observant, and resourceful. However, I’m finding that you need an additional skill set when living overseas. There are entire books written on the subject and I don’t intend to give an exhaustive list but to merely brush the surface. You need things like patience, language acquisition, the ability to know how to act to get what you need, the ability to be humbled and learn, problem solving, and relationships. Relationships are the key to everything the world over. Whether it’s a powerful business executive or the guy in the market. One may help you learn how to run a big corporation and the other will tell you when you’re paying too much for beans from the other vendors. The ability to build and maintain relationships is so important.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how different things are here. In the beginning you look at everything and draw similarities but the longer you are somewhere overseas the more you see the drastic differences. I haven’t come to any revelatory understanding as to why Africa, and Tanzania specifically, move slower. I don’t understand why everything always changes. Maybe I will do another blog post about it closer to when we leave but for now I am learning to just go with it. And I do ok most of the time.