Kindness

This post will be written out of pure, raw emotion and gratitude but I have to write as long as my emotions still are like this. Without rational feelings, without too many thoughts.

When we went out for dinner tonight we were not expecting too much. Just a regular evening together and some nice food. We went to one of our usual places, a small restaurant along the road. This “Mama Lisha” (it translates to “feeding woman”) is basically a wooden hut with a woman cooking local food. Rice (or ugali), beef and vegetables (which usually means there are beans thrown on the plate as well). There’s no electricity at all and you eat in the complete dark, apart from the occasional headlights from some passing cars.

After we were done we ordered some chai and continued our conversation, when a local guy sat down at our table. At some point he leaned over and started a conversation with us, saying how much he’d enjoy to once taste “Mzungu food”. Instead of being annoyed, as I would have been back in Austria, that this guy was disturbing us during dinner, I asked him “What exactly is ‘Mzungu food’?”
This is how one of the most interesting and pleasant conversations I’ve ever had with a local started. We talked about his work, about life in Europe, about if immigrating to Europe is even desirable and so on.
After about half an hour he stood up and said he’d have to leave. We thanked him for the nice conversation and shook hands, when he let us know that he already paid our dinner for us.

We were in shock.

Actually, we still are now.

After so many conversations about the topic of how locals only seem to see us as “white people with a lot of money” this man singlehandedly proved us wrong and made us feel ashamed. He filled our hearts with so much gratitude and awe, it’s hard to find the right words. It’s almost impossible to describe how much this simple gesture means. He, a local guy with a job at the military and aspirations to seek for a better life, paid for us four Mzungus.

After we regained our bearings and picked our jaws of off the floor, we invited him to our house for “Mzungu food”. He did not only pay for me and S. but for the two other guys we were with as well, even though they were not involved in our conversation at all. Also, he paid for us before the actual conversation had even started.

My mind finds it hard to process this. So much goodness happened today, my hands are shaking and my eyes are getting teary. I’ve experienced so much kindness and thoughtfulness today, here in Tanzania, a country in which I was finding it incredibly hard to connect with and understand the people.

I have a lot of thinking and re-thinking to do. This has changed everything. My heart feels so full.

Thank you, Chriss. Truly.

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3 weeks

After living in Africa for 3 weeks I finally feel like I truly arrived here. Today I had to run some errands, sat in a meeting and realised that I finally feel comfortable here. Shouts of “YOU! Come here!” and “Mzungu!” don’t bother me much anymore. Masses of people fascinate, rather than scare me. I walk with determination, I know where to go, where and what to pay and how to tell them that I know they’re trying to rip me off, just because I’m white.
I can navigate Dar es Salaam quite easily now, quickly find the right Dalla Dalla to our house and after 3 weeks I finally learned the exchange rate between Tanzanian Schillings and Euros.

After two weeks I felt a bit burned out. So many new experiences, so much information to soak up. Now I kind of recovered. I’m ready to learn more, ready to ask more questions. What kind of status do albinos have in society? How do Maasai men view their women (and how many cows do they usually pay for them?)? When do Chinese people pick their English name? There’s so much to learn still, still so many questions to be asked and I’m not afraid to do it anymore.

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Travel Stories – Food: Street Vendors

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Food is a huge topic when traveling, no? It’s an even bigger topic when you’re traveling to what we’d call a developing country.

Let’s address some topics that might be of concern:

Street vendors (and food sold at markets):

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People often warn you, “Don’t eat food from street vendors!” But should you really? Is it really that unsafe?

In my opinion: No.

It can be, sure, but if you pay attention you can very easily find out where it’s safe to eat from and where it is not. Keep your eyes open, and observe closely. Are there other people buying from that vendor? Does it look clean and fresh?
A tip (and this goes for street vendors as well as restaurants): if there are a lot of locals it’s most probably safe and definitely delicious.

My experience was – not only in Thailand but in India and Nepal as well, – that you can find the absolutely best, most delicious and authentic food in tiny roadside restaurants or at street vendors. When I travel with my family, we generally always try to stay clear of typical tourist restaurants. We stumble in the most unlikely places and have the craziest, but most delicious and yummy food you could ever imagine. Plus, it’s much cheaper!

The same thing goes for local markets. You can find amazing fruit, vegetables or pastries there, but rely on your common sense and if you’re unsure about it, then I’d say better safe than sorry.

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Raw food:

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In general there’s this rule you should stick to:

Cook it, peel it or leave it.

That’s it, not much more to say about this one. It’s pretty self explanatory.

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[Photo credit goes (sadly) not to me but to a close family friend. All pictures were taken in 2004 on my first trip to Thailand. We forgot to take our own camera. Stupid, I know.]

DISCLAIMER:

All opinions and recommendations on this blog, but especially concerning these travel stories, are solely based upon my own experiences and in no way imply that anyone else will have a similar experience. All travelers are encouraged to use good sense and to keep their eyes open whenever venturing forth into a new place. Please use your common sense and listen to your own instincts.  Each traveling experience is unique to the person having it and I hope you have many!

Reflection

What did I know – or thought to have known about life? About living standards? Adventure? Poverty? What did I know about myself?

I was in Kathmandu in February once, and I remember being so, so cold. The cold was inside of my bones, seeping through my entire body. I felt like I’d never get warm again. We didn’t have warm water for showers, no heating, next to no electricity, and I woke up more than once in the middle of the night because I was freezing.

So I thought I knew how to appreciate electricity and warm, running water. I thought I wouldn’t take it for granted anymore because I knew what it was like to have to live without it.

The reality is different, though. It’s frightening how fast and easily you adapt back to what you consider normal and take things for granted again once you’re home. And how, from that experience onwards, you think  “Oh well, I can go through anything now.”

How wrong I was.

My days in Africa were filled with difficulties: the language barrier was the most obvious one for me, but it was something I expected to be hard. What I didn’t know about was the complete lack of electricity whatsoever. The lack of plumbing or running water – never mind warm water took me by surprise, too.
I carried buckets of water from the cistern to the main house, making a ten minutes walk seem like eternity. If we wanted hot water for the shower, we had to heat it up over open fire. Toilets? Ha! How about a hole in the earth that was used by the entire village?

Cooking dinner? Awesome when you can’t see anything at all. We sat around a tiny bench, torches in our mouths trying to cut tomatoes and the chicken that was, until a day ago, still living right next to our room.

I thought I’d seen everything. I thought I was conscious of poverty and I thought I was able to handle it all. Culture shock seemed to be a word I thought I didn’t know.  And in a sense I wasn’t shocked, it just took me by surprise. Never once had anyone mentioned that this was how I’d spend those two weeks. Never once had I thought all these things would end up complicating my stay – adding to the already established difficulty I experienced because I couldn’t speak the language that well.

However, my days were also spent with playing with kids, “teaching” mathematics and French, cooking meals, washing the dishes or collecting water. I went on wild taxi moto drives up to a waterfall – the true speed never to be known because the speedometer was broken. I was in a car with four French girls when the driver got lost in the African bush at four o’clock in the morning.

I danced around the fire, clapping and laughing to the sounds of a drum, drinking Togo Gin, eating Fufu, and having a great time.

It was difficult, yes. More so than I ever could have imagined. Was it worth it though, in the end? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

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