We are loving all the things that are blooming around the house. Since this is our first spring in the new home, many things are a total suprise to us. I've been taking lots of pictures.
We've been asking wise gardeners lots of questions (thank you Rebecca; thank you Anne-Marie) and trying to learn about how to care for our lovely surroundings.
My fondness for the previous owners of this home grows more and more as each month goes by. The love they poured into this place (for 30 years) is so evident.
The other day we were baking cookies, which prompted a discussion of whether flour "helps you grow" or not. (That's our kid-friendly phrase for "healthy") The next thing I knew, Pumpkin (4 years old) pipes up with this little comment:
"Holy flour is better than white flour."
Very cute. :-)
I have been wondering recently why weather patterns in the tropics are the way they are. I know that the tilt and rotation of the earth create the seasons of winter, spring, summer & fall back home. I presume those factors also influence the tropical seasons of rainy & dry. I would be curious to know how and why that works. I have also wondered if weather moves in a particular direction here. It seems that rain can come from any direction. I would like to know if rain systems move across the continent in some predictable manner.
Right now we are in the long rainy season, though it’s been much less rainy than I expected. The seasons in southern Tanzania are approximately as follows:
Jan – Feb: short dry season
Mar – May: long rainy season
June – Nov: long dry season
Nov – Dec: short rainy season
Any tropical meteorologists (or skilled Wikipedia users…) out there who know the answers to my questions?
I have never thought so much about water as I have during the few months we’ve been living in Tanzania. At home, what’s to think about? You turn on the tap, and there’s water. You can drink it, clean with it, cook with it, flush it, bathe in it, whatever. When I lived in Germany, I thought a tiny bit more about water than in America because they like to drink bubbly water there, so we bought cases of Sprüdelwasser. In Germany I mainly thought, ‘man, this water is heavy’ during the five minutes it took to carry the case of mineral water from the store to the apartment.
Since then, my thoughts about water have multiplied exponentially. The first issue to think about is which water to use. There are four types of water in our lives now.
Maji Chumvi is salty, low-quality water. This is the water that the local government provides to the few lucky households that have a connection to the public water supply. It turns brown if it sits for a while or if you heat it. It also leaves a flaky, white residue behind in containers it touches. We are fortunate to get water from the local government, and we have large tanks to store the water because the pump station is frequently out of service. One tank is elevated so that there will be water pressure in the house. We use Maji Chumvi for primarily for watering plants, washing hands, cleaning the house, flushing the toilet, and showering.
Maji Baridi is fresh, good-quality water. Translated literally, it means “cold water”, but temperature has nothing to do with it, really. There is a big Catholic mission 40km from where we live, and they get fresh water from a spring. They pipe this water from the mission to our town, and you can bring a container to fill from kiosks around town (50 Shillings per 20 liters) or have it delivered (300 Shillings per 20 liters). We use it for cooking, washing dishes, and doing laundry.
Maji ya Mvua is rain water. We collect rain water in a 500 liter tank in our courtyard. It’s as least as good quality as Maji Baridi, and we use it for the same purposes. It’s only possible to collect rain water during the rainy seasons, obviously.
Maji ya Kunywa is drinking water. Most locals drink Maji Baridi or Maji ya Mvua as it is, but we are more careful. So we run our fresh water through a filter, 10 liters at a time. We have Katadyn filters that provide excellent filtration and produce safe drinking water.
A friend who visited us here said she found it bizarre to get back home and fill a bathtub with 200 liters of pure, fresh, drinkable water. What a great insight on her part.
Sadly, we have bid farewell to the last mangoes and pineapples of the season. Mangoes are ripe from about December through February. We had pineapples at our market in December and January and a couple of times in February. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious and intensely flavored both fruits are here in Tanzania. We were slow on the uptake with using both fruits but will be better prepared next year.
I didn’t buy many pineapples at first because I didn’t really know how to prepare them. It seemed tricky to get all of the eyes out. With a bit of instruction from our housekeeper, Neema, and the diagrams in How to Cook Everything, I’ve gotten some practice. I use a potato peeler to get the eyes out and am pretty good at preparing fresh pineapple now.
I’ve gotten a kick out of my husband’s belated affinity for mangoes. For the first two and a half months of mango season, he said he didn’t like mangoes. I think what he didn’t like was that they are drippy and messy to eat, and they leave stringy bits stuck in your teeth. From my time as an intern in Honduras, I already knew that I love fresh mangoes despite the minor inconveniences of eating them. So I bought them and ate them myself. Sometime in the last few weeks of the season, H. ate a mango and his opinion changed dramatically! From that point on, he was on a search for all of the remaining mangoes in southern Tanzania.
So here’s looking forward to a drippy, juicy mango & pineapple season 2009-10!
Recently, we haven’t been able to sleep that well. The first time we had trouble sleeping was because someone in the neighborhood was drumming all night long. A standard Swahili greeting in the morning is to ask “Did you wake up peacefully?” Our guard, Victor, asked me that the next morning, and I said it was only a little bit peaceful because of the drums. He laughed, and explained what the drumming was for. People were drumming through the night to prepare themselves for going to search for traditional medicines. I didn’t understand much more than that, but how interesting! They must have found what they were looking for because we haven’t heard the drums again.
The next two times we couldn’t sleep were because the dog was barking like crazy. But she was just doing her job, so I don’t blame her for keeping us awake. On the night of the full moon, some sort of magician or sorcerer troupe was walking around near our house, according to the guards on duty that night. I double-checked another dictionary to make sure that I had understood what they were trying to explain to us. We were (somewhat) reassured that the sorcerers aren’t the trouble-causing kind… just “regular” sorcerers who like to walk around at night.
Most recently the dog barked and howled for such a long time that I had to get up at 2 am to find out what was going on. I found out that there were hyenas in the area, and I heard their howling and yelping, which I had assumed was other dogs. Apparently they come down from the nearby hills at night sometimes, and one of our neighbors keeps pigs, which are a prime target for the hyenas.
When we were at language school, I learned an important lesson about Swahili culture. You almost never say something is bad. Instead, you say it’s “a little bit good”. I first learned this when I was talking to a gardener at our language school about hospitals in Tanzania. I asked if some hospitals are bad and some are good. I expected him to say that most hospitals were horrible, but a few are good. Instead, he said that there are no bad hospitals, only hospitals that are "a little bit nice". I have since had the chance to see some of those hospitals and “a little bit nice” is the understatement of the year.
Another example of this mentality is when asking how people are doing. Once after returning from a trip, I asked our guard, Daniel, how his child was doing. The way of asking that is to say “Hajambo?” [She has no problems?]. The usual response is to say “Hajambo” [She has no problems.] Instead, Daniel said “Hajambo kidogo.” [She has no problems a little bit.] It turns out she had gotten in the way of her mother, who was cooking, and had some boiling water spilled on her. Thankfully, she recovered well from the burns, but it still strikes me that her father presented it as “she’s just a little bit fine”.