Thursday, January 22, 2009

A university life across the globe

I was standing in front of Sokoine University of Agriculture’s (SUA) store for students trying out a few of my Kiswahili words on the store worker. I was looking for batteries of my flashlight and little battery-powered lantern.

There are many power problems in Morogoro, the city I am living in. I have not figured out the complete picture of the power problem, but I know that the city has decided to ration the power to certain areas of the town for certain days and other areas get other days. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, you are not getting power out of the usual electric source during these times (or maybe it does- but I am definitely one of those people so I don’t know). (I also heard that there were just power problems in SUA so maybe I am wrong.) This happens in many countries including Nepal where most houses don’t have power for 16 hours a day even if they want to pay for it. As I write this I am sitting in the dark relying on my apple’s battery power. All I can say is that I really like batteries.

The lights could go out at any time and I would not be expecting it and my fellow volunteer is out with his girlfriend in Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania. So I am alone in my house without any power, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable. There were no batteries for the flashlights or lanterns and thus darkness. On the third day of the electricity problem, the night guard, Leonardi, told me that he needed to have a “light torch” so that he could protect the house. I firmly agreed and quickly decided to run to the university store to find some type of batteries for the light torch and lantern I had found in draws in my house. I walked down the rough dirt roads ever present in Tanzania past the dormitories, the cafeteria and finally to the university store. As I stood in front of this line of huts with dirt floors and random products I was so happy to see, I realized something I probably should have before. This is SUA’s version of a university convenience store. This poorly built wooden hut selling batteries, cocoa, butter, feminine hygiene products (although never tampons ladies- more on this later) was their One Stop Patriot Shop. Insects are by no means strangers to this store and a few layers of dirt cover every product dimming the bright colors of packaging. Forget air conditioners or refrigerators, those are no where to be seen- I was so grateful they had batteries I wouldn’t care if there were giant rats in the food- and there may be! Who knows?
I laughed a little at the differences between this convenience store and the ones I think of when I think of my university. So completely different, but then, the same.

So there I sat with the convenience store talking with the man behind the counter who, even if he was trying to rip me off by charging 100 shillings more per battery, was trying to help me get my light torch to work. I was so incredibly thankful for this hut, this man, the paths that had been forged on the red Africa dirt- they had batteries and that is all I needed.
Three little girls walked by with veils on their heads; I called out “Mambo! Habari za jioni?” (How is your night?) “Nzuri” (good) they all replied. Nzuri- the common and basically only response to any version of ‘how are you’ in Tanzania. No matter what is happening in someone’s life, they will always say nzuri. I thought that this was nice first, but then realized that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Would nzuri ever really mean really good? Or is it just the word that comes after any Habari za . . . phrase? I guess it is the same in other ‘polite’ countries like the US, but I don’t think it is quite to the extent that it is here. I am not sure how to really ask someone how the are and get a true response. I don’t think there is a way here, because people seem to just want people to not worry and like their responses. Back to the three little Muslim girls, they laughed and smiled at me, and then ran up to counter of the SUA store, they giggled once again and then ran off.

While this was happening, one of the male university students stood next to me and started the usual welcoming greetings. I responded and smiled, as I figured what was coming next. He asked me my name, and I replied “Whitney,” he said “Quidni.” The W sound is quite difficult for people to pronounce I have noticed. Then he asked me where I lived, knowing where this was going, I told him I didn’t know what it was called, so he told me to point, and I replied by point my finger in the general direction of my house and moving my finger back and forth- many houses were in the general direction. I then said asante and decided to move on. I went back home to find the electricity on, and then after about 15 (kumi na tano- I am trying to practice a bit) minutes, the lights went out again.


  1. That was very interesting, Whitney, thank you for typing that!

    It is no surprise to me that the electricity is intermittent like that. I think a lot of people do not realize how lucky we in the U.S. are. Also, I understand why you want the girls to tell you the "truth" but let's be honest, why should they tell a random, white foreigner their personal lives? Maybe some people would do this, but I don't think you can be trusted (from an outside, unfamiliar with you, perspective) right off the bat... not to mention you're not only a stranger, but an AMERICAN... we don't have such a good global reputation :P

    Hopefully eventually they will trust you once they see you around more often or something and you can shoot down their stereotype of the stupid/untrustworthy American. How do people react, anyhow, when you tell them where you're from?

    Oh, you never got back to the feminine hygiene products! I wanted to hear (or maybe not, depending on what it is o_O).

    I hope to hear more about what you do every day soon!!!!!!!! I miss you :( It's not the same without your random "follow me here come on let's go!!!!!!!" demands :P :P :P Be safe!!!

  2. Whitney, I miss you very much and I hope you are having a wonderful time with your rats, we can email news later, but I wish you well and please don't die

  3. i can totally relate to u on the "no-lights" bit quidni..hehe...
    ur post is extremely Nzuri ..hehe..i cant wait for your next post..extremely interesting
    and i think im learning the language with you, except i might need help with the pronunciation..
    i want more!

  4. Quidni! I love that! Well, I miss you tons and loved reading your post. Please write lots and lots more and post pictures!