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I’ve only been in Tanzania for three months and I’m already counting down the days until our flight out of here. Seriously, we have a countdown on our wall like kids count down the days until summer vacation.
Am I a bad expat? Am I too prissy after five years in China? Did I do something wrong?
For the last few months, I’ve had these thoughts running through my head. Why is it that I never fell in love with life in Tanzania? Why has expat life in Arusha been so hard on me?
Is it Arusha, or is it me?
Having a Tough Time in Tanzania
If you’ve been reading my posts and monthly recaps, you probably already know a few of the not so great things that have happened these last few months. While I had an INCREDIBLE time on safari, actual expat life in Tanzania hasn’t been great to me.
Gout and Black Mold Poisoning
First, there was the sickness. From the worst cold ever to black mold poisoning, to not coping well with the regular mold, I’ve been sick more than I ever have in my entire life. I even developed a black mold poisoning side effect called formication, where I feel like I have tiny bugs crawling all over my legs constantly. I literally feel crazy.
In the last few weeks, my fiance Chris has developed horrible gout which has basically left us completely contained to our house. I cook all of the meals and do all of the dishes, and he can barely walk from the bed to the couch. Apparently, it’s not just beer and red meat that sets off gout, but BEANS.
That’s cool because we literally eat beans every single day.
Speaking of Beans…
Chris and I are so sick of eating the same things for all of our meals. I can’t even look at chicken, beans, and rice anymore! Since we live so far out of town, whenever we get the chance we grab a ton of peppers and onions, cans of flavored beans and lentils, eggs, bags of brown rice, and meat to freeze.
It’s a miracle when we find things like lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, or any meat that isn’t chicken. Even the thought of eating chicken right now makes me want to vom.
It’s amazing how cheap avocados are here (I’m in heaven!), but overall we eat the same 3 breakfasts and 5 dinners every. single. day.
I’ve tried switching things up now that Chris can’t eat beans, but it’s a struggle to eat healthy, especially when you can only do your grocery shopping once every week or two, and you have a tiny fridge and no car.
We made incredible grilled cheese made with zucchini and a tasty attempt at cauliflower au gratin (with no oven), but finding those ingredients is incredibly hard. Last time I went to the grocery store, the only vegetables they had were green bell peppers, onions, and carrots. That’s literally it.
Obviously, if you know what days the stock comes in, you can work around this. But we don’t have a car so all of our shopping trips are last minute (as in, we find out we’re going about 20 seconds before we leave), so we get what we get when it’s available.
About that Car…
Chris and I were supposed to be able to rent a car for $150 a month from a coworker, but the car had major issues. When it finally stopped raining long enough to be able to use the car, we realized that the poor thing didn’t have enough power to get up the hill where we live.
The only way we can actually get up the hill is to go BACKWARDS. Yeah… no thanks.
The Worst Rainy Season in 20 Years
If you read my post about my expat struggles in Africa, you’ll know that Tanzania just had its worst rainy season in 20 years. It poured down rain every single day, the streets turned to rivers, our mud hill turned to mush, our house was COVERED in mold and mud, and going anywhere was a huge struggle.
The sun has finally come out (well.. it comes out for a few hours a day since its winter), but our house is still covered in mold. Everything feels wet. If I don’t touch something for a few days, it’s moldy. While the roads are now dry, they’re covered in huge potholes and bumps that most cars struggle to get over.
Being So Isolated
Chris and I thought living up on “the hill” next to our office was a great idea. We could walk to the office, and hitch a ride with the boss or any member of the office into town when we needed it.
What we didn’t realize was that getting BACK to our house would be almost impossible. While people are always going into town, no one ever comes back to the hill, so we typically need to take a $25 USD cab ride home, while we cringe as the taxi scrapes the bottom of his car on every, single bump.
Chris and I have booked a night in a budget hotel three times just to enjoy dinner and a movie in town. Going grocery shopping is a constant struggle. We STILL haven’t been to TGT, the fun pool and bar everyone raves about. (Fingers crossed that we get to go on Friday!)
Our Stupid Moldy House
I’d be able to deal with all of these problems if I loved the house we live in. Unfortunately, the house, while cute, is unbelievably stupid. I’ve never called a house “stupid” before, but that’s the only way I know how to characterize its idiotic design.
It’s like someone built this house to be inhabited for only 6 months out of the year. The tiny windows and concrete walls and floor keep it nice and cool, but in the rainy season and winter, it’s absolutely freezing inside, and EVERYTHING is either damp or covered in mold.
Oh, and you know, our bathroom door doesn’t close, our pillows smell like a wet dog, we don’t have solar or a generator for when the power goes out, and our hot water only lasts for about 5 minutes if we’re lucky.
We have a beautiful view of Mt. Meru from our house… if you stand on the couch. We try to let fresh air and sunlight into our house to clear out the mold and damp, but the only “window” big enough for this to actually work is our front door.
We also have crazy bug guests that waltz their way through the giant gap under our front door whenever they please. We’ve had mice, whip scorpions, and a GIANT TARANTULA. Our neighbor also warned us about scorpions. We now shove a blanket under our door at night.
I Did Expat Life in Arusha All Wrong
So many people love expat life in Arusha. There are great restaurants and bars here, life is cheap, there are tons of safari companies, international schools, and incredible wildlife… The other expats in Arusha must be having a better experience than me right?
I couldn’t help but think that maybe my experience was partially my fault.
When I didn’t love Japan’s tourist trail, exploring popular sights in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, I realized that part of my not-so-great experience was actually my fault. I had started the trip by hiking the Kumano Kodo in rural Mie Prefecture, so of course, jumping straight into the tourist-filled streets of Harajuku, or the packed Meiji Shrine, was going to feel a little disappointing compared to the all but empty markets and shrines in Ise.
I thought long and hard about why other people might love life in Tanzania, and what I could’ve done differently, and I realized that, while I’m right to not love life in Tanzania after all of the issues above, there are ways that I could’ve avoided some of these issues.
Arusha is Not for Short-Term Expats
If you want to be an expat in Arusha, you need to be all-in. You have to make a big effort. You either live in the town in a bustling expat community, you arrive on a study abroad or volunteer program where you have built-in friends, or, if you live in the middle of nowhere on “Mzungu hill” (foreigner hill) like I do, you BUY A CAR.
No one lives in the middle of nowhere 30 minutes outside town without a car. You need to invest in life here. Get a car, get a nice house, make friends… you can’t expect it to all just fall in your lap like you can in other digital-nomad cities.
If you are here for only a few months, typically you’re on some sort of a program where you have built-in friends and you either live in town or have someone feeding you.
We Should’ve Lived in Town
Even if we lived on the outskirts of town, our lives would’ve been so much easier. We could’ve hailed a much cheaper taxi or motorbike taxi to town for our grocery shopping, or to TGT, the fun pool and bar everyone raves about.
If we lived in town we wouldn’t need a car. We also probably could’ve gotten a nicer house with our budget since for some reason the hill we live on is super overpriced. Granted, our rent here is only $200, so for this hill, our house is a steal.
That said, I would never pay more than $200 a month for this stupid, cold, moldy house with a bathroom door that doesn’t even close.
We Should’ve Stayed Longer… Or Shorter
3 months is a weird amount of time to stay in a place like Arusha, which is mostly filled with long-term expats. Since we lived so far outside town, making friends was extremely difficult, and it would’ve been near impossible to meet up with any friends we did make.
So, of course, we never made any friends. Chris and I pretty much only ever interacted with one another or the office staff.
We also didn’t really make our house a home. I felt guilty investing in things like a rug, decorations, and nice fuzzy blankets that actually made our experience a million times better, because I knew we were going to leave in a few months.
Can you imagine how much better my life would’ve been if I had just forced myself to invest in a comforter (so I didn’t freeze at night) and a small oven? But it’s hard to spend that much money when you know you’re just going to leave it behind.
I Didn’t Like Who I Was in Tanzania
It might come as a shocker to those of you who have never read any of my other posts, but I’m not really the type to complain all the time. I’m a pretty positive, “glass half full”, easy-going type of person, which is why I hate who I’ve become in Tanzania.
When I lived in China for five years, I often encountered not-so-great aspects of expat life, and for the most part, I took them in stride.
Sure I was frustrated when the government cracked down on VPNs and I couldn’t get on my email or any social media. Yeah, I didn’t love the times where I had to walk through ankle-deep water to get home from work since Beijing’s drainage infrastructure was actually awful. I hated that the government was bricking up all of the cool hutong restaurants, shops, and bars… but I could discuss my frustrations without being super negative. I still loved China.
But here in Tanzania, I’ve had more tantrums than a 2-year-old. I’ve screamed into my pillow, slammed my curtain door shut (not as dramatic as a real door, unfortunately). I even threw my portable charger at a wall and broke it. Yeah… real mature.
Chris and I have fought here more than we’ve ever fought before, only because we’re both frustrated, cooped up, and bored. We live in a tiny house with zero privacy (not even when we poop). We have no friends, we can’t go anywhere, and we eat the same five meals every day.
To be honest, living in Tanzania has actually been a great pre-marriage test for us. We’ve had to really work through our problems and manage our frustrations without taking them out on each other. Seriously, every engaged couple should spend a few months in our house!
Feeling Guilty About Complaining
I’m sure half of you reading this right now are thinking: “Wow, this privileged white girl moved to Tanzania and now she’s COMPLAINING about the problems of that developing country SHE CHOSE to move to.” Seriously, there’s nothing anyone can say to me that I haven’t already said to myself multiple times.
I feel absolutely horrible complaining about all of the ways I didn’t love life in Tanzania while I watched children and adults alike walking barefoot through ankle-deep mud to get to school or work at the local factory.
It feels like I’m not allowed to complain about aspects of life here because overall, I’m super lucky. The Maasai girl who comes to wash our clothes by hand probably stares at all my canned beans and wonders how we could possibly have so much food in the house.
I think the main issue for me, was that I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into when I moved to Tanzania. Things are so completely different from Chris’ last time here, and both of us were really shocked by how living in a rural area without a car could really impact our lives. Even the local Tanzanian office staff live in town and are driven to and from work every day!
An Awkward Wealth and Privilege Gap
Speaking of feeling guilty when I drive past people walking to work in the mud, the wealth and privilege gap between Tanzanians and expats/ the travel industry really bothered me during my time in Tanzania.
Travel in Tanzania is extremely expensive. Every time I visited a lodge, I loved everything about it… except the price. We stayed in a basic tented camp that ran $300 per person per night! Where is the money going???
How is it possible that lodges and camps can be SO EXPENSIVE while the cost of living for most Tanzanians is so low? How can there be lodges that are over $1,000 per person per night while those of us in town can’t even get consistent electricity?
Where are all the crazy government taxes and park fees going? $60 per person per night in taxes just for the privilege of sleeping (even in a tent)? A $900 tax on local bloggers which is more than the average yearly salary?? What is the government doing with all that money?? (Not spending it on infrastructure, obviously.)
Everywhere I went in Tanzania I saw white people (or Kenyans) in positions of leadership, while locals worked the less glamorous jobs.
I know this happens all over the world, but after 5 years in China where I was solidly middle class and had students who were crazy-rich, it’s an awkward pill to swallow.
Living in Tanzania with all the mold, bugs, and beans for every meal, I feel a bit poor. But when I compare myself to the Maasai girl who helps wash our clothes by hand, I feel guilty. I mean, she almost killed us by leaving our gas burner on ALL DAY LONG, but then I found out she didn’t know how our stove worked because she doesn’t have one. Ouch.
I Really Love Asia
As much as I enjoyed traveling in Tanzania, spotting the big 5, heading out on safari, and trying something new, I really do love Asia.
I used to worry that not being in love with Tanzania made me a bad traveler or expat, but I now know that I’m allowed to love some destinations more than others.
I’ve always loved Asia, whether it’s China, Japan, Thailand, or Vietnam – I love it all. I like traveling there, I love the expat lifestyle, the fast internet, the incredible food, the unique cultures, the bustling cities and natural landscapes, the challenging languages, the affordable prices (except you Japan), the kind people… I could go on and on all day.
I don’t think there’s any shame in having an area of the world where you feel at home. I don’t think I’m a bad expat for not loving life on a rural hill where I eat the same meals every day and have to use my phone to hotspot slow 3G so I can work.
Maybe I don’t want to live in a place where I need a car. Maybe I want to be in a country with a vibrant food scene (sorry Tanzania, but ugali and beans don’t cut it). Maybe I don’t want to live in a place where everything feels wet and is always covered in mold. Maybe I don’t want to live in a country where I feel guilty for just existing.
Maybe I just love Asia, and that’s okay.
Thoughts? Opinions? Are you moving to Tanzania? Be sure to leave me a comment below, and I’ll sure to get back to you ASAP!