A Reflection on Living Conditions
18.05.2014 - 31.05.2014 82 °F
A pictorial tour of my new Garden Apartment...
I had to change apartments and I did not like the one available where I had been living, so I looked at some new locations. For just $30 more per month than my first "garden apartment" (I say 'just', but $1 a day is the approximate average household income in Tanzania), I am closer to good transportation, shopping (food) and the Clock Tower (the central market and shops)...and I now have a living room, a nicer kitchen, a larger bedroom and lots of natural light in every room! It really feels like home for me, but to many it's a palace...keep reading and you'll know why.
It's not very 'African' except for a few pieces of local art...
I am paying the same daily rate as I would be if I were staying in an 'economy' hotel --or a lot less if you use the Lonely Planet definition of an economy price! But even at less than $25/day, my apartment is well above the living standards of the majority of Tanzanians. To start with, I have clean running water and a flush toilet in my home. In the city of Dar Es Salaam only 8% of have water connections in their house and only 10% have flush toilets. I'm lucky to be in Arusha which is one of only three towns in Tanzania that has a continuous water supply; water is only available about 9 hours a day in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city which is located on the Indian Ocean. Here are some other facts:
The total population for Tanzania is 45 million. Less than about 21.6 million Tanzanians (or nearly half the population) do not have access to clean water and over 40 million do not have access to adequate sanitation. Only 12% have access to toilets [statistics from Water Aid Global]. These statistics are not unusual when you know that nearly a billion people (or 1 in 8) in the world don't have access to clean and safe water and that 37% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa [per the United Nations Water Project]. These statistics are only referring to "access". In other words, if there is a hygienic water pump at the other side of your village, you have access. If you have to walk over two hours a day to carry your water back home and you are female-- it may not be safe even if the water is clean, so it is not necessarily accessible. If you are able to use a neighbor's pit toilet, you have 'access'.
In Tanzania, "water-borne illnesses, such as malaria and cholera 'account for over half the the diseases affecting the population' because people don't have access to sanitary options." Ten Thousand (10,000) children die every year from diarrhea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation [WaterAid]. According to the United Nations, less than 10% of the schools have functioning hand-washing facilities and some schools have over 200 students per 'drop hole'. And, in spite of all the efforts by the government of Tanzania with support from the United Nations and dozens of NGO's-- the stats are getting worse as the improvements can't keep up with the increase in population.
That's just my advantage of water and sanitation; I also have a solid roof, a floor, a locking door, glass on my windows, and more than one room...and it is all mine. I don't share it with an average Tanzanian household comprised of seven or more people. My rent also includes a daily cleaning service and they provide clean sheets and towels, toilet paper and soap; there's also a cheap, convenient laundry service. Then there are the real luxuries: electric lights, a 4-burner stove/oven, a microwave, a toaster, an 'instant' hot water shower and a flat screen TV with satellite (BBC News! Al Jazeera News!). All these electrical gadgets are backed up by a generator as the electricity is prone to go out for awhile on a regular basis. In comparison, my best friend in Arusha has a house with a solid (tin) roof and a door with a padlock.
Nope. I am definitely not living like a local...
It's easy to forget how people really live when you are a tourist and even your "simple economy lodging" is far superior to the average local residence. Tanzanians are very friendly, You will make a lot of friends while traveling here. Many will be the hotel receptionist, your safari guide/driver or a waiter in a restaurant. Often it may just be someone on the street who starts up a friendly conversation. They will most likely be neatly dressed in Western clothes in the latest styles like you. Their English will be good and sprinkled with colloquial expressions; most will be tri-lingual (Kiswahili, English, and a tribal language such as Kichagga or Kimasai) and some will speak additional languages such as German, French or Spanish. They will appear educated and international. You will enjoy your brief friendship and feel comfortable with them-- bonding over some commonalities in conversation. But most likely, you will not visit their home or meet their family.
That hotel receptionist who chats in your language and directs you to a good restaurant may not have more than a 9th or 10th grade education-- that's if they are lucky. They have probably never eaten at the restaurant they have recommended to you. The Western clothes and shoes they are wearing were likely bought used in the market or even on the street; they are hand-washed and air-dried on a regular basis and if you stay long-- you will see the same outfit worn often. Sometimes, the clothes or shoes may be a gift from a tourist who no longer wanted them and left them behind, but which are now prized possessions.
The parents of this receptionist may not read or write in Kiswahili or any other language and they may be more verbally comfortable in their own tribal language. If the receptionist is not married, they will still be living with their extended family of five, six, seven or more people. Their home may be on the edge of town in one of the 'villages' where the streets are unpaved and not much more than a pathway which is quite muddy during the rainy season. They may or not have running water or a bathroom in their home. Chances are they share a bathroom (a squatter, pit toilet or even just a drop-hole) outside of their home with other families; or they may just use the ground near their house. Their shower will be a bucket of water; if they are lucky it has been heated on a one-burner gas unit on the floor inside the house, but more commonly an open fire in their outdoor "kitchen" area. Their dinner will be ugali (corn meal mush) with cabbage, rice pilau or stewed ndizi (starchy banana) most likely cooked over the same open fire that heated their bathwater.
But as you have friendly conversations with your new friends, you will not know any of this and most likely cannot even imagine such a life...after all, they dress like you, talk like you and know all the places where an international traveler likes to go for food and entertainment. They have a cell phone and send you text messages; you exchange Facebook addresses with them. While you may assume the Masai in traditional dress that you see around town live in a traditional round mud and thatch house, it is likely your 'modern' friend is living in similar circumstances...but you would never guess and most likely they won't tell you.
Tanzanians know tourists take certain things for granted and expect them, so on my low budget safari -- even my two-person tent had a hot water shower and flushing "throne" toilet. But any accommodation with a shower and a flush toilet puts you in the top percentage of luxury living in Tanzania. Something to think about the next time you are tempted to complain to the receptionist that your shower water wasn't hot that morning.