Part 2: Tanzanian Approach to “Reduce”

July 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you ever find your old clunker of a car on the verge of breaking down and you want to stretch the life out a few more years, find yourself a Tanzanian mechanic. The vehicles I have seen… I cannot believe that some of this stuff still runs or fathom how! There are daladalas, see the post on them here, that are driven all day, every day and are so run down you have to step carefully to avoid putting your foot through the giant open hole in the floor. Cars with doors from at least two other types of car stuck on in replacement and mismatched tires. Sad, tired trucks that cry and groan the whole way down the street – you can practically hear them crying, “Why won’t you just let me dieeee? I’m so tired! Just leave me here to rest!” – as they stutter and stumble down the street one jarring meter at a time. Really, some of these vehicles are so beyond what a drivable car should be that it’s almost painful to watch them. They’re not even cars anymore, they’re the pathetic, exhausted, reanimated corpses of cars.

In general, Tanzanians reuse everything wherever possible, and we’ll talk about that in Part 3. They also excel at reducing what they need. Examples!

My nemesis

  • Toilet paper (sweet, sweet toilet paper) is considered a luxury item here. Most households, even those not Muslim, just use water for cleanup. If they’re lucky they have a hose next to the toilet. The sprayer is fine. You can control the water and it’s both easy to use and effective.

Those less fortunate just have a bucket and a cup. I refuse to attempt the bucket-and-cup method but I can only assume that trying to pour a cup       full of bucket water over your nethers while precariously squatting over a reeking hole in the ground is both messy and disappointing.

(While we’re on the subject, the smell of a Tanzanian squat toilet – I say Tanzanian because I don’t know what they smell like in Republic of Georgia, Brazil or China – is probably the worst smell I have ever smelled ever. Worse than a port-a-potty. Worse than rotten eggs, sewage, the open air meat markets, or anything else. Okay, I’m being slightly dramatic because I can think of smells that would be worse – dead body is probably a lot worse – but it’s horrible. I would rather just do my thing outside. Horrible!)

  • They buy food in big bulk bags. Giant bags of beans, rice, flour, sugar. Milk is delivered door-to-door by a guy carrying a bucket. He brings his big tub o’ milk – warm, unpasteurized, straight-from-the-udder milk – pours some into a bowl or container for the recipient and is on his way. No packaging necessary.
  • Sodas are sold in glass bottles. You drink the soda at the point of purchase (shop, restaurant or soda stand) or you must bring an empty bottle to trade in order to leave with the bottle. The empty bottles are kept in crates and sent back to the soda plant to be refilled and redistributed. Other beverages – like sugar cane juice sold by street vendors in Zanzibar – are served in glasses. You drink it on the spot and hand the glass back when you’re done.
  • Rather than take car taxis everywhere, people here often take motorbike or bicycle taxis because they use less gas and are cheaper. That or the daladala.
  • Food is rarely wasted and if you don’t finish your plate you’ll definitely get some serious side-eye looks. Here I clean every speck of food off my plate, even if I’m so full I think I might vomit. Tanzanians even suck and chew the bones to clean every bit of meat and cartilage from them.
  • Money, it goes without saying, is also carefully preserved and guarded. Haggling is expected and people are cheap. They won’t buy something unless they really have to and if they do they will try to get the lowest price possible. This is definitely not a consumption culture the way the US is.
  • Old-timey tools that don’t require electricity such as this iron heated by hot coals or foot-powered sewing machines. 

The motto in Tanzania is, “Avoid buying anything whenever possible, but if you do have to buy something, make it last.”


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